Game 4 of the American League Championship Series cemented itself as an instant classic far before the final out was recorded. A cacophony of bizarre and brilliant plays had been marinating in high drama for over four hours. But Andrew Benintendi’s game-saving lunging dive to snatch victory away from the Houston Astros was a nice artistic flourish.
The diving theft was a callback to earlier in the game, when Jose Altuve was robbed of a game-tying home run thanks to a levitating Mookie Betts, a handsy fan, and the short-sighted design of Minute Maid Park. Joe West, perhaps working his last rodeo, made the fateful call of fan interference. No replay provided sufficient evidence to overturn the call.
One team was destined to get screwed on the incident. Betts was going to catch the ball, yes, but most people would concede that the fan did not extend his arms over the playing field. He did what any other person would have done in the scenario: attempt to catch a baseball flying right at him. His behavior was ruled fan interference. But think of it this way. Wouldn’t it have been a grave injustice to eject him from the ballpark for his actions, as is customary?
The controversy was only one inflection point in a thrilling contest full of them. Betts and Steve Pearce made web gems and Jackie Bradley went deep once again. Craig Kimbrel was tasked with a six-out save. Altuve kept pulling a Kirk Gibson and delivering clutch hits despite injury. Tony Kemp went deep.
Back and forth they went, until the bottom of the ninth. Up two with the bases loaded and two outs, Benintendi decided to move in 1.5 steps so he could make a throw to the plate on a single. The decision put him in perfect position to lay it all on the line. Alex Bregman’s liner could have ended up in Benintendi’s glove or it could have ended up against the left-field wall. The former would mean the Red Sox were one win from the World Series. The latter would mean a tied ALCS.
Benintendi never wavered. His catch dashed all hope for Houston in Game 4 and much of it for the series. It was a robbery of joy, much like the one in the first inning deep in right. Bookends of pain for Houston, bookends of joy for Boston. Brilliant and compelling storytelling from those scripting the action.
Baseball is a game of inches. And a precious few may end up deciding the American League pennant.