In a closely contested affair between two evenly matched sports teams, the outcome will never be solely determined on talent alone. The winning club will also require the assistance of good fortune to make sure that the breaks go its way and not the way of its opponents. For baseball teams, some of the breaks will include balls put into play falling for hits, fly balls becoming home runs at an unexpectedly high rate, or in the case of the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox on Monday, an umpire getting an important call wrong.
The blown call that almost sealed the 2-1 loss for the Boston Red Sox occurred in the bottom of the eighth inning after a 39-minute rain delay temporarily stopped play; when play resumed the Red Sox were losing 2-1. Rays starting pitcher David Price struck out Jonny Gomes to start the inning before giving way to relief pitcher Joel Peralta, who was not nearly as stingy with the hits he allowed as Price had been.
Peralta started off his appearance by giving up a double to Red Sox catcher Ryan Lavarnway, an extra-base hit that was helped along by Rays left fielder Sam Fuld misplaying the ball. Lavarnway was then replaced by pinch runner Daniel Nava, who failed to score after Peralta conceded another double, this time to Stephen Drew.
Even without Nava scoring from second base on Drew’s double and only advancing to third base, the Red Sox had put themselves in a prime position to not only score the run, but to put themselves in a position to claim victory. With one out and men on second and third bases, the Red Sox had amassed a win expectancy of 56.5 percent, the first time their win expectancy had been above 50.0 percent since the fourth inning.
Then Brandon Snyder hit a fly ball to left field and everything came crashing down for the Red Sox. Nava attempted to tag up and turn Snyder’s fly ball into a sacrifice fly, but he was called out at home plate by umpire Jerry Meals. Replays showed that Nava was safe, but without the benefit of instant replay, the call could not be overturned. The blown call is just the latest example of the level of embarrassment that arises when the audience knows more than the umpires or referees in sports.
Since the erroneous call stood with no chance of in-game appeal by the Boston Red Sox, the double play sent the Red Sox’s win expectancy plummeting to 17.9 percent.
That blown call alone did not decide the fate of the Red Sox on Monday as they threatened to score in the bottom of the ninth inning, with a runner on second base and only one out, but it certainly made it more difficult for the team. Of course, there is no guarantee the Red Sox would have won even if Nava had been called safe.
What would have served the Red Sox even more than having the umpire make the correct call would have been solving the Rays’ pitching, a problem the offense has had all season. In 16 games and 585 plate appearances against the Rays, Red Sox hitters have mustered a batting line of just .211 BA/.282 OBP/.332 SLG, and on Monday, they were even worse.
Facing the Tampa Bay Rays pitchers on Monday, the Red Sox only hit .161 BA/.188 OBP/.355 SLG with a .218 wOBA. Before pointing the finger at the umpire, the Red Sox will first need to look in the mirror.
No matter how the blame is apportioned, however, the fact remains that the Red Sox lost another division game to the Rays and are now back to trailing the Rays by half a game in the standings. It will continue to be a tight race in the American League East all season.