HOUSTON — The defending world champion Astros found themselves on the brink of elimination from the postseason entering Thursday night.
Although it’s important to point out that the Astros didn’t enunciate this, to most of their fans, there was one person responsible for that: Joe West, the rightfield umpire for Game 4 of the ALCS, who called spectator interference on what would have been a two-run homer by Jose Altuve in the first inning of the Astros’ 8-6 loss.
Plenty of the fans’ ire, as well as plenty of the Houston media’s, also was directed at the replay umpire, James Hoye, in New York. Hoye didn’t think there was conclusive evidence to overturn the call of West, who is second all-time in games umpired behind Bill Klem.
“There’s nothing more that you can do,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said before Game 5. “From a functional standpoint inside this clubhouse, we’ve had to move long past that.”
In the early-morning hours after Game 4, Hinch clearly thought Altuve deserved the home run but said “that’s not the difference” in why his club lost.
“There’s no mechanism for me to change their mind, change their interpretation, change the fact that I thought the ball was a row or two into the stands,” Hinch said. “It doesn’t matter what I think. I’m not in New York and I’m not an umpire.”
After George Springer’s one-out single in the first, the righthanded-hitting Altuve slapped one to right. Mookie Betts charged toward the wall and timed his jump perfectly as the ball began to clear the wall. Betts’ glove connected with a fan and closed, and the ball smacked off it and back onto the field. West immediately called fan interference. Instead of the score being tied at 2, Altuve was ruled out.
At dispute was this part of Rule 6.01 under Spectator Interference: “No interference shall be allowed when a fielder reaches over a fence, railing, rope or into a stand to catch a ball. He does so at his own risk. However, should a spectator reach out on the playing field side of such fence, railing or rope, and plainly prevent the fielder from catching the ball, the batsman should be called out for the spectator’s interference.”
West told a pool reporter that in his view, the fan was on the playing field side.
“He hit the ball to rightfield. He jumped up to try to make a catch,” West said. “The fan interfered with him over the playing field. That’s why I called spectator interference.”
Asked if it was a “clear” call, West said, “Yes,” adding later that “the replay official said I was right.”
Technically, the last part isn’t true, because Hoye ruled “stands” instead of “confirmed,” which would have meant a replay showed West to be definitively correct.
The one camera, located in rightfield, that might have given a conclusive look was obscured by a poorly placed security guard who blocked that camera’s view of the play.
Hinch was asked Thursday if he would like to see all ballparks have a divider between fans and the wall, which in theory would prevent them from being able to reach into the field of play.
“Yeah, if you don’t have perfect camera angles, I think we have to do something,” Hinch said. “But it’s [a divider] easier that way, I think. But I think that might be a little more reactionary than proactive. I’m sure the fans love being in that front row. I’m sure those are valuable seats. But yeah, I guess being fresh off last night, I’d like to see something different than I saw last night.”