- Gordon Edes, ESPN Staff Writer
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- He made it sound like a play Charlie Brown would have made, running and sticking out his glove and thinking, knowing the ball would never land there, knowing that under the circumstances he shouldn't even try. And then ...
"I don't know if you could read my lips on camera," J.D. Drew said Saturday night, "But I go, 'How in the world did I catch that?'"
It wasn't that simple, of course. Even after talking about the play for the better part of 15 minutes after the Boston Red Sox lost 3-2 in 10 innings to the Tampa Bay Rays, Drew still couldn't decide whether he'd done the right thing or made a grievous mistake.
Should the Red Sox right fielder have chased down Matt Joyce's high foul fly that required him to clamber over bullpen mounds and scatter relievers' chairs to make the catch? Or because it left him in no position to throw home, allowing the tying run to score easily when Clay Buchholz was working on a three-hit shutout in the seventh inning, should he have never extended his gloved hand forward?
It's not often an outfielder laments making what under other circumstances would have been regarded as a terrific catch, but this was one of them. It did not cost the Red Sox the game. Victor Martinez had put the Sox ahead on their next at-bat with his third home run in two nights, but B.J. Upton homered to tie it in the bottom of the eighth and Dan (the Red Sox killer) Johnson homered to win it in walk-off fashion off Scott Atchison.
But Drew's catch, coming with the Sox clinging to a 1-0 lead, conceded a run when the Rays had shown no capacity to score one. His manager, Terry Francona, made it clear his preference was to see the ball drop.
"The only way I think it's probably in our best interest is if he feels like he can catch it and get turned around [to throw]," Francona said. "He actually mentioned something that he -- I didn't think he wanted to catch it. I'm not sure how it ended up in his glove."
Drew said he thought about stopping his run after the ball as he approached the foul line, but kept going. "I wasn't like reaching for the ball," he said. "I just kind of laid my glove there, and the ball, you know, ended up being there."
It sounded silly, Drew saying that he didn't really mean to catch it. "I agree completely," he said.
And after the cluster of reporters that had gathered around him had thinned out, he tried to explain further what happened.
"It's not that you don't want to make the play," he said. "You always want to make the play. But in certain situations, it's smarter not to make the play, so I think that's what I was trying to say.
"It's not like I didn't want to catch the ball. It's just maybe in that situation, it's better not to."
The ball wasn't hit deep enough for it to be a no-brainer. As Drew approached the foul line, he thought that even if he caught the ball on the mound, he would have had sufficient leverage to whirl and fire home. A one-bounce throw on the artificial turf to Martinez, with the sore-footed Carlos Pena on third, and he liked his chances of making an uplifting, inning-ending double play.
But that's not what happened. The ball kept carrying toward the railing, Drew caught it at below-knee level, and was in no position to make a play on Pena, who scored easily. Pena had reached first on a force play and gone to third when Buchholz made a two-base throwing error on a half-hearted throw to first that was intended to remind Pena that the pitcher hadn't forgotten about him.
"You're going to question yourself," Drew said. "What happens if I drop that ball and bam, Joyce goes deep? Everybody goes, 'What was J.D. doing? He was standing right next to it. If he catches it, it's a tie game.'
"But that being said, who knows what happens? He may single up the middle -- he's got a guy on first base, a run in and we still got just one out. Where I caught it didn't allow me to make a strong throw. That's the one thing that's so disheartening about the whole thing.
"Making the catch wasn't the worst thing in the world. Next thing, Vic comes up and bam, we're back on top. Everything looks like it's working out. Unfortunately B.J. hits a home run and ties the game."
So the soul-searching began in earnest, complicated by the fact that Drew still insisted he didn't know how the ball ended up in his glove. Bench coach DeMarlo Hale told him he thought Drew was going to let it go. Drew solicited the opinion of his lockermate, Bill Hall.
"Looking back now, it's easy to say I shouldn't have caught it," Drew said. "I was talking to Billy Hall. He said, 'You got to catch it.' He goes, 'We've got to get an out there. What if he gets another pitch and what if he hits it out?'
"I said, 'That's a valid point, but he's pitching good.' So me and him debated it, I said, 'Naw, I got to drop it.' He said, 'No, you got to catch it.'"
Drew recalled a catch he'd made earlier this season in Detroit, when he'd gone into a slide and caught the ball in the corner. When he looked up, he said, Dustin Pedroia was laughing at him. When they got back to the dugout, Drew asked him what was so funny.
"He said, 'Dude, you slid 15 feet and you weren't even looking and you had your glove out and the ball just went boop, into your glove."
Drew sighed. "This was kind of like that," he said.
"To do it over again, I'd probably stop running and let Clay have a chance to make another pitch. If a mistake pitch was made and he does whatever, then everybody can second-guess it then and say J.D. should have hustled and caught the ball.
"But unfortunately we're talking about it now. J.D.caught it and the guy scored."
Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.
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