The Boston Red Sox defeated the Los Angeles Angels tonight to advance to the American League championship series against the Tampa Bay Rays. One of the key moments of the game came in the top of the 9th inning, when Erick Aybar missed a squeeze bunt and stranded Reggie Willits between third base and home.
Boston catcher Jason Varitek ran up the line after Willits. He lunged at Willits to apply the tag and tumbled toward the ground. As umpire Tim Welke was calling Willits out, Varitek landed and the ball popped out of his mitt.
The play was shown repeatedly on the TBS broadcast, and Angels manager Mike Scioscia argued for a bit before returning to the dugout.
So was the call right? I called a friend who’s an umpire on the NCAA circuit in northern California, and he had no doubt the umpire blew it. To record an out, the fielder must have control of the ball, tag the runner AND make a voluntary release of the ball.
No way did Varitek release that ball voluntarily.
Did the call affect the outcome of the game? Certainly. Did it deprive the Angels of a victory? Maybe, maybe not. We’ll never know if Willits, given second life, would have scored. The Angels will have a long, bitter winter to contemplate what might have been.