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The story behind Andrew Benintendi's historic catch

Rob Bradford
October 18, 2018 - 4:50 am
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HOUSTON -- The end result was this ...

"That’s probably the most excited I’ve been after a catch. I was telling someone, I blacked out. I had no idea what was going on."

These were the words of Andrew Benintendi, the player who saved Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.

The Red Sox left fielder's catch of Alex Bregman's sinking line-drive with two outs in the ninth inning will go down as one of the most significant defensive plays in team history. If he does not manage to reach the Bregman liner -- which was classified as having a 79 percent hit probability by StatCast -- the ball likely gets buy him, all three Houston baserunners score and a two-run Red Sox lead turns into a Game 4 loss. But he did catch it, and now the Red Sox are one win away from reaching the World Series.

"Listen, I’m telling you, when he hit that ball, it was a bit low. I had some doubts. I did," admitted Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts. "After he caught it, it was a relief. It was a huge relief. Got Bregman up at the plate, one of the best players this year, at home, he jumped on the first pitch. He hit it good but perfectly positioned."

The catch was part of skill but also at least a portion preparation.

The first thing to know is one subtle advantage Benintendi had when it came to playing Minute Maid Park's left field. Of all the parks in the majors, the dimensions are most like that of Fenway Park's left field, with a large wall residing closer to home plate than any other part of the outfield.

This allowed Benintendi and his coaches to gauge how shallow he could play, a designation that was put on the fielder's card stating where he should set up with Craig Kimbrel on the mound and the right-handed-hitting Bregman at the plate. A more spacious outfield like Colorado or Miami? Forget it.

"I feel like I’ve always been able to go in pretty well, and especially playing at Fenway you have to be able to do that because everything over your head is off the wall or a home," Benintendi said. "I think playing at Fenway helped me there."

Then there was what Bregman was going to get in the way of offerings from Kimbrel.

For the majority of the series, the third baseman was the one guy in the Astros' lineup who the Red Sox weren't going to let beat them, consistently pitching around the righty hitter. But after Houston moved him up to the leadoff spot for Game 4, the Sox took a slightly different approach.

"Today we went right after him," said Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon.

In this case, Kimbrel didn't have much of a choice with the bases loaded and his command clearly not on point. So it was decided that a 97 mph fastball in the top of the strike zone was the way to go.

"He was trying to get ahead first," said Leon of Kimbrel, who had just walked No. 9 hitter Tony Kemp. "The last at-bat he threw a lot of breaking balls so just get ahead with his fastball. He put a good swing on it. He hit it good, but he didn’t hit it that great. And Benny, that wasn’t an unbelievable catch."

While the pitch was good enough, and the positioning seemed to fit the moment, the ball still had a fair amount of top-spin which necessitated Benintendi making a quick decision.

"I had a perfect view of it," said Astros manager A.J. Hinch. "And they played pretty aggressively in the gaps. You can pinch the gaps in this ballpark and you see it all the time. And it helped us on the Correa base hits in between the 5-6 hole on both RBI singles. So at that point, I'm always checking out where the left fielder is. I see he kind of creeps inside the fence line where that corner is in left center. So when the ball was hit, two parts I was looking at was how Benintendi was closing and whether or not it was going to drop in as a -- a little more shallow.

"But as he dives, we're all waiting in anticipation. And then his reaction was a pretty aggressive celebration so I assumed he caught it. We checked the video. And he caught it cleanly. The difference in that game literally was a couple inches. He misses that ball and if it hits leather, he probably keeps the game tied. If it doesn't then the game's over and we're celebrating."

But it was the Red Sox who ended up with their wave of euphoria.

"First thing I’m thinking is at least it’s not going far, but the next thing I started thinking, I see Benny running in and see him leave his feet, I’m like just don’t get by him, block it up, block it up, and he makes an amazing play," said Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. "That’s why we have so much faith in one another. He obviously knew that he could make the play so he went for it, and both him and Marcus (Betts) made that special play to start off the inning. Wow, unbelievable."

"I’m going to sleep good tonight and dream about Benny," said Bogaerts. "I will."

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