HOUSTON -- Postseason baseball can leave you on the edge of your seat. And sometimes, the seat itself plays a role in the game.
Though the Astros prevailed, 3-1, in Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Rays on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park, a ballboy’s stool quite likely prevented them from adding what would have been valuable insurance in the bottom of the fifth inning.
With the Astros up, 1-0, and a runner at first, Houston catcher Martín Maldonado ripped a sharp ground ball down the left-field line. The ball appeared to strike the stool just before the ballboy grabbed the seat. As a result, instead of bounding for the left-field corner, the ball headed straight for Rays left fielder Austin Meadows.
“I didn’t even know it hit the stool. Really?” Meadows said with a smile in an otherwise downbeat Rays clubhouse. “It just came right to me, so that’s a good thing. But I didn’t even realize it hit the stool, that’s funny.”
The runner at first was Kyle Tucker, who is on the Astros' ALDS roster in part because of his aggressiveness on the basepaths. Tucker had taken off running for second as the Rays’ Diego Castillo delivered the pitch to Maldonado. Had the ball continued into the corner, Tucker almost assuredly would have scored to extend the Astros’ lead to 2-0.
Instead, Tucker was held up at third, and Maldonado was limited to a single. Castillo got out of the no-out jam by striking out George Springer and getting Jose Altuve to ground into a double play.
The play fell within the purview of Rule 6.01(d), which covers unintentional interference involving persons authorized to be on the playing field (including ballboys/ballgirls). The ball is still considered alive and in play, as long as the interference was not intentional. Therefore, the Astros were not in a position to challenge the play and potentially have the runners placed elsewhere.
Astros manager AJ Hinch said that he was aware of the rule. And he had no ill words for the ballboy, who, for the record, reacted especially swiftly on subsequent balls hit down the line in the sixth.
“I don't blame him,” Hinch said. “That's unlucky more than bad. I think he tried to take a swipe at it. That ball's coming in pretty hot. A little unlucky on our part. I wish it would have gone through the gap there or gotten down into the corner, and I think Tuck scores. It was a great hit and run by Martin. But we got a little unlucky.”
When reliever Will Harris got the Astros out of a ninth-inning jam with the Rays threatening, the stool play went from potentially pivotal to an amusing afterthought. Everybody in an uproar over the incident could officially take a seat.