Red Sox-Rays play reminds us about the way the ball bounces sometimes

Boston Red Sox, MLB Postseason, Tampa Bay Rays

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The Tampa Bay Rays got the short end of the stick on Sunday against the Red Sox, but the outrage about the application of a rule is not warranted.

In true postseason fashion when it comes to AL East teams facing off, the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox played a 13-inning game on Sunday. The Red Sox 6-4 win gave them a 2-1 series lead, with a chance to clince a spot in the ALCS on Monday.

In the top of the 13th inning, Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier came to the plate with Yandy Diaz on first base. Kiermaier hit a deep drive to right-center field, and was given a ground-rule double. Of course, the play was not that simple.

The Rays were hurt and the Red Sox benefited…from random circumstance

Red Sox right fielder Hunter Renfroe will never be confused with a Gold Glover, and the Fenway Park outfield is a challenge to play across the board with weird angles, etc. Kiermaier’s drive hit the low wall, hit the ground and deflected off Renfroe into the Boston bullpen. So it’s clearly a ground-rule double, right?

The Twitter mob was quick to attack, based on the concept Diaz was past second base when the ball hit Renfroe, and would have scored if Renfroe had not essentially been in the way. Or, if he had even fielded a hard carom cleanly at close range. Even respected baseball insiders pointed to the “Red Sox benefiting” from a questionable call.

ESPN’s Jeff Passan circled back with clarification/confirmation of the rule and its finer points. The key phrasing in the addendums, regarding a ball not in flight deflecting off a fielder, is where a runner is “at the time of the pitch”. Not when the ball hits said fielder, and two bases from there when the ball goes out of play.

Rays’ manager Kevin Cash said all he could say about the rule after the game, which as umpire Sam Holbrook said is stated clearly and was applied properly–right or wrong. Renfroe didn’t intentionally kick the ball over the fence–he’s just a bad defensive outfielder who made a misplay.

It’s a minority opinion to not understand the controversy and outrage over the play, which may or may not have even ultimately cost the Rays the game. They would have taken a 5-4 lead if Diaz had been allowed to score, and their inning ended on the next batter. Then Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez hit a walk-off two-run homer in the bottom of the 13th.

Arguments can be had about the finer points of a rule that came to full light within the higher stakes of postseason baseball on Sunday. And it’s unfortunate the Rays were impacted negatively, to the point the Red Sox may carry the momentum right to a series win on Monday. But the ball bounces funny sometimes, with the pesky involvement of human beings as extra influence sometimes.

The Rays aren’t the first team to be hurt by random circumstance, and the Red Sox won’t be the last to benefit from it. That’s what the result of Kiermaier’s outfield drive was–random, nothing more and nothing less, with a rule applied correctly by the umpires.

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