No Stranger Way To End A World Series Game

ST. LOUIS — They went down the line. Third base umpire Jim Joyce, crew chief John Hirschbeck, home plate umpire Dana DeMuth, each of them considered the question.

Had they ever seen any game, let alone a World Series game, end on such a play?

"Never," Joyce said.

"Never," Hirschbeck said

"Never," DeMuth said.

After Will Middlebrooks was called for obstructing Allen Craig at third base in the bottom of the ninth inning Saturday night and was awarded the winning run in a 5-4 Cardinals victory, it would be scant exaggeration to assert that the 90 feet between home plate and third base has become the valley of tears for the 2013 Red Sox.

On Thursday night in Boston, Craig Breslow picked up a ball behind the plate that had caromed off catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and threw it past third baseman Xander Bogaerts and into the stands. That cost the Red Sox Game 2 and evened the series at one.

And now here was this incredibly tense, taut Game 3 breaking into pandemonium. Who would have guessed that the Red Sox would lose on a tripping penalty? Hell's bells! This is the World Series, not the Stanley Cup Finals. Harry Sinden would have blamed this loss on the ghosts of the Montreal Forum. Thank goodness this wasn't 2003 or 2004 before the Red Sox finally ended that 86-year drought or there would have been curses about curses and enough tears to bring the Mississippi River to flood stages.

But make no mistake, Middlebooks tripped him. It was obstruction. Joyce called it right away. Even as the throw came home in time for Craig to be tagged out, there was DeMuth, who didn't have his best night calling balls and strikes, correctly pointing to Joyce and acknowledging his obstruction call.

"Obstruction is the act of a fielder obstructing a runner when not in the act of fielding a ball," Hirschbeck said. "There does not have to be intent, OK? Once he had the opportunity to field the ball, he can no longer in any way obstruct the runner."

In a pulled-in infield, second baseman Dustin Pedroia nabbed Jon Jay's grounder. He threw home and Saltalamacchia tagged out Yadier Molina. Salty then decided to try to get Craig at third. And that's when all hell broke loose.

"After the ball had gone straight through [past Middlebrooks] and Allen had stood up to attempt to go to home plate, when he tried to advance, his feet were up in the air and he tripped over Middlebrooks. Immediately, instinctively, I called obstruction," Joyce said.

The question, of course, is where else could Middlebrooks have been? You saw Middlebrooks' feet go up. The entire nation saw his feet go up. But, believe it or not, intent didn't really play a role.

"The feet really didn't play too much into it," Joyce said. "He was still in the area where the baserunner needed to go. Unfortunately, for Middlebrooks, he was right there. There was contact and he couldn't advance to home plate naturally."

If you're a Red Sox fan and you're throwing pillows around after this one and screaming you've never seen anything like this before, well, you'd be right.

Before this call, relief pitcher Brandon Workman batted for the first time in his major league career. And after he struck out in a total exercise in futility, all you could say was, "Why? Why? Why?"

Mike Napoli never got into the game. Workman looked like a fool at the player. Koji Uehara wasn't brought in until Workman had already allowed a runner in the ninth. Manager John Farrell pinch hit for Stephen Drew and the pitcher in the seventh, but then didn't pinch hit for Workman in the ninth. It was not a good night for Farrell.

But it all might have turned out OK, if not for the obstruction call. Middlebrooks finally was brought in at third base and Bogaerts moved to short after the no-hitting Drew was pulled. Everything, well, everything just seemed to backfire.

"Sometimes the rule is unfair, because he's laying on the ground," said Joe Torre, now in the front office with MLB. "But that's the way the rule is."

Joyce said that Craig was on the baseline, on the chalk, so he wasn't out of the baseline. The umpires also pointed out that if he would have been out by 20 feet at home, the obstruction call would not have been enforced. But it ended up bang-bang at the plate and it was enforced.

So what could Middlebrooks have done?

"Just get out of the way quicker," Hirschbeck said.

That, of course, is the quirk of the rule. It would have been so hard to do so.

Farrell could only shake his head.

"It's a tough way to have a game end," he said. "Will is trying to dive inside to stop the throw. I don't know how he gets out of the way when he's lying on the ground. I guess by the letter of the rule you could say it's obstruction. It's a tough pill to swallow."

Hirschbeck said the umpires all congratulated Joyce when they got to the locker room.

"Great call," Hirschbeck said.

Not for the Red Sox.

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