Morning sports update: Why some baseball experts think Joe West’s fan interference call was wrong

"It was the most egregious play I've ever seen in baseball."

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 17:  A fan interferes with Mookie Betts #50 of the Boston Red Sox as he attempts to catch a ball hit by Jose Altuve #27 of the Houston Astros (not pictured) in the first inning during Game Four of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park on October 17, 2018 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
A fan interferes with Mookie Betts as he attempts to catch a ball hit by Jose Altuve in the first inning during Wednesdy's game at Minute Maid Park in Houston. –Bob Levey / Getty Images

Sorry, Astros. There’s a new Killer B’s in town: Mookie Betts. Jackie Bradley Jr. Andrew Benintendi.

All three Red Sox outfielders made pivotal, game-changing plays in the later innings of Wednesday’s four-and-a-half-hour Game 4 at Minute Maid Park. Betts with his arm. Bradley (again) with his bat. And, of course, Benintendi with his glove. The left fielder’s diving catch with the bases loaded to rob Alex Bregman and save another shaky (albeit two-inning) Craig Kimbrel performance sealed the 8-6 win.

And now the Red Sox are within a game of the World Series.

Also, the Bruins lost Wednesday night to the Calgary Flames, 5-2.

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But back to the Sox.

‘The most egregious play I’ve ever seen in baseball’

We barely finished the latest ALCS controversy before it got substituted for another.

Jose Altuve was called out in the first inning of Game 4 after a fan in the right-field bleachers made contact with Mookie Bett’s glove as he attempted to rob what would have been a two-run homer by the Astros second basemen. After a lengthy review, MLB officials ruled the play spectator interference.

Particularly given the final two-run margin, the Astros weren’t too happy with the call.

Altuve thought it was the wrong call. Astros manager AJ Hinch thought it was the wrong call. Justin Verlander’s wife, Kate Upton, thought it was the wrong call. Even the fan himself, who was called for interfering, thought it was the wrong call.

But why? Here’s what the MLB rulebook says on the matter:

No interference shall be allowed when a fielder reaches over a fence, railing, rope or into a stand to catch a ball. He does so at his own risk. However, should a spectator reach out on the playing field side of such fence, railing or rope, and plainly prevent the fielder from catching the ball, then the batsman should be called out for the spectator’s interference.

So the question is whether the fan both reached out over the right-field fence and also “plainly” prevented Betts from catching the ball.

Betts said after the game that he was “100 percent positive” he would have caught the ball had the fan not hit his glove. Joe West, the right-field umpire and crew chief who made the call, agreed that Betts would have caught it and said after the game that the “fan interfered with him over the playing field,” satisfying the two requirements for spectator interference.

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Some former players and baseball experts were less convinced of that judgment, arguing that it wasn’t clear that the fan had reached over to interfere with Betts. If the fan made contact with Betts on the spectator side of the yellow home run line, it doesn’t matter if the Red Sox right fielder would have otherwise caught the ball. As the rulebooks says, he reaches into the stands “at his own risk.”

Former player-turned-analyst Garry Sheffield said after the game on TBS that West’s call was the “most egregious play I’ve ever seen in baseball.”

“That ball is going direct to his chest right there,” Sheffield said of the fan. “When you see the ball right there, you’re going to put your hands up to catch it. Now his glove comes into play. Yeah, he could have caught the ball, but he might have missed the ball as well. … The fan didn’t reach over the fence.”

Sheffield wasn’t alone in that opinion, though others also placed some blame on the lack of conclusive evidence.

Here’s the rest of the latest Red Sox news from Boston.com:

David Price says he’s ready for Game 5

With Chris Sale ruled out due to his stomach illness (see the above link) and Eduardo Rodriguez making a relief appearance in Game 4, the Red Sox are turning to David Price on three days of rest for the potentially series-clinching Game 5 Thursday night in Houston. Despite his well-documented playoff struggles and warming up in the bullpen Wednesday night to potentially replace Kimbrel, Price says he’s up for it: “To have that opportunity to punch our ticket to the World Series is very cool.” [The Boston Globe]

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The suspicious Astros employee controversy, explained

The controversy over the Astros employee removed from near the Red Sox dugout barely got time to breath before it was eclipsed by the flurry of reactions over West’s call Wednesday. However, following the MLB’s investigation, The Boston Globe‘s Alex Speier broke down what the entire ordeal was about, including what exactly sign-stealing means, how it works, and what the Astros were actually doing. [The Boston Globe]

3 takeaways from the Bruins loss to the Flames

There was another Boston sports team in action last night. However, the outcome was not sensational. The Bruins fell to the Calgary Flames in game that included a mixed performance from Tuukka Rask, an ineffectual power play, and a controversial offsides call. [Boston.com]

What’s that in the air?

Canada became the largest country in the world to legalize recreational marijuana Wednesday — just in time for the Bruins’ weeklong road trip to the Great White North. With Canada’s new law, weed is now legal for adults in 13 NHL cities (it has been legal in Massachusetts for nearly two years). And unlike the other three major professional sports leagues, the NHL’s drug-testing policy does not punish players for positive marijuana results. Bruins players say they have no plans to start using the drug, but they’re keeping an open mind about its potential medicinal benefits. [The Boston Globe]

How Marcus Smart’s late mother inspired his bold outfit before the season-opener

Celtics guard Marcus Smart say his mother, Camellia, who died a month ago from cancer at the age of 63, used to call him “her little king.” So before Tuesday night’s season-opener, he decided to “dress like one.” The 24-year-old has been incredibly open about coping with the devastating loss and his glorious tribute to his mom Tuesday (which included a Blank Panther nod you might have missed) was really something to behold. [Boston.com]

Daily highlight: This was going to go to Steve Pearce for his head-over-heels effort, but let’s all relive that daring Andrew Benintendi catch one more time. It probably won’t be the last.

And again in slow motion.

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Where is Tuukka Rask?
November 12, 2018 | 3:27 PM