Fan intervention works in Sox's favor
Vinik grabs foul ball away from Angels catcher in fifth inning
BOSTON -- It was a question of when, not if. And the answer was Friday night in the fifth inning of Game 2 of the American League Division Series. Fenway Park had its own answer to Steve Bartman and Jeffrey Maier, infamous fans from baseball's recent past.
Danny Vinik, 17, perched in the first row -- just two rows in front of author Stephen King and in field-box seats left of the home dugout -- conjured tales of previous Octobers by plucking a Manny Ramirez foul ball away from Angels catcher Jeff Mathis with only one out.
Four years ago, Bartman batted away a foul ball in left field from Chicago's Moises Alou in the National League Championship Series, a play that stigmatized him in the eyes of many fellow Cubs fans. The Marlins won that game and eventually the World Series.
"It crossed my mind," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, who got a clear look at Vinik's play from the on-deck circle.
Lowell was a member of the 2003 Marlins when Bartman committed his misplay. At the time, Lowell stood in the hole, due to hit two batters after Luis Castillo's pop foul.
"But the difference is," Lowell said, "[Vinik] helped a Boston guy out."
Thus, Vinik, the son of hedge-fund manager and Red Sox limited partner Jeffrey Vinik, actively contributed to a win by his favorite team. By scooping up the foul ball, a play that was ruled clean by home-plate umpire Dan Iassogna, Vinik prevented the second out of the inning. Then Vinik watched Ramirez walk on a 3-2 pitch. Lowell tied the game at 3 on a sacrifice fly, a run that proved critical by giving Boston a chance to win it in the bottom of the ninth.
"I think we got a break there," Lowell said. "I can't say I was upset about that."
Lowell said the broad camera well at Fenway prevented Mathis from extending up and out. Obstructed by the well, the 6-foot-tall Mathis could not handle the ball above the 17-year-old Vinik's reach.
"But if that extra section is not there, I think Mathis gets close to the wall," Lowell said. "He can probably make that play."
"I know I had a chance at it," Mathis said. "I just didn't come up with it. I don't know if he had his hands there or not, but I had a chance at making a play, and it didn't happen."
Lowell said Boston fans typically have the presence of mind to distinguish a play that helps from a play that hurts. Right after Vinik caught the ball, surrounding fans recognized his good work with high-fives. Even best-selling author King showed the 17-year-old his appreciation with a high-five.
"When we hit balls a lot of times," Lowell said, "they don't make that same bid."
Even Mathis had to agree.
"Those guys, they're good fans, and they're always paying attention," Mathis said. "You know, he made a good play, I guess."
"I don't know if he got the ball in his glove -- I didn't see a replay -- or if he got it before it hit his glove," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, "but when you're reaching in there, all bets are off."
After the play, Vinik delivered an impromptu press conference in the concourse beneath the bleachers. Several reporters had come down from the press area to interview the instant celebrity.
"I still can't believe ... I still can't really remember that well," said Vinik, moments after J.D. Drew grounded out to end the fifth.
Vinik said he'd never heard of Maier, the teenage fan who leaned over the right-field wall to grab the Derek Jeter home run ball in the 1996 playoffs, helping the Yankees beat the Orioles. Short of breath as he received a set of rapid-fire questions, Vinik described what happened.
"I just reached over and tried to catch the ball," Vinik said. "I don't know."
"More or less, I started getting jumped on," Vinik said, "and applauded and high-fives and everything."
Did Mathis say anything to him?
"Not that I heard," he said. "I was just focusing on other things. I couldn't hear anything."
Did he hear from anyone else?
"A bunch of people," he said. "Like 15 or 20 people called me -- guys who saw me on TV."
Did he realize the magnitude of what had just occurred?
"I don't know," he said. "I'm just glad he scored."
Passing fans offered high-fives and back slaps.
"The new president for Red Sox Nation right here," said one.
"The anti-Bartman," yelled another.
Is he the anti-Bartman?
"Sounds good to me," Vinik said.
Vinik's father stood by as more reporters and gawkers gathered around. Jeffrey Vinik said neither he nor his son had caught a foul ball as season-ticket holders.
"I had one ball [hit] to me once," the elder Vinik said. "And I missed it. [Danny] gave me a hard time for it. He said he wouldn't miss it if he ever got one."
Slowly, the mass of reporters dispersed, and father and son proceeded back out to their field-box seats. As he left, Jeffrey Vinik, father and newly minted press liaison for a famous son, muttered one last statement.
"My wife's going to kill me," he said.
Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.