Boston Red Sox: Jerry Meals
July, 30, 2013
By Tony Lee, Special to ESPNBoston.com
BOSTON -- A million and one things can occur between now and the end of September, but if the Tampa Bay Rays edge the Boston Red Sox in any kind of playoff race (remember, it happened just two seasons ago), some people may point to their game July 29 at Fenway Park and ask: What if?
What if Daniel Nava had scored from second base on a one-out double off the right-field wall by Stephen Drew in the eighth inning?
What if Nava had been called safe at home trying to score on a fly ball to left field moments later?
The full impact on the playoff race remains to be seen. For now, the fact that Nava did not score on either play -- despite having ample opportunity to do so on the first and actually doing so on the second despite plate umpire Jerry Meals' horrendous call -- means that Boston is back in second place behind the red-hot Rays.
If that’s the difference when game No. 162 is complete, Red Sox manager John Farrell’s words will echo once again, just as they did in the moments following a bizarre 2-1 loss Monday night.
AP Photo/Michael DwyerDaniel Nava reacts after being called out at home to end the eighth.
“It was a missed call, terrible call,” said Farrell, who was ejected by Meals for arguing. “Clearly the angle, Jerry Meals was behind the plate when the throw came in. He did not see the view. Daniel Nava clearly was safe. It’s unfortunate. We should still be playing right now.”
On first glance, it did seem as if catcher Jose Molina got a knee on the plate as Nava’s foot came in. However, replays showed Nava’s left foot sliding across home plate before Molina's knee was able to stop it.
Meals fessed up, in a way, but it won’t do a thing for the standings.
“What I saw was, Molina blocked the plate and Nava’s foot lifted,” Meals told a pool reporter from the Associated Press. “But in the replays, you could clearly see Nava’s foot got under for a split second and then lifted, so I was wrong on my decision. From the angle I had, I did not see his foot get under Molina’s shin guard.”
The angle Meals took was what bothered Farrell the most.
“Seeing where Jerry was in relation to the plate to make that call, he was blocked out of the play,” Farrell said. “You see the reaction of the baserunner, they tell you everything.”
The reaction of which Farrell speaks is that of Nava, usually so calm and controlled, throwing a fit at home plate. Such a display led most to believe, at least anyone who knows Nava, that even without a replay the Sox had a beef.
“There was no doubt I was safe. I wouldn’t try to sell it,” Nava said. “I knew it was safe. Obviously [he] missed the call but at the same time I probably should have been there the at-bat before.”
We'll get to “the at-bat before.” But first, a little setup.
Rays lefty David Price took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning and was in cruise control. Then came the rains, and a 39-minute delay. Price somewhat surprisingly returned to the mound when the delay ended, but was yanked after just one batter.
AP Photo/Michael DwyerReplays showed Daniel Nava slipped under the tag of Jose Molina, but Jerry Meals saw it differently.
Ryan Lavarnway then greeted reliever Joel Peralta with a double off the Green Monster, and Nava, who was involved in a questionable baserunning play against the New York Yankees two weekends ago, was sent in to run for Lavarnway.
Drew followed with a hard smash directly at right fielder Wil Myers. Nava made a brief break back toward second when he thought Myers might make the catch and was forced to scramble toward third when the ball landed over the rookie’s head and one-hopped the wall. Third-base coach Brian Butterfield had no choice but to hold Nava, keeping the tying run at third base.
Like Meals, Nava shouldered some blame for the run that just could not score.
“I should have scored. I mean, it’s my fault,” Nava said. “I should have scored. Bad read.
“You need to take more of an extended lead. I got halfway and as I saw the ball getting closer I thought, he’s about to catch this ball. I started to creep back to second. With one out, you’ve got to keep extending because you’re trying to score, not trying to get to third.”
Farrell did not mince words when describing Nava’s need to wait as long as possible before making any break back toward second.
“You’re schooled to, if the ball is not caught, to score, to be in a position to be able to score,” Farrell said. “And unfortunately at that point his momentum had him going back to second base once he read that the ball wasn’t caught.”
Farrell called it a misread.
The inhabitants of the other clubhouse were satisfied with the call at home, obviously. Rays manager Joe Maddon chose to view it as a perfect example of how to play defense behind the plate.
“Sammy Fuld great play, J-Mo on the backside of that thing, that was textbook,” Maddon said. “That’s just stuff you try to teach catchers to do. Not everyone can do that. Regardless of if you play safe beyond that point, the way J-Mo did that is textbook. Spalding guide to blocking the plate. That was outstanding.”
Maddon is right. Molina played it well. Still, Nava was safe, and everything that took place leading up to the botched call made for a wild ending on an odd July night that could have a major impact come September.