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Top Moments of the Decade #4: The Catch

The greatest defensive play in franchise history.

American League Championship Series Game 4: Boston Red Sox Vs Houston Astros At Minute Maid Park Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

It is now December in the year of our Aceves 2019, which means that everyone who is anyone is doing some sort of content creation to mark the end of the decade. It is horribly unoriginal, which I do not say derisively because I’m doing it too! It’s practically legally obligated! Anyway, I’m going to be counting down the top moments of the decade for the duration of the month. We’ll start with our honorable mentions in which I’ll put down my numbers 11-20 moments of the decade and then after that each of the top ten moments will have their own standalone post. This is all totally subjective (obviously), and it’s also specifically not the best moments. In other words, i’s not all good, though most of it is. Okay, that’s enough, right? I don’t need to explain the concept of a top moments of the decade series, right? You get it.

We know that 2018 was a special season. It wasn’t special in the same kind of way as 2004, which will never be topped as the most beloved team in franchise history. It wasn’t special in the same way as 2013, which picked up a city when it needed it most and carried it all the way to a surprising championship. It was most like 2007, when the Red Sox went wire-to-wire and never looked like anything besides the best team in baseball. Except, well, the 2018 team was better.

This was the most successful team the league had seen in 20 years, and it may be 20 more years until we see another one. This is a team that won 108 games, and while they certainly benefited from a near-historic separation in the American League between the top and bottom teams. Now, I will grant that it didn’t always feel like a historically great team, and that on a day-to-day or a week-to-week basis, there was plenty of times they felt like a merely good, or perhaps even mediocre, team. But, more than any other Red Sox team I’ve ever seen, they found ways to win.

That hidden greatness carried over to the postseason, too, where they started off by playing the 100-win Yankees. The Red Sox squeaked by in the first game before getting beat in the second game, sending worry through the fan base. So, of course they responded with a 16-1 drubbing that included Brock Holt becoming the first player in MLB history to hit for the cycle in the postseason. They’d take a close Game Four, too, and they were on to the ALCS.

This time, they were playing the 103-win Astros, a team that many felt were actually better than the Red Sox despite having won five fewer games. It wasn’t an unfair assumption, given the roster. After Houston took Game One in convincing fashion, that feeling only got stronger. Except, well, the Red Sox continued finding ways to win. They won a close Game Two before winning convincingly themselves on the road in Game Three. Suddenly, they were the ones with momentum and a series lead, not to mention home field in their court again. Not that that last part would matter, of course.

We are going to concentrate on Game Four, however. This was perhaps the wildest baseball game I have ever seen considering the stakes. This probably isn’t true and is something I have put admittedly very little thought into, but it was a wild rollercoaster of emotions. I’ll put it this way: Jackie Bradley Jr. hit a go-ahead, two-run homer in the sixth inning that basically single-handedly won him the ALCS MVP. It also gave the Red Sox a lead, something they would not relinquish in the rest of the series. It was also the third, at highest, most memorable play of the game.

There was also the Mookie Betts fan interference call, which will not go down in infamy for the rest of time. After the Red Sox scored two in the top of the first, it sure looked like José Altuve had tied things up. But, it was ruled that Betts was interfered with while trying to rob the home run — he was clearly hit, but the question of whether or not he was hit over the line or in the stands was anything but clear. Amazingly, the only camera angle available to give us a definitive view was blocked by a fan, the type of turn that could only happen in a game like this.

This is about what happened at the end of the game, though. The context is important here, but the actual play itself still boggles the mind to this day. Craig Kimbrel was on the mound in the ninth for his second inning of work after having allowed a run and three baserunners in the eighth. Kimbrel had been a mess all postseason, and that continued here. With a two-run lead, he walked three while recording a couple of outs, bringing Alex Bregman (arguably the Astros best player at the time) to the plate in a spot where a base hit could tie the game.

Bregman is the kind of player who is built for these spots, and Kimbrel had done nothing in the playoffs or in this specific game that gave confidence he could get it done. Sure enough, the Astros third baseman swung at the first pitch he saw and smashed it on a line into shallow left field. If Benintendi lets it fall in front of him, the play most fielders likely make here, Houston ties the game and the Red Sox have to hope for extras.

That’s not what happened, of course. Benintendi took a couple of steps and went for the dive, a truly insane decision. I don’t mean that in a bad way, either, and in a split second decision like this you don’t have time to run through all of the possibilities. Think about it, though. The Red Sox were rolling after a Game One loss. If Benintendi misses here, there’s no question all three runners score for Houston and the series is ties on two. As we know, none of that happens. Benintendi dives, catches it, and comes up screaming in pure elation.

We know what happened after that. The Red Sox won Game Five thanks to a huge David Price performance, then went on to win the World Series in five more games. Every series had its own magical moment and the entire season was filled with great times, but the singular play that will define that season and that postseason run is The Catch from Benintendi. I know Dwight Clark already owns that moniker, but if any play in any sport is going to take it over, it’s this one.