Game 3 of the American League Division Series between the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox might have had one of the wildest endings in postseason history. The two teams had battled back and forth for more than five hours, with the Rays’ Wander Franco and Randy Arozarena leading a comeback in the eighth inning to help send the game into extras. Neither squad could get much going from the 10th to the 12th, but then all hell broke loose in the 13th.
We asked our team of MLB experts to weigh in on the kind of ending fans will be talking about for years.
Dave Schoenfield — What the heck just happened?
In the top of the 13th inning of a game that would last 5 hours, 14 minutes and feature 16 pitchers and 389 pitches, Yandy Diaz was on first base for the Rays with two outs and was running when Kevin Kiermaier lined a 3-2 slider from Nick Pivetta off the base of the low wall in front of the bullpens in right-center field. The ball bounced back onto the warning track, off Hunter Renfroe‘s leg and over the wall into the bullpens.
Make it make sense pic.twitter.com/QyLp3UTpdL
— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) October 11, 2021
Diaz was already a step from third base and would have scored easily if the ball remained in play, but after an umpire review, he was sent back to third base and Kiermaier to second. Pivetta then struck out Mike Zunino to end the threat.
Note that rule 5.05(a)(8) in the rulebook and 5.06(b)(4)(h) in the umpires manual say, “Any fair fly ball is deflected by the fielder into the stands, or over the fence into foul territory, in which case the batter shall be entitled to second base; but if deflected into the stands or over the fence in fair territory, the batter shall be entitled to a home run.”
That would be the famous Jose Canseco play — the fly ball bouncing off his head and over the fence for a home run. For Kiermaier’s hit, rule 5.05(a)(8) comes into play, making it a ground-rule double.
In the bottom of the 13th, Luis Patino walked Renfroe, and then Christian Vazquez walked it off with a home run over the Green Monster, the sixth walk-off homer in postseason history in the 13th inning or later.
The Red Sox won 6-4, and they lead the series 2-1.
Jeff Passan — Why they got it right … but it still feels wrong
All credit due to the review crew that looked at the play, interpreted the rules correctly and enforced them. The ball bounded off the wall, deflected off Renfroe and went over the fence and into the bullpen, advancing the runners two bases. Further, as the MLB umpiring manual notes, there is a difference between, say, an outfielder fielding the ball cleanly and tossing it over the fence intentionally and the ball caroming off a person out of play. If the fielder has “complete possession,” according to the manual, “the award is two bases from the position of the runners at the time the ball was kicked or deflected.” Renfroe did not have possession. Thus, the rules say, “the award is two bases from the time of the pitch.”
For those asking: Well, Yandy Diaz was halfway between second and third when the ball hit out Hunter Renfroe, so why didn’t he get two bases and advance home? Here is the rule from the MLB umpire manual. It has to do with possession — and it determines when the two are awarded. pic.twitter.com/FVXF20QN6Q
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) October 11, 2021
In other words, you can’t just grab the ball and chuck it into the stands without there being a penalty. No, you just have to completely misfield it and only then do you get rewarded!
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) October 11, 2021
All that said: This feels wrong — and it would feel equally as wrong were the Rays the ones benefiting from it. Renfroe misplayed the ball off the wall. Instead of grabbing it with his hand or glove, Renfroe misjudged the bounce and it ricocheted off his body. In other words, because he did his job incorrectly … the Red Sox were rewarded.
MLB’s rulebook is filled with answers to so many what-if questions, but the game is the game. It offers situations of which not even the most creative mind could conceive. And as much as it strives for fairness, there are bound to be holes. One of those appeared Sunday night. It might have changed the course of Game 3, because the notion that everything would have gone the same way — the idea that Vazquez’ two-run homer would have simply won the game 6-5 — had the Rays scored that run, rather than remain tied, is spurious. And in the end, it might be the thing that costs Tampa Bay a trip to the AL Championship Series, with the Red Sox now ahead two games to one and angling to close out the series on Monday at Fenway Park.
Joon Lee — What they’re saying at Fenway
The Rays clearly felt devastated over the outcome of the play. Kiermaier looked visibly distressed, calling the moment a “heartbreaker.” Manager Kevin Cash, for his part, did not seem interested in stirring any controversy over the play, repeatedly citing the rulebook during his postgame news conference.
Kevin Kiermaier says the ground-rule double call that cost his team a run is a “heartbreaker.”
“I think it would be a very easy call if somebody stepped in and said it was stating the obvious that he was going to score,” Cash said. “Saying that, it’s been a rule for a long time, and we’re going to play within the rules that are presented to us this season.”
Kiermaier said he expected for Diaz to score but also deferred to the rulebook.
“The rules are in place, and I can’t sit here and go against those,” Kiermaier said. “It’s just incredible that it worked out to their advantage just like that.”
The moment particularly stung after Vazquez’s deciding homer, which led to a jubilant celebration at Fenway Park featuring a helmet tossed in celebration flying high into Boston’s brisk autumn sky, multiple Gatorade tub dunks and a confident Red Sox team ready for an opportunity to eliminate the first-place finishers of the American League East.
“We’re not lucky,” Vazquez said.
And as Boston center fielder Enrique Hernandez added, “We played a good game. Play a good game and play the elements, we took care of home-field advantage, came our way. We did what we had to do to win the game. Got big hits, got big homers.”