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Cards deserving of win as umpires make correct call

Relentless club triumphs on obstruction after squandering chances early in game

ST. LOUIS -- Justice triumphed. And so did the St. Louis Cardinals.

There will be much written and said about the "controversy" that ended Game 3 of the 2013 World Series.

Where is the controversy when the umpires made the absolute correct call, immediately, in real time and with precise reasoning? It is time to give the umpires credit for being right the first time.

As far as the Cardinals, 5-4 winners over the Boston Red Sox at Busch Stadium on Saturday night, they missed some golden scoring opportunities and their bullpen had a rare letdown, surrendering a two-run lead. But these Cards are truly relentless. They created another scoring opportunity in the ninth and they made it count.

Now they're up 2-1 in the Series. This simple fact towers over every other aspect of the event. But you don't see World Series games end on obstruction calls every day, so let's take another look at that one.

Ninth inning, tied at 4, one out, runners on second and third for the Redbirds. Jon Jay grounds to second and Yadier Molina is thrown out by Dustin Pedroia attempting to score. But Boston catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia makes an ill-advised and errant throw to third base trying to retire Allen Craig advancing from second.

As Craig gets up to attempt to score the winning run, he is obstructed by not only the body of third baseman Will Middlebrooks sprawled in front of him, but he also encounters the raised legs of Middlebrooks. Third-base umpire Jim Joyce immediately signals the obstruction call. The play at the plate? Forget the play at the plate. The runner scores on the obstruction call.

Game over. Cardinals win. Red Sox lose. Umpires explain all in postgame news conference.

Rule 2.00
Obstruction is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.
Rule 2.00 (Obstruction) Comment: If a fielder is about to receive a thrown ball and if the ball is in flight directly toward and near enough to the fielder so he must occupy his position to receive the ball he may be considered in the act of fielding a ball. It is entirely up to the judgment of the umpire as to whether a fielder is in the act of fielding a ball. After a fielder has made an attempt to field a ball and missed, he can no longer be in the act of fielding the ball. For example: If an infielder dives at a ground ball and the ball passes him and he continues to lie on the ground and delays the progress of the runner, he very likely has obstructed the runner.
Complete Rule 2.00 | Official rules PDF

"When [Craig] tried to advance to home plate," Joyce said, "the feet were up in the air, and he tripped over Middlebrooks right there. And immediately and instinctually, I called obstruction.

"The baserunner has every right to go unobstructed to home plate, and unfortunately for Middlebrooks, he was right there. And there was contact, so [Craig] could not advance to home plate naturally."

Joe Torre, Major League Baseball's executive vice president for baseball operations, read the operative rule book passage:

"An infielder dives at a ground ball and the ball passes him, and he continues to lie on the ground and delays the progress of the runner, he very likely has obstructed the runner."

Crew chief John Hirschbeck pointed out that intent to obstruct was not a necessary part of the call. The issue is obstruction, and Craig was obviously obstructed by Middlebrooks.

It ought to be recalled that this same crew, in Game 1 of this Series, huddled to reverse an out call at second base that had originally gone against the Red Sox. They got that one right, too.

Was justice also served in the larger sense by a Cardinals victory? I'm going with yes on that, even though this was far from a perfect evening for the St. Louis club. What the Cards did was what they often do. They played through the imperfections, and their persistence, as so often has been the case, paid off with additional chances to win.

The Cardinals loaded the bases in the fourth with none out and did not score. They scored twice in the seventh, but they had a runner on third with one out in that inning and could not bring him in. The bullpen, so reliable so many times, could not hold a two-run lead in the eighth. But the Cards kept up the pressure.

"Yeah, it's a good point," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "Typically, against a very good team, you start giving away opportunities like bases loaded, no out -- we had a man on third with less than two outs later and we weren't able to capitalize. And typically in these kinds of games, you're going to have to come through.

"But we also live on the big hit. And fortunately we got that big hit by Matt Holliday [a two-run double in the seventh]. He gave us some breathing room. And then [we had] just a lit bit of trouble closing the door at the end.

"Typically, those things don't lead toward a win. But the guys weren't distracted by the things that didn't happen tonight and kept their nose down and tried to make something happen afterwards. It took a couple of base hits and the guys making something happen there at the end. Allen Craig with a big [double] for us. Jon Jay putting the ball in [play] hard, and trying to take our chances."

Long before the twists, the turns and the obstruction, there was a play that told you how much the Cardinals wanted this one. The second batter of the game, Boston's Shane Victorino, hit a bouncer up the middle. Surely, it was a single, ticketed for center field.

No, it wasn't, because there was starting pitcher Joe Kelly reaching back with his bare hand to turn that potential base hit into a harmless out, pitcher to first. Kelly is known for his athleticism, but a lot of pitchers wouldn't put their pitching hand in harm's way like that.

"It's the World Series, you want to make every play you can," Kelly said. "And usually I've had plays like that during the year where I go out and bring [the hand] back. I just decided not to bring it back and try to make a play."

That's this club. No, this one didn't end in "controversy." This one ended with the umpires making a correct call and the Cards doing enough to deserve a victory.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for
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