Umpires point to rulebook in explaining chaotic finish
Cardinals elated, Red Sox perplexed over obstruction call to end Game 3
ST. LOUIS -- The best description of the home clubhouse would be confused jubilance.
"Look, the umpires are talking right now," said Cardinals slugger Carlos Beltran, nodding toward a TV showing the umpires' postgame news conference. "They're explaining what happened."
So, what happened?
"No idea," Beltran said with a smile. "We won."
It's a call that will be met by decades-long dispute from Bostonians and somewhat sheepish-yet-satisfied glee from St. Louisans, whose Cardinals are now up 2-1 in this wacky World Series.
By the letter of the law -- specifically, Rule 2.00 -- home-plate umpire Dana DeMuth and third-base umpire Jim Joyce got the call right, for Middlebrooks did, indeed, impede Craig's path to the plate after he had made an ill-fated attempt to field the ball.
The definition of obstruction in the rulebook states:
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.
But the application of that law in a game and moment of this magnitude simply didn't sit well with the Red Sox, who were still astounded and outraged in the aftermath.
"It's a joke," Red Sox starter Jake Peavy said. "I don't know how [DeMuth] is going to go lay his head down tonight. When you watch how hard these two teams are playing in the World Series and what it takes to get here and what it takes to climb back in that game, it's just amazing to me that it would end on a call like that."
|DEFINITION OF OBSTRUCTION|
|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.|
Here's how the call came about:
With the game knotted at 4 in the bottom of the ninth, Yadier Molina reached on a one-out single off Brandon Workman, and Craig, still unable to play the field because of a sprained left foot, came off the bench and ripped a pinch-hit double off Boston closer Koji Uehara.
That put two runners in scoring position, and an eager and expectant Busch Stadium crowd was at a fever pitch as Jon Jay came to the plate. On an 0-1 pitch, Jay hit a bouncing ground ball to the right side of the infield, and Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia made a sensational diving stop on the infield grass and then fired home to easily nab Molina for the second out. Craig, meanwhile, tried to advance to third, and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia fired to third to try to get the inning-ending out.
But Saltalamacchia's throw sailed wide of Middlebrooks' outstretched glove and a sliding Craig and into the dirt, bouncing into foul territory down the left-field line. Craig rose to try to advance home but immediately tripped over the legs of Middlebrooks, who lay on the ground to the right of the bag. Left fielder Daniel Nava had recovered the ball in foul territory and threw home in plenty of time to get the gimpy Craig, but Joyce had already pointed out the obstruction at third base and DeMuth called Craig, who collapsed to the ground in pain, safe.
The Cards' players raced to the field to celebrate, even though many of them had very little understanding of what had just transpired. Boston manager John Farrell stormed onto the scene to argue with the umps, with Middlebrooks and Pedroia serving as two particularly vocal voices in opposition of the call and Uehara standing near the plate looking utterly perplexed.
The Red Sox's contention was that Middlebrooks was inside the baseline and had no way of avoiding Craig.
"I don't know how he gets out of the way when he's lying on the ground," Farrell said. "When Craig trips over him, I guess by the letter of the rule you could say it's obstruction. That's a tough pill to swallow."
Joyce, flanked by DeMuth, crew chief John Hirschbeck and MLB executive vice president for baseball operations Joe Torre in a postgame news conference, explained his rationale.
"The baserunner has every right to go unobstructed to home plate," Joyce said, "and, unfortunately for Middlebrooks, he was right there. And there was contact, so he could not advance to home plate naturally."
Once again, the umpires are supported in this instance by the video review and the rulebook, which very specifically covers this exact instance.
"Don't forget," Hirschbeck said, "the runner establishes his own baseline. If he's on second on a base hit and rounds third wide, that baseline is from where he is, way outside the line, back to third and to home plate, it's almost a triangle. So the runner establishes his own baseline."
Craig was awarded home plate because, according to Rule 7.06: "If a play is being made on the obstructed runner … the ball is dead and all runners shall advance, without liability to be put out, to the bases they would have reached, in the umpire's judgment, if there had been no obstruction."
The umpires were already at the center of controversy in Game 1, when DeMuth initially called Pedroia out on a play at second base, even though it was clear shortstop Pete Kozma never had control of the ball. In that instance, the umpires huddled on the field and DeMuth's call was reversed -- a rare but correct on-field overturn.
By no means was this a natural way to win a game. Early research by Baseball Reference came up with an Aug. 6, 2004, game between the Devil Rays and Mariners as the last time a game ended on an obstruction call (in that case, a fielder obstructing a runner's view on a sacrifice fly), though that was not confirmed as the most recent example.
What we know for sure is that no World Series game has ever ended in such a manner, and the Cardinals -- particularly Craig, who referred to his scamper home as an "obstacle course" -- were more than happy to break new ground.
"That was one of the craziest plays I've been a part of," Craig said.
There was some initial concern that Craig might have reinjured his foot on the play, to the point of unavailability for the rest of the Series, though he insisted it was just "a little bit sore."
"I was just trying to get home and didn't have a lot in the tank, to be honest with you," he said. "That's probably the fastest I've tried to run [since the injury]."
Craig's teammates were equal parts impressed by his clutch contributions and amazed at the way that play unfolded.
"At the end of the day, this is about getting the right call," Beltran said. "I guess they got it right."
The Red Sox, at least initially, had trouble buying it. The Cards, at least initially, had trouble believing it.
But the call was made, the game was over, and St. Louis had grabbed control of this Series in the wildest of ways -- a walk-off obstruction.