I have seen a lot in over 40 years of watching post-season baseball - Jeffrey Maiers interference in the 1996 ALCS. The Bartman interference in the 2003 NLCS. Carlton Fisk's arm-waving extra inning game winning home run in Game 6 of the '75 series. Reggie Jackson sticking his hip out, much to the consternation of Tommy Lasorda in the '78 Classic, and of course Mr. October's 3-home run outburst in Game 6 to clinch the World Series the prior year.
But I don't think any of those memories come close to last night's Game 3 between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals for a one play World Series game decider. The Red Sox had rallied from 2-0 and 4-2 deficits to tie the game 4-4 in the 8th inning.
Yadier Molina reached on a one out single off Brandon Workman to start the 9th, so Sox manger John Farrell went to his closer, Koji Uehara, to face pinch-hitter Allen Craig. The Cardinals' 1st baseman/outfielder has been hobbled by a foot injury that led to manager Mike Matheny's decision to sit him at the start of the game and save him for a situation like the one that arose in the 9th.
Craig came through with a double to put two runners in scoring position and forced Boston to move the infield and outfield in. Center fielder Jon Jay's bouncer back up the middle was stopped by a diving Dustin Pedroia, whose throw home easily beat the slow footed Molina to the plate. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia tagged Molina for the second out of the inning, but that's when the mayhem began.
Craig broke for third as soon as he saw Pedroia throw home. A throw right at the bag would likely have nailed Craig but Salty's throw tailed away from Will Middlebrooks ricocheted into foul territory. Middlebrooks, who should have caught the ball despite it being off course, did a belly flop and Craig slid into third. As Daniel Nava raced over from left field, Craig popped up from his head first slide and began the race to home plate, but fell over a prone Middlebrooks, who had inadvertently raised up both legs.
Third base umpire Jim Joyce immediately signaled obstruction, but the only one who saw the call was home plate umpire Dana DeMuth. Which is why everyone in the ball park was confused when DeMuth signaled safe after Salty grabbed Nava's throw home and applied the tag on Craig for an apparent third out. While the Cardinals and their fans celebrated, a confused Farrell, Pedroia, Uehara and all the other Red Sox argued and wandered in bewilderment until DeMuth and Joyce explained the call.
They might have to change the term walk-off to stumble-off for this one.
Umpires Meet the Press
Umpires John Hirschbeck, Jim Joyce, and Dana DeMuth, and league executive VP Joe Torre met with the media afterwards. Below is the transcript courtesy of mlb.com. You can view the video of the press conference by clicking here.
JOHN HIRSCHBECK: I know you have a lot of questions, and we'll answer everything you have. But just to go over the rule quickly, obstruction is the act of a fielder obstructing a runner when not in the act of fielding a ball. It does not have to be intent. There does not have to be intent, okay? Once he has the opportunity to field the ball, he can no longer in any way obstruct the runner. That's basically the rule. So you want to go ahead and ask questions?
Q. If you can just take us through how you saw the play develop and if there was, in fact, any incidental contact and whether or not Middlebrooks raised his legs, if you would just take us through how you saw the play develop, please.
JIM JOYCE: Well, when the play developed after Saltalamacchia threw the ball at third base, after the ball had gone straight through, and Allen had slid into third and stood up to attempt to go to home plate, everything was off right there. And when he tried to advance to home plate, the feet were up in the air, and he tripped over Middlebrooks right there, and immediately and instinctually I called obstruction.
Q. I understand what John said, that there doesn't have to be intent, but the fact that his feet were up, did that play into it at all? And is there any wiggle room, like where else could he be after he dives for the ball, what else could he be doing but laying on the floor, if you do think there's intent?
JIM JOYCE: No, as a matter of fact, the feet didn't play too much into that because he was still in the area where the baserunner needs to go to advance to home plate. And the baserunner has every right to go unobstructed to home plate, and unfortunately for Middlebrooks he was right there. And there was contact, so he could not advance to home plate naturally.
