ST. PETERSBURG -- It's one of those dilemmas that an outfielder isn't presented with all that often. When a runner is on third with less than two outs and the game is hanging in the balance, should a foul ball be caught for a potential sacrifice fly? Or should the outfielder -- in this case J.D. Drew -- let it drop?
Drew thought he was ready for it in the seventh inning on Saturday night, with his Red Sox clinging to a 1-0 lead over the Rays.
He gave it the good chase, sized up where he was, and was ready to let the ball go. But then the strangest thing happened. The foul ball struck by Matt Joyce landed squarely in Drew's glove, which was in the basket-catch position. Carlos Pena tagged up and scored easily as Drew was in a terrible throwing position in Tampa Bay's bullpen.
What was Drew's intent?
"Let it drop, pretty much," said Drew. "I really don't know how I caught the thing. It's kind of amazing to me. If I tried to make that play in a situation with two outs and the game on the line, I probably wouldn't be able to get to it. For some reason, the thing stuck in my glove. I had every intention of letting the ball drop. Just instinct. Put the glove out right at the last second and it ended up in there."
Did Drew want to catch the ball under any circumstance?
"My game plan was if it was around the mound, get behind it, make a throw," said Drew. "That's why I was in the area of the ball. That being said, how in the world I got over the mound into the chairs into the wall and all that kind of stuff, it was just one of those absolutely great plays in a situation where you need to let the ball drop."
Making it more painful was that the Red Sox lost the game, 3-2 in 10 innings, to fall 5 1/2 games behind the Rays and the Yankees in the American League East.
But as Drew knows, there were no guarantees even if he had let the ball drop.
"It's a question mark," said Drew. "If you let the ball drop and he walks, there's two guys on and the next pitch he hits a two-run homer, it's a difficult situation. But in that part of the game, Clay [Buchholz] is throwing the ball pretty well, he's got a good chance on [a] 3-2 [pitch], but you never know what's going to happen."
"Again, he doesn't have a lot of time to think," said Boston manager Terry Francona. "I think the only way it's in our best interest [to catch it] is if he feels like he can catch it and get turned around. Going over the mound and running into the bullpen there, he actually mentioned that he didn't want to catch it. I don't know how it ended up in his glove. I think he was definitely thinking [let it drop], but he stuck his glove out and it ended up going in. It's a tough play."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.