Turns out, there was no dastardly intrigue, no subterfuge, no phantom shouter. What happened Friday was simply a basic mistake, rookie rightfielder Wil Myers failing to catch a fly ball he should have. "Totally my fault," Myers said. "I messed it up." But it wasn't really that simple, of course, Myers' misplay leading to several others in a rapid swing of momentum, the Rays losing their American League Division Series opener they were winning, by an ugly 12-2 final. And after all the Rays did to restore promise to their season in taking three must-win games in three cities over four days, their hopes are now teetering again as they have to beat the Red Sox three times in four games to advance, with David Price on the mound for Game 2 today.
"It's definitely good knowing the game wasn't a must-win," leftfielder Sean Rodriguez said. "But this is the postseason, so you can't really say any game isn't a must-win."
The first 3½ innings couldn't have gone much better, the Rays leading 2-0 on homers by Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist, starter Matt Moore holding the Sox hitless.
But the next half inning couldn't have gone much worse, the uncharacteristic series of defensive mistakes leading to five Boston runs.
"We've been playing very well," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We've not been making any mistakes. We made a bunch (Friday)."
Several balls eluded Rodriguez coming off the tricky leftfield wall. ("It's called the Monster for a reason," he said.) Moore was late to cover first, then failed to stop a runner from scoring from second. ("A big mistake on my part, being late and not being aware," he said.) Catcher Jose Lobaton let a third strike get away that extended the inning and the deficit. ("I just missed the ball, no excuses," he said.)
But it was Myers' mistake, which he said was the result of thinking centerfielder Desmond Jennings was going to make the catch instead, that was most glaring — and intriguing.
The Sox had the leadoff man on when David Ortiz lofted a fly ball just about to the rightfield wall. Myers tracked it, arm extended to signal to Jennings that he had it, but then stopped suddenly, the ball bouncing 2-3 feet behind him, then over the short fence for a ground-rule double.
The play looked so odd, even on the Rays bench they wondered if there was outside influence, from a Red Sox fan or, in what would have been a wild twist, a Red Sox reliever. "I thought maybe somebody from the bullpen screamed out, or a fan or something," Rays bench coach Dave Martinez said.
The Red Sox knew it looked that way, too, reliever Craig Breslow greeting reporters in their clubhouse saying, "Before you ask, none of us said anything. We were all just watching."
But Myers, the 22-year-old who made his major-league debut here at Fenway at June 18, said it was much-less complicated.
It wasn't that he heard anything specific, which would have been tough given the roaring sellout crowd, but that he saw Jennings out of the corner of his eye, assumed Jennings would make the catch and deferred accordingly.
"I thought maybe he had called something," Myers said. "Since the centerfielder has priority, that's what I was supposed to do.
"I didn't hear anything. I should have taken control of that situation and just caught the ball."
Jennings, who was still several feet away at the time, said he had no explanation for what happened. "I dunno," he said several times.
Myers looked "miserable" when he came to bench when the inning was finally over, and Martinez said he and others offered consolation but didn't want to say much, waiting several innings to get Myers' explanation.
"It's fair to call it just a mistake, it doesn't necessarily have to be a rookie (mistake)," Martinez said. "In the playoffs, anything can happen. Things can get a little freaky."
The Red Sox fans made sure Myers heard plenty, though, chanting his name — "MYYYY-ERRRSS, MYYYY-ERRRSS" — for much of the afternoon and giving him a mock ovation when he came up to bat.
"It's not easy for something like that to happen," Myers said. "It gave them the momentum, so it's a tough situation for me to be in."
For him, and now for all the Rays.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.