JOE TORRE: And let me read, it gives the example on Rule 2, "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."
Q. So does "very likely" mean there's interpretation?
JOE TORRE: Intentional or not intentional. He just has to clear the path. I know sometimes it's unfair because he's laying on the ground, but that's the way the rule is.
Q. Is there anything he could have done to avoid violating this rule in that position? Once he's down, what could he have done at that point?
JOHN HIRSCHBECK: Just to get out of the way quickly and not obstruct the runner. It's really as simple as that.
JIM JOYCE: Really, that doesn't play into that play. With the defensive player on the ground, without intent or intent, it's still obstruction. You'd probably have to ask Middlebrooks that one, if he could have done anything. But that's not in our determination.
Q. He said there wasn't anything else he could have done, that's why I asked the question.
JIM JOYCE: But the rule is is that the runner has every right to go to home plate at that particular play unobstructed without any liability ‑‑ he doesn't have to get out of the way, he just has the baseline, and unfortunately the defensive player was there.
JOE TORRE: And the fact that he impeded the runner, again. Didn't mean to, but it still doesn't matter, according to the rule.
Q. I know you guys obviously got the call right the other night when you all convened together on the second base play. Did you all even chat about it or have a quick conversation about it? Jim, did you ask the other umpires their viewpoint? It seems like you called it immediately and you were set with it. I was curious if I could get the other umpires' thoughts on if you thought it was the right call, done, and there was nothing else to discuss?
JOHN HIRSCHBECK: I was on the leftfield line. Immediately after we got off the field into our locker room we congratulated Jim and said "great call." I could see it all in front of me as it happened. That was our first reaction when we got in the locker room. Mark Wegner made the comment he could see it developing from right field.
We're trained to look for these things. It's out of the ordinary, but when it happens, and it's the World Series, you expect to get it right.
Q. I'm just curious, is there any responsibility of the runner to make sure he's in the baseline? Did you guys check for that? Often a runner comes around third and circles around the third base coach's box. It seems like Craig was clearly on the inside part of third more toward shortstop. Is it the responsibility of the runner to make sure he's inside the baseline?
JIM JOYCE: He was right on the baseline. He was right on the chalk. And so that never played into any decision, at all, because he was ‑‑ he had slid, stood up, and he was literally right on the chalk.
JOHN HIRSCHBECK: Don't forget, 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.
Q. Just curious if any of you guys remember a game ending in this way, ending on this particular call in any of your experiences?
JOHN HIRSCHBECK: Never.
JIM JOYCE: Never.
JOHN HIRSCHBECK: And again, Peter (Woodfork) pointed out to me to mention this, normally this play happens at second base on a steal play or something, where the ball goes into centerfield and the shortstop or second baseman obstructs the runner or stays there too long trying to hold the tag down or making believe he fell down or whatever. Not at third base.
Q. Once you make the call, he gets home and that's the end of it, right? Because there was still a play at the plate that developed. Obviously the players were playing out the play.
JIM JOYCE: Our determination is whether or not he could have scored or not. And Dana immediately came up with, he saw me make the call. And as soon as Craig slid into home plate, Dana immediately pointed down at me knowing that we had obstruction and it impeded Allen to score the run, essentially. Dana did a great job on installing that right away. Dana did a great job signaling that right away.
JOHN HIRSCHBECK: And that's the last, most important part of this rule, is that the umpire has to determine ‑‑ if what you saw tonight happened and he's out by 20 feet, then the umpire determines that if the obstruction had not occurred, he would have been out, okay? But since it was right there, bang, bang play, obviously that's obstruction, definitely had something to do with the play.
Q. That's Dana's call right away?
DANA DeMUTH: I'm going with Jim on it, so I determine when it ends at the end, about the obstruction, you know. It's Jim's call originally, but looking up there. I have to see the call, also, and agree with him. I have to know that it's obstruction.
JOE TORRE: You remember a few years ago I think Tejada ran into a fielder and then stopped running, and even though he was pointing back, he's obstructed, but he stopped running, so he was out.