Off the bat, the ball looked gone. Off the wall, the tie looked broken. Off of Hunter Renfroe, the American League Division Series suddenly looked very crazy.
The rule is crystal clear and there was no debating it during Boston's wild 6-4 victory over the Rays. But it didn't make the moment any less surreal.
With two outs in the 13th inning and Yandy Diaz on first, Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier ripped a Nick Pivetta offering to deep right field, where it sailed over Renfroe's head and struck the short right-field fence. The ball caromed off of Renfroe's hip and into the bullpen.
Running with the pitch, Diaz would've scored easily. Rather than be awarded home on umpire's discretion, however, he returned to third and Kiermaier took second. Per rule 5.06(b)(4)(H), if a fair ball not in flight is deflected by a fielder and goes out of play, the batter and runners are awarded two bases from the time of the pitch.
Pivetta struck out Mike Zunino to end the threat, and the Red Sox won the game in the bottom of the frame on Christian Vazquez's walkoff two-run homer.
"The umpires explained it to me," Kiermaier said. "So I can't go against that. The rules are what they are. But, man, that's a heartbreaker. I can't believe that happened or we don't get the chance to score right there.
"For one, I crushed that ball. I was just hoping to see it leave the yard. I got a lot of snap and crackle with no pop, first and foremost. And for that to happen right there, it just doesn't make sense to me, but the ruling is what it is. ... I mean, Yandy would have scored standing up. It's a heartbreaker, plain and simple."
The Red Sox saw it a little differently.
"He hit it pretty well, and I was actually going for the catch and happened to look up, and the wall was right there," Renfroe said. "It hit the top of the wall, ricocheted off the ground, hit me in the right hip. Thankfully, it bounced over the fence, and they issued a ground-rule double.
"It would be the same thing if you were going down the line, hit your glove, hit the ground, and bounced over. It would be the same thing."
Crew chief Sam Holbrook explained that the rule left no room for interpretation. Rays manager Kevin Cash asked for a replay, but once the umpires determined that Renfroe didn't intentionally knock the ball over the fence, the call was clear, and Cash didn't even argue.
"It's in the rulebook," Holbrook said. "It's a ground-rule double. There's no discretion that the umpires have. In this play right here, the ball was no longer in flight because it hit the front part of the wall. So you cannot catch the ball off the wall. The wall is basically an extension of the playing field, the front part of the wall is. So once that ball hit the wall, it was no longer in flight. Now the ball bounces off the wall and is deflected out of play off of a fielder, that's just a ground-rule double. There's no, 'He would have done this, would have done that.' It's just flat out in the rule book, it's a ground-rule double."
A franchise that has lost playoff games because of a failure to signal interference on Ed Armbrister during the 1975 World Series or suffered two blown calls at second base vs. the Yankees in the 1999 ALCS will take this one.
The Rays want to know if it's really fair that Kiermaier could drill a ball off the fence and through terrible luck not be rewarded for it, but Holbrook, for one, likes the rule as is.
"It's cut and dried from an umpire's standpoint," he said. "It's been that way ever since I came in the game. I don't see any need to change it.