HOUSTON -- Controversy came early in Wednesday night's Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.
In the bottom of the first inning, Houston Astros designated hitter Jose Altuve launched a fly ball to the right-field wall that prompted Boston Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts to go into a full jump. As Betts extended his arm high over the 7-foot wall, the ball bounced back onto the field of play.
Replays appeared to show that Betts' left arm stretched over the wall and into the sea of fans. As he tried to make the catch, Betts' glove closed a split-second too early. He says it was because the glove made contact on its back side with a fan's hands. From there, the ball touched another fan before coming back onto the field.
"I was pretty positive that ball was going in my glove," Betts said. "But as I jumped and went over, reached my hand up, I felt like somebody was kind of pushing my glove out of the way or something."
When the ball didn't land in Betts' glove, a hustling Altuve was bracing for the possibility that he'd at least be standing on second base when all was said and done.
"For a moment, when I saw the ball on the warning track, then I thought, 'OK. That's a double. I'll take it.'" Altuve said.
But it wasn't. Originally, umpires ruled Altuve was out via fan interference.
Immediately, Astros manager A.J. Hinch popped out of the dugout to argue with crew chief and right-field umpire Joe West, who made the initial call. Their conversation took West and his crew to replay.
After 3 minutes, 13 seconds, the review resulted in the call standing. Altuve was declared out via fly out to Betts because of fan interference, nullifying what would have been a potential tying, two-run home run. George Springer was sent back to first base.
"[West] just said that it was fan interference on the field. And my argument was more about that the ball was leaving the yard, the trajectory was there," Hinch said during the game telecast. "Jose paid kind of the ultimate price for something out of his control.
"I'm not sure if Mookie makes that catch. He's a great athlete. But how it's an assumed out, it's unbelievable."
After the game, Hinch expanded upon that latter thought, saying: "We assume -- and you can assume a lot with Mookie because he's an incredible athlete -- we assume he's going to make this spectacular catch, jumping as high as he can into the crowd."
But according to West, Betts didn't even jump into the crowd. He was still in the field of play, the umpire said, according to a pool report.
"When [Betts] jumped up to reach for the ball, the spectator reached out of the stands and hit him over the playing field and closed his glove."
Pressed further and asked if the ball had not yet crossed over the wall when Betts jumped for it, West said: "No."
Fans sitting in the area disagreed, saying the glove was well over the yellow line and into the stands.
Astros fan Troy Caldwell, who was seen in replays going for the fly ball while wearing an orange shirt, told ESPN that the ball hit his hand, and that another fan, Jared Tomanek, actually touched Betts' glove.
"I never touched his glove, I can guarantee you that. But I definitely touched the ball," Caldwell said. "The ball hit me right in the hand. I'm so damn ashamed I missed it."
He added: "If Boston wins this series, then Joe West is the MVP. I'll give that to you right now."
The Red Sox ultimately won Wednesday's game 8-6. With the win, they lead the best-of-seven ALCS 3-1.
Tomanek told ESPN he didn't think there was any wrongdoing.
"The ball was coming hard, we wanted to catch it," he said. "We didn't cross over the top of the line or anything. We weren't hanging over at all."
According to MLB Rule 3.16, "When there is spectator interference with any thrown or batted ball, the ball shall be dead at the moment of interference and the umpire shall impose such penalties as in his opinion will nullify the act of interference."
The rule further states that "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, then the batsman should be called out for the spectator's interference."
After the umpires' final call was made, Minute Maid Park was filled with boos. The mood in the Astros' dugout was "pissed off," according to right fielder Josh Reddick.
Hinch came back out after the final call to argue with West, before turning his head suddenly and walking away as if he was displeased with what he had heard.
"I can get ejected in the first inning, which is ridiculous in a playoff game," Hinch said. "But 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. It doesn't matter what I think. I'm not in New York [near replay officials], and I'm not an umpire."
Betts, as soon as he saw the out call, gave a fist-pump. Springer slammed his helmet down at the ultimate ruling.
"As I watched the video, it's like he got it right because I feel like it was going in my glove, for sure," Betts said. "I've never seen or been part of a play like that. So I guess, yeah, you could say I was kind of surprised he made the out call."
Fans continued to boo West between innings as he returned to his post near the right-field line.
"I don't know what [the replay official] saw," West said of the crew at major league headquarters. "The replay official said I was right.
"He said, 'I have nothing that can change it.'"
Added Altuve: "I normally don't get mad at the umpire's call, but that one, I was a little upset."
Hinch, when asked about losing by two runs after the possible homer was negated, said the call wasn't an excuse for why the Astros lost.
"It's convenient to think about it that way. But there's a lot of game left. There's a lot of action in that game," he said. "No, I'm not going to go there. But it would have been nice to tie the game at that point. But that's not the difference. That's not how the game plays."