The Boston Red Sox and their fans are likely still in shock on Sunday after what was easily the most bizarre ending to a World Series game in Major League Baseball history.
St. Louis Cardinals pinch-hitter Allen Craig attempted to score the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning after Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia threw wildly to third baseman Will Middlebrooks on a bang-bang play. Middlebrooks and Craig were tangled up on the play, with Craig tripping over Middlebrooks before his dash to home plate.
Left fielder Daniel Nava, backing up the wild throw, retrieved the ball and threw home ahead of the sliding Craig, who was tagged out by Saltalamacchia. However, home plate umpire Dana DeMuth immediately called Craig safe on the play, pointing to third base in the process.
Unbeknownst to the Red Sox, third base umpire Jim Joyce had already ruled that Middlebrooks obstructed Craig on the play.
The umpires clarified the ruling after the game, citing Rule 2.00, which specifically lays out the 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.
In going by the letter of the rule, the umpires were in fact correct in citing Middlebrooks for impeding the progress of the runner—Allen Craig.
Joyce expounded on the ruling. "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 (Craig) could not advance to home plate naturally."
There does not have to be intent on the part of the fielder. Obstruction should not be confused with intentional interference. In this instance, it didn’t matter that Middlebrooks wasn’t intending to interfere with Craig, and for that reason, Joyce’s call was on the money.
That does nothing to ease the anger among Red Sox players, however.
Jake Peavy, the Sox Game 3 starter, was incensed after the game.
"It's a joke," 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."
Peavy and everyone else can be as mad as they want, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the right call was made. For all of the scrutiny that umpires have been under this year in baseball, this crew did the right thing.
Does it stink to have such an important game end this way? Absolutely, and Sox manager John Farrell was among those who thought so as well.
"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."
It’s absolutely tough to swallow, and if the Red Sox go on to lose the World Series, this play will be talked about for decades.
But the umpires made the only call they could make, regardless of the way it ended an important game.
The Red Sox can either hang their heads and gross about what they deem as a terrible injustice, or they can pick themselves up, dust themselves off and do everything they can in the next four games to ensure a victory.
Obstruction is indeed a horrible way to end a World Series game, but it would also be horrible to blame the umpires for making a call that should have never happened in the first place. If Saltalamacchia doesn’t make a bad throw, obstruction never happens. If Middlebrooks does more to block the ball from getting past him on the play, obstruction never happens. If Farrell had made some better in-game decisions before the play, obstruction never happens.
The Red Sox have nobody to blame but themselves for what happened on Saturday, and the only way they can prevent the obstruction call from being the story of the 2013 World Series is to move past it and win.
It’s in their hands now.