Game 3 of the World Series ended in unusual fashion Saturday night, as a ninth-inning obstruction call on Boston third baseman Will Middlebrooks resulted in umpires awarding a base to St. Louis' Allen Craig — bringing the winning run home and putting the Cardinals ahead in the series, 2-1.
It's reportedly the first time an obstruction call has ended a World Series game. And it brought an end to a nearly four-hour contest in which the Red Sox had twice rallied from two-run deficits — most recently in the eighth inning.
The game's final score was 5-4. Here's how the last half of the ninth unfolded at Busch Stadium:
- With the hosting Cardinals batting last, the team was down to two outs when Yadier Molina singled. Allen Craig followed with a pinch-hit double off Boston closer Koji Uehara, sending the ball down the line into left field.
- Boston drew its infielders in, to prevent a run — and that strategy seemed to pay off when St. Louis' Jon Jay grounded to a diving Dustin Pedroia at second base. Pedroia threw home, where catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia easily tagged a sliding Molina for the second out.
- Saltalamacchia then threw to third in an attempt to nab Craig — the team's cleanup hitter who returned from a foot injury to play in the World Series after missing the rest of the postseason.
- The errant throw brought Middlebrooks across the bag toward second, with Craig behind him. The third baseman couldn't corral the ball, which seemed to nip Craig's shoulder before heading into foul territory near left field.
- Craig popped up to make a dash for home — but he was tripped when a sprawling Middlebrooks raised his legs.
- That drew an obstruction call from third base umpire Jim Joyce, meaning that the play at home, in which the sliding Craig would have been out, didn't matter. In fact, initial replays seemed to show that Craig never touched home plate.
- At home plate, umpire Dana DeMuth signaled Craig safe, pointing to third base where the call had been made. Players from both teams converged on home plate in disbelief — the Red Sox displaying the angry variety and the Cardinals showing the happier sort.
During the commotion, Craig remained on the ground; he was eventually helped off the field. He was asked later when he knew he had scored a walk-off run in the World Series.
"Uh, when I saw my entire team running out on the field," he answered.
"I felt like I was running in slow motion," Craig said. "I was just trying to get home," he added. "I didn't have much in the tank."
After the game, the umpires spoke to the media — another unusual move that seemed required in this case, when a call decided the game's final play.
"Unfortunately for Middlebrooks, he was right there," Joyce said. "There was contact, and so he could not advance to home plate naturally."
"The umpires stressed the call was made regardless of intent," NPR's Tom Goldman reports. "Middlebrooks said afterwards there was nothing he could've done to get out of Craig's way."
"We have forced a couple of throws at third base that have proven costly," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "Tonight was a costly throw."
As Tom notes, the other bad throw to third came in Game 2, allowing St. Louis to score; the Cardinals won that game, as well.
"Are the mishaps unfortunate coincidence, or is third base becoming Boston's Bermuda Triangle?" Tom asks. "Who knows what answers await."
There will be two more World Series games in St. Louis — Game 4 is tonight. As we reported yesterday, the three-game homestand could allow the Cardinals to win out if they can sweep the Red Sox. It would also allow them to avoid returning to Boston, where an iconic field, boisterous fans, and the designated-hitter rule await.
In the news conference following Game 3, the umpire were joined by Joe Torre, who held up a copy of baseball's rule book to emphasize his point. Here's the relevant passage:
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.