KANSAS CITY -- Just because a ball hits a glove doesn't mean an out is recorded.
Just ask Jon Lester and the Red Sox, who suffered a 4-3 loss to the Royals on Wednesday.
Lester quickly retired the first two batters he faced in the bottom of the first inning. With two strikes on Royals first baseman Billy Butler, a close pitch was called for ball two, and Lester ended up walking Butler.
Jeff Francoeur followed with a single through the left side of the infield to put two runners on base. Johnny Giavotella, who was called up prior to the game, scorched a line drive toward Marlon Byrd in center, but he misread the ball, which hit his glove and bounced away. The play was ruled an error and Butler came around to score, giving the Royals a 1-0 lead.
With runners on first and third and two outs, Royals catcher Brayan Pena smacked a line drive fly ball to deep left field. Cody Ross took off running and reached out, catching the ball in his glove. After a few running steps, the ball flew out of Ross' glove and ricocheted off the outfield wall before falling back into his glove.
Ross turned around after recapturing the ball as if the third out of the inning was recorded, but third-base umpire Chris Guccione signaled that there was no out on the play. Pena, seemingly confused, kept running and made a big turn around second base. When the throw was made back into the infield, Pena slammed on the brakes and slid back into second just missing the tag of Adrian Gonzalez, who had run over to cover second base.
"I thought I caught the ball, took a couple good steps, then went to go brace myself against the chain-link fence, and the ball just kind of came out," Ross said. "I really didn't think anything of it. When I saw it pop out, I just kind of grabbed it, turned around and I expected to run off the field. And I saw Aviles waving at me to throw it, so I threw it in. I guess he thought that I didn't catch it."
What was going through the mind of Pena, who had to run the bases during the confusing play?
"I was making sure I ran as hard as I could, and I saw the umpire make the safe call. I was kind of in-between, because I really didn't know what was happening," Pena said. "Then everybody told me the ball hit his glove and then bounced off, so he never had control of the baseball."
Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine came out to dispute the call, arguing that Ross had held on to the ball long enough to record the out. The umpires conferred and settled on a call that Valentine still didn't seem to agree with at the time. But Valentine revealed after the game he agreed with the call as soon as it happened.
"I thought it hit off the wall," Valentine said. "I thought it hit his glove and then bounced off the wall. I didn't know that they saw that. It's not a catch unless you get it out of the glove voluntarily."
After the dust settled, two runs had come in to score, Pena was safe at second with a double and the Royals had increased their lead to 3-0.
"I asked him what the ruling was, and he said, 'When you catch the ball, you have to maintain control or on exchange.' So that was the ruling," Ross said. "It's a tough call for him. I haven't seen the replay. It ended up being a huge play for them."
Lester got the next hitter, Irving Falu, to ground out to third base, ending the inning, but his pitch count stood at 38 as he returned to the dugout. Had the close pitch to Butler gone Lester's way, he would have had a 1-2-3 inning with only 14 pitches under his belt.
"I thought he caught it," said Lester, who threw 108 pitches over five innings while allowing four runs, one of which was only earned. "I obviously don't understand the rule. I feel like he had possession of it for three or four steps. I don't know how many steps you have to have control of a ball. You have to ride it all the way into the dugout to have a catch? I don't know, but I felt like he caught it. Like I've always said, I think every pitch is a strike, and I think every time someone makes a play they're out, so that's just me being biased."
Vinnie Duber is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.