BOSTON – A great baseball conspiracy died in its infancy Friday evening. There was no second shouter. There wasn't even a first.
Neither a Boston Red Sox reliever in the right-field bullpen nor a denizen of Fenway Park in the stands nearby yelled at Tampa Bay Rays rookie Wil Myers as he camped under a David Ortiz fly ball in Game 1 of the American League Division Series. What happened would've made so much more sense had someone gotten excessively mouthy and barked: "I got it." Nope. This was just a 22-year-old who screwed up in the biggest game of his young career.
When Myers peeled away from the ball and it dropped behind him, he reflexively raised his hands, more an admonishment of himself than the man he saw out of the corner of his eye. Center fielder Desmond Jennings jogged into Myers' peripheral-vision field, and Myers took that to mean he wanted to catch the ball, and he didn't, and it bounced over the fence for a ground-rule double, and eight batters later the Red Sox had booked a five-run fourth inning, and it mushroomed into a 12-2 shellacking that was background noise, really, to what happened to the poor kid in right.
"That was totally my fault," Myers said.
"I messed it up and should've made the play," he continued.
"It won't happen again," he promised.
Myers stood tall, his back literally up against a wall, a crush of cameramen doing their best to destroy any sense of personal space. In his first playoff game, Myers learned that a misplay does not end with the sort of stomach-in-throat feeling he suffered. It is TBS replaying the play every … single … inning. And the implication, even if nobody knows what an alternate reality would've given, that the five runs Matt Moore allowed that inning were a direct result of one stupid play when, in truth, they sprouted from a handful of them in the Rays' single screwiest inning of the year.
That Myers handled it as well as he did – owning the play, forgoing excuses and promising to come back better – was as impressive as the misplay was puzzling. It was almost as if Myers handled it too well. Like, how do we know Myers isn't part of the Illuminati and this was all some big ruse? Or hey. He's never shown us his birth certificate. Can we say for certain his name is even Wil Myers?
The sellout crowd of 38,177 at Fenway believed so, and they loved reminding him. With no provocation, the chants would start: "My-ers, My-ers, My-ers," evocative of the razz job Pittsburgh used to pummel Cincinnati starter Johnny Cueto in the wild-card game. Later on, they expanded to: "We love My-ers." Whether in his four hitless at-bats or those last six innings patrolling right, Myers heard and experienced derision in its purest form.
"Felt bad for Wil. Felt bad for Matty. Felt bad for our team," Jennings said. "It's a play that we should make. I feel like it's not about feeling bad. It's about winning the game. That was a mistake."
The Rays tried to encourage Myers. He means too much to them for an error – which, technically speaking, wasn't even an error – to derail him when Tampa Bay now must beat the best team in baseball three times in four games, including at least once at Fenway. Generally, Myers isn't the sort who scares. Members of the Rays organization marvel at just how composed he is, how the standard rookie hang-ups don't apply to him. Myers is going to win AL Rookie of the Year, and it probably won't be the last piece of hardware to someday collect dust in his trophy case.
This was one play. One. And one that looked even worse because it was surrounded by Sean Rodriguez misplaying a double off the Green Monster, and Moore not getting to first base in time to beat a hustling Stephen Drew, and Gomes wheeling home from second base on that infield hit and letting the inning continue with a passed ball on a strikeout. These were not the Rays. They were the Astros.
Still, the literal and figurative frozen moment was Myers on the warning track with a blank face. On TV monitors throughout Fenway, they showed the play from more than a dozen camera angles. It was like Myers' indoctrination into a fraternity, with each new view a fresh paddle whack. Each ended the same: Myers with his hands on his hips, his eyes hiding behind his sunglasses, his teammate in center shooting daggers at him.
"You play 162 games, a lot of innings, a lot of pitches, a lot of runs," Gomes said. "One thing you can guarantee in the playoffs is you're going to see something you haven't seen all year. And [we] saw that right away."
Actually, Red Sox manager John Farrell saw it about 24 hours earlier. Yes, he did predict a low-scoring game, and the Red Sox ensured that wasn't the case. They became the first team since 1936 to have every starter slash a hit and score a run in the postseason. Only once this season did the Rays allow more than 11 runs, and that was April 7, their sixth game of the year. Boston's offense does this. It is relentless, an obstacle course that tripped up Moore (eight runs in 4 1/3 innings) and reliever Jamey Wright (four more runs in the eighth inning).
Once he got past the low-scoring part, Farrell turned into a soothsayer.
"There's going to be a play," Farrell said Thursday, "a defensive play inside of the game that will be a swing moment."
It swung, all right, and made Game 2 on Saturday even more integral for the Rays and Myers. He'll show up to Fenway a few hours before the game, like he always does, and get into his routine. Some light jogging and stretching. Some swings. Some flyballs in the outfield. And a uniform replete with a Rays hat, not one made of tinfoil.