It will undoubtedly be one of the most talked about calls in the history of the Houston Astros. The name Joe West will quickly rise through the ranks as one of the most hated among Houston baseball fans. And, given the razor-thin margin of the game four loss for the Astros, it could wind up being the call that ends the Astros run at a second straight World Series. It is clearly the most controversial.
What we are talking about is the home run hit by Jose Altuve in the first inning of the ALCS Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park. Altuve, who is essentially playing on one leg, dragging an injured knee around the base paths, ripped a shot that just cleared the right field wall in the first inning. Red Sox outfielder (and likely AL MVP) Mookie Betts leapt high and the ball caromed off his glove.
Umpire Joe West signaled fan interference and called Altuve out. Almost immediately, the call was reviewed by Major League Baseball's replay crew in New York. In replays, a fan did indeed reach for the ball, but it appeared that it was over the fence and into the stands. MLB rules state that, regardless of the level of interference, if the ball has gone over the fence, it is a home run.
Fans of the Astros have been wary of MLB replays all postseason and they were right to be on this night as the call was upheld and Altuve was out. It cost the team two runs in a scintillating but interminably long five-hour game where the Astros lost by that very margin, 8-6, putting them down 3-1 and one game from elimination heading to game five.
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Even without that call, the Astros struggled on the mound. Charlie Morton, clearly rusty from time off due to injury, lasted only two-and-one-third innings. Young fireballer Josh James went three-and-two-thirds giving up three runs including a two-run homer to Jackie Bradley, Jr. (his second of the series) despite touching 102 mph on a couple pitches and striking out five.
Ryan Pressley followed, loading the bases and giving up his first run since mid-August though the run came in when Lance McCullers, Jr. walked in the runner from third. McCullers allowed another run in the eighth. Even with the pitching struggles, there is plenty of blame to go around. Multiple passed balls, wild pitches, too many players left on base and miscues by runners on the base paths made for a pretty messy overall performance.
Unlike games two and three, however, the Astros were able to score. They matched the Red Sox run-for-run throughout the game and even had the bases loaded in the ninth. It was only fitting that Alex Bregman came to the plate and smacked a line drive into left field that was snared on a diving play by Andrew Benintendi. Now the Astros must win three straight, including two at Fenway Park, to get back to the World Series.
On Wednesday, just over 18 hours from the end of game four, the Astros send their ace Justin Verlander to the mound in what would have been a chance to put the Red Sox on the brink of elimination, if not for the first inning call that may have cost the Astros a trip back to the World Series. It's one fans will remember forever.