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A game-changing gaffe: Red Sox crash through opening created by Wil Myers misplay

10.04.13 at 10:39 pm ET
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For a moment, when David Ortiz jumped on the 2-0 fastball from Rays starter Matt Moore and crushed it to right, at a time when the Rays owned an early 2-0 advantage in the bottom of the fourth inning, it appeared that the Red Sox would be celebrating a game-tying two-run homer. Then, all of a sudden, they weren’t, the ball’s trajectory assuming a more modest outcome that permitted Tampa Bay right fielder Wil Myers to camp under it.

But with no warning, Myers abandoned his spot, sprinting forward like a man escaping a burning building. This, however, was no escape. This was the spark of a conflagration.

Myers’ puzzling decision to run in and let the ball land on his vacated spot on the warning track — bouncing off the dirt and over the bullpen fence for a ground-rule double — inspired considerable befuddlement, particularly when the play proved pivotal. A potential runner-on-first, one-out situation transformed into a second-and-third, no-out rally. The Sox took advantage in the extreme, not just of Myers’ misplay but of subsequent Rays defensive lapses in the inning, to plate five runs and change the course of the game completely. A 2-0 Sox deficit turned into a 5-2 advantage by the end of the bottom of the fourth, and from there, the Sox kept adding on in a 12-2 victory.

So what happened?

“I waved [center fielder Desmond Jennings] off. I called the ball myself. I saw it up there. It’s loud out there, so a hand motion, I had the ball, I was under the ball, and I saw Des out of the corner of my eye and backed off. It was a loud crowd today. That was totally my fault. I should have taken more charge out there and caught the ball,” explained Myers. “The thing was, when I saw him out of the corner of my eye, the center fielder has priority, but it was totally my fault. I messed that up. It won’t happen again.

“[Jennings] didn’t say anything at all,” Myers added. “The reason why was it was a loud crowd, so I thought maybe he’d called something, and since the center fielder has priority, that’s what you’re supposed to do. I didn’t hear anything. It’s one of those things that I had to take control of the situation and catch the ball.”

Given Myers’ odd reaction — sprinting in as if there was an invisible teammate standing behind him by the fence, calling him off the play — there was curiosity about whether a nearby pitcher in the Red Sox bullpen called him off on the play. But Myers — the outfielder who was in the middle of offseason rumors about the possibility of a swap from Kansas City to Boston in exchange for Jon Lester — dispelled that theory.

“I didn’t hear anything but the crowd yelling. They were loud,” said Myers. “It was my fault for not taking control of the situation.”

Was he distracted by the crowd, or might a fan have called for it? If so, noted fellow right fielder Shane Victorino, then that’s on Myers.

“If you’€™re listening to the fans at that point, brother, you’€™re in trouble,” said Victorino. “You’€™ve got to get the ball. You called the guy off. As I said, if you’€™re listening to the fans and somebody said it loud enough to make you get off the ball then hey, that’€™s something you have to work on.”

And if Myers was indeed simply thrown off by seeing Jennings in his peripheral vision?

“If you’re looking and you’re pulling away because you see the center fielder out of the corner of your eyes, then you’re not in good position,” said Victorino.

It’s difficult to say precisely how the misplay changed the complexion of the game. After all, the Rays never scored again while the Sox offense erupted.

There were those who considered the moment a rather drastic pendulum swing. Jennings was among them. The Rays center fielder, asked whether he felt bad for his teammate (who was engulfed in chants of “My-ers, My-ers” for the duration of the Fenway contest), wasn’t in a mood to send sympathy cards.

“I felt bad for Matty [Moore], you know? I felt bad for our team,” said Jennings. “It’s a play that we should make. It’s not about feeling bad. It’s about winning. … That one play led to the big inning. We make that play, another fly ball, get out of the inning, maybe one run, maybe two runs. But like I said, it’s tomorrow. We’ve got a game tomorrow so we can put that behind us and move on.”

Moore, however, noted that he was the one who yielded six hits in that fourth inning, albeit in an inning where Rays manager Joe Maddon noted he pitched well enough to record six outs.

“Regardless of what the defense did, there’s a lot of base hits and a lot of doubles off the Wall,” said Moore. “Those are things that I can speak about right now.”

As for the Sox, as puzzled as they were, they were boisterous about the message that Myers’ misplay permitted them to deliver: Crack a door open and the opportunistic Sox will come crashing through.

“I don’t feel bad for him, brother. This kid, he’s going to be a good player. He’s actually going to be a great player. He’s got a lot of tools,” said Victorino. “I don’t feel bad, because we were able to score and capitalize. That’s all I’m worried about. I’m not worried about what mistake he made. I hope he makes a few more.”

Myers need not. If the Red Sox win this series, then the play will assume a place in the institutional memory of the rivalry between the two clubs for its inexplicable oddity and game- (and potentially series-) changing significance.

“One thing you can guarantee in the playoffs is you’re going to see something you haven’t seen all year,” said Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes. “And [we] saw that right away.”

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