Bonehead Merkle forgot to touch second base. Mickey Owen dropped a third strike. Bill Buckner let that silly grounder slip between the wickets.
And Wil Myers let a fly ball drop for a ground-rule double.
“It was my fault,’’ Myers said. “I was calling for the ball. I messed it up. I should have made the play.’’
It’s not often that you have a game-changing play in a 12-2 ballgame, but this was one of those times. Myers’s misplay in the fourth inning of Boston’s Division Series-opening blowout victory changed everything for the Red Sox and Rays.
The Rays were leading, 2-0, and stellar southpaw Matt Moore was working on a no-hitter when Dustin Pedroia led off the bottom of the fourth with what seemed like a harmless single to center.
Then everything changed. David Ortiz skied a fly ball to deep right. Rookie Myers drifted back, extended his right hand as if to brace himself for contact with the bullpen wall, but suddenly stopped his pursuit of the ball.
When he was about halfway across the warning track, Myers dropped his head and started back toward the infield, apparently confident that center fielder Desmond Jennings was going to catch the ball.
But Jennings wasn’t particularly close to the ball. He watched it land on the track and bounce into the Boston bullpen.
One player fairly close to the play was Sox veteran pitcher Ryan Dempster, who was hanging over the fence like a high school senior cutting class and watching girls during seventh-period study hall.
There was in-game speculation (television and Twitter) that perhaps Dempster or somebody else in the Sox bullpen tried to confuse Myers by calling for the ball. It was a fun theory, and we all remember the infamous popup in 2007 when Alex Rodriguez said, “I got it,’’ while he circled the bases against the Blue Jays.
Myers wasn’t having any of this.
“I didn’t hear anything from their bullpen,’’ said the 22-year-old Dale Murphy lookalike. “I didn’t hear anything but the crowd yelling.’’
“The whole crowd thought David Ortiz hit a home run,’’ said the center fielder. “Everybody was yelling. I didn’t hear anything. You got 30,000-40,000 people yelling, it’s tough to hear.’’
“I never said a word and neither did Jennings,’’ Dempster told the Globe’s Nick Cafardo.
Myers had a hard time explaining what happened.
“I called for the ball,” he said. “I gave [Jennings] a hand motion. I should have taken control of the situation, but I saw [Jennings] out of the corner of my eye.’’
“We’ve got to make that play,’’ said Jennings. “I feel bad for Matt. I feel bad for our team. That’s a play we should make.’’
“Really a routine play,’’ said Rays manager Joe Maddon. “It’s not like there’s any problem with communication. He just saw something and backed off. That was it.
It’s impossible to say how things would have gone if Myers had made the catch. One never knows. The Fallacy of the Predestined Hit holds that everything changes after any event. It’s baseball’s Butterfly Effect.
Immediately after the botched play, the Rays came apart like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Sean Rodriguez played the Green Monster like a latter-day Claudell Washington. Catcher Jose Lobaton had a third strike clang off his glove for a passed ball. The Rays managed to remain officially errorless, but their miscues were too many to count in Boston’s five-run outburst.
The Sox made it an official jailbreak with three more in the fifth. It was an amazing turn of events against a team that is known for its pitching and defense.
“I thought that play changed the demeanor of the game,’’ said Myers. “It was a bad time for a situation like that.’’
Sox fans crushed Myers for the rest of the day with mock chants of “Myyyy-errrrrs.’’ It was the same treatment Reds starter Johnny Cueto got in Pittsburgh this week.
“I’ve just got to brush that off,’’ said Myers. “You can’t let it affect you. It was tough. I’ve never had something like that happen before.’’
Myers will recover from this. He is a wildly talented baseball player. He’s so good, he was almost traded to Boston for Jon Lester. Instead, the Royals gave him up for James Shields. Myers hit .293 with 13 homers in 88 games for the Rays this year and could wind up as American League Rookie of the Year. He has never made an error in the big leagues.
His teammates supported him in the dugout after the inning and again after the game.
“They told me to shake it off,’’ said Myers. “We just talked about communication out there. Guys told me that it would be all right, and it was big for the team to back me like that.’’Continued...