It was the sort of skilled curveball that can bring in a lot of money for a pitcher on the mound. As it slipped between Nathan Eovaldi’s fingers, it curved in the air and landed in Christian Vázquez’s glove, exactly as it should have. It reached home plate, maybe precisely as Eovaldi wanted, on the outer edge, dotting the upper, far corner of the strike zone on the outside edge of the strike zone.
According to Eovaldi, who was pitching in relief, and to Red Sox Manager Alex Cora, as well as to the vast majority of Red Sox players and possibly millions of their supporters, this seemed to be the case.
However, the most significant guy had a different point of view. During Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, the pitch seemed to be too high, according to Laz Diaz, the umpire at home plate (it certainly was not wide, because the overhead replay view showed the ball clearly travelled over home plate).
Jason Castro was facing a 1-2 count at the time, with two outs and two runners on base in the ninth inning of a draw game, 2-2, at the time. It would have been the end of the first half of the ninth inning had Diaz called a strike, and Boston would have gone to bat in the bottom half of the ninth inning and had a chance to win the game with 38,010 spectators cheering them on.
Diaz’s arm, on the other hand, never rose. He ruled the pitch to be a ball, thus extending the at-bat and, possibly, the whole series. Castro crushed a split-finger fastball from Eovaldi into centre field for a single two pitches later, and Carlos Correa scored from second base to give the Houston Astros a commanding 3-0 lead in the game.
“I felt like I made a nice pitch on the outside corner, but it didn’t go my way,” Eovaldi said of his pitching performance on the outside corner.
A long-awaited offensive explosion followed, as Houston scored seven runs in the top of the ninth inning to defeat Boston 9-2 and even the series at two games each. Afterwards, the series will move back to Houston on Friday for at least a Game 6, with Game 5 taking place on Wednesday at Fenway Park in Boston.
For much as the Red Sox supporters may be upset with Diaz’s decision, the game was still tied when Diaz ruled the pitch a ball, and there was no certainty that they would score. When they came to bat in the bottom of the inning, though, the game had already gotten out of their hands.
Despite leading by a run entering the top of the eighth inning, the Boston Red Sox were still ahead until Jose Altuve launched a pitch from Garrett Whitlock over an advertising billboard above the left field wall to tie the game and spark the Astros’ bench to life.
As part of his game plan for the ninth inning, Cora sent in Nathan Eovaldi, the Game 2 starter and Boston’s best pitcher, with the expectation that he would hold the Astros off for one inning and that the Red Sox offence would come to life in bottom half of the inning.
Carlos Correa, on the other hand, got things started with a double to right field. Having struck out Kyle Tucker, Eovaldi deliberately walked Yuli Gurriel to begin the inning. He struck out Aledmys Diaz, bringing up the left-handed Castro to the plate with two on and two out in the bottom of the ninth.