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Dan Shaughnessy

Red Sox lose an Instant Classic in Game 3

Much-debated obstruction call gives St.Louis 2-1 World Series lead

Allen Craig trips over Will Middlebrooks at third base. Obstruction was called, and Craig scored the winning run.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Allen Craig trips over Will Middlebrooks at third base. Obstruction was called, and Craig scored the winning run.

ST. LOUIS — Instant Classic.

Epic.

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A worthy progeny of the 1975 World Series.

And a controversy for the ages.

The Cardinals beat the Red Sox, 5-4, on a disputed, chaotic, ridiculous play in the bottom of the ninth of Game 3 of the World Series on Saturday night. By any measure, this was one of the wildest endings in Series history.

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It was absolutely stunning. With the score tied, 4-4, St. Louis had runners on second and third with one out when Jon Jay hit a hot grounder to Dustin Pedroia. The Red Sox second baseman fired home and Jarrod Saltalamacchia easily tagged out Yadier Molina. Seeing Allen Craig racing toward third base, Salty fired to Will Middlebrooks. The throw sailed to Middlebrooks’s left and the third baseman got tangled up with Craig. Forced to climb over Middlebrooks, the stumbling Craig appeared to be thrown out at home plate, but had already been ruled safe because third base umpire Jim Joyce called obstruction on Middlebrooks.

Chaos ensured. But the Sox were losers.

“Tough way to have a game end, particularly a game of this significance,’’ said Sox manager John Farrell. “I don’t know how Will gets out of the way when he’s laying on the ground. That’s a tough pill to swallow.’’

This one will make bitter Sox fans forget all about Ed Armbrister and interference from a 6-5 loss in Game 3 of the Series in Cincinnati in 1975.

The Sox have now lost back-to-back World Series games on throws from home plate to third (reliever Craig Breslow airmailed one in Game 2).

Joyce said, “After the ball had gone straight through and Allen slid in and attempted to go to home plate, [Middlebrooks’s] feet were up in the air.

“Immediately and instinctively, I called obstruction . . . He was still in the area where the base runner needed to go. The base runner has every right to go toward home plate. There was contact, so he could not advance to home plate naturally.’’

It feels like we are bound for a Game 7 in Boston on Halloween with ZZ Top paying homage to Bearded Wonders of Yawkey Way.

If that game stretches past midnight, David Ortiz could be Mr. November.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. The magical Season of the Whisker could end here by the banks of the Mississippi.

The Red Sox are in trouble. They trail in the World Series, 2-1, and are scheduled to send a wounded/worried Clay Buchholz to the mound Sunday at Busch Stadium.

Things have changed dramatically since Game 1 when the Sox routed the sloppy Cardinals, 8-1, and we laughed about the “Cardinal Way,’’ which looked more like the “Astro Way.’’

No one in Boston is laughing now.

A billboard near Busch Stadium reads, “The Beard Stops Here.’’ St. Louis has won 13 of its last 14 postseason games at Busch Stadium. Mike Matheny and his Rocket Boys (“We don’t give a pitcher a uniform unless they have 95-plus in their bag”) mean business. Unlike 2004, the Cardinals this year have no intention of playing the role of pushovers in Boston’s inexorable quest for the championship.

Game 3 goes down as an Instant Classic. The Sox spotted the Cardinals two runs in the first, rallied to tie, fell behind, 4-2, in the seventh, then tied it again with two runs against St. Louis’s vaunted bullpen in the eighth.

It was quite the party night for the 47,432 well-scrubbed locals who filled the new Busch Stadium. Toting hundreds of cases of Budweiser, the majestic Clydesdales came out for a victory lap a half-hour before the teams were introduced.

Two years ago the beer cart might have been chased by some thirsty Red Sox pitchers, but that was in the bad old days. Everything is different now.

Remember when the late Lou Gorman famously asked, “What would be do with Willie McGee?’’

We got our answer Saturday. McGee made the ceremonial first toss before Game 3.

McGee had better stuff than Jake Peavy, who was rocked for two runs on four hits in the first inning. This was the first World Series start of Peavy’s distinguished 12-year career, but he’s been awful in the postseason.

He had one good start for the Sox against Tampa Bay in the American League Division Series, but was routed by the Tigers in the ALCS and struggled through four innings Saturday night.

At the end of the first inning of Game 3, he owned the worst postseason ERA (10.71) of any big league pitcher with more than four starts. Peavy is in line to be your Game 7 starter. Gulp.

Cardinal starter Joe Kelly (sounds like a member of the Dropkick Murphys, no?) was quite another matter.

Part of an assembly line of twentysomething Cardinals who throw 98 miles per hour, Kelly retired the first nine batters.

The Cardinals blundered badly in the fourth when the Red Sox tried to give them a run, but St. Louis refused the gift.

With two on and nobody out, Jay ripped a single to center. Jacoby Ellsbury conceded the run and came up throwing to short, but slow-running Molina held, though he would have scored easily. Peavy pitched out of the bases-loaded jam.

The Sox scored once in the fifth, then KO’d Kelly and tied it on an RBI single by Daniel Nava in the sixth. From there, it was a battle of two brilliant bullpens.

Boston lost the battle. Koji Uehara surrendered a double to Craig, right before the unbelievable finish.

No more throws to third from behind home plate, right?

The Sox dropped Game 2 after a botched throw to third from behind homeplate by Breslow.

“We have forced a couple of throws to third base that have proven costly,’’ said Farrell.

Amen.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.
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