ST. LOUIS — It’s the beauty of baseball and the curse. You can watch the game night in and night out for a lifetime, then suddenly see something you have never seen before.
If you were Will Middlebrooks on Saturday night, you came face to face with the curse. Before the eyes of a stunned baseball world, Game 3 of the 2013 World Series ended with Middlebrooks tangled as if he were a broken fence in a car wreck with Cardinals base runner Allen Craig.
By the time they untangled, the umpires held Middlebrooks at fault, leading to the first World Series game to end on an obstruction call: Cardinals 5, Red Sox 4.
Advantage St. Louis, 2-1, in the Fall Classic.
Confusion and despair for Middlebrooks. He believed he handled the play the way he was taught, the way the game is supposed to be played. The umpires disagreed.
“I don’t understand it,’’ Middlebrooks said. “I can’t do anything different there.’’
With one out and Cardinals at second and third after a Yadier Molina’s single and Craig’s double, Jon Jay hit a grounder to Dustin Pedroia at second base.
Pedroia, playing in, deftly fired home to Jarrod Saltalamacchia to erase Molina at the plate.
At the same time, Craig was barreling toward third. Saltalamacchia whistled a throw to Middlebrooks, but the throw sailed away from the base, forcing Middlebrooks toward the path of the runner.
In the ensuing crash, Craig appeared unable to extract himself from Middlebrooks, which contributed to the obstruction call.
But Middlebrooks felt as if he were the victim of the controversial play.
“It was tough because I gotta go for that ball,’’ he said. “I can’t just let it go. A lot of plays like that go into the base runner, and I was a good ways inside the baseline.’’
Middlebrooks believed a defender needed to intentionally interfere with a runner to be called for obstruction. No way did he intend to obstruct Craig, he insisted.
“With me going one way and him coming this way, I expect him to be past me once I’m on the ground,’’ Middlebrooks said. “But he slid, then kind of stayed on the ground, and then we was over me. I felt his hands on top of me going over me.’’
Middlebrooks has never been part of a play like that before, has never had obstruction called against him, he said.
“Obviously, it blows your mind to lose a game like that,’’ he said.
Sox manager John Farrell agreed that Middlebrooks had no other option to make on the play.
“I don’t know how he gets out of the way when he is lying on the ground, and when Craig trips over him,’’ Farrell said. “I guess by the letter of the rule, you could say it’s obstruction.’’
The umpires said it was up to Middlebrooks to get out of the way.
“The rule is that the runner has every right to go to home plate at that particular play unobstructed without any liability,’’ third base umpire Jim Joyce said.
The ruling seemed unfair to Middlebrooks.
“When I tried to get up, I got pushed back down because he was going over me,’’ he said.
The loss was particularly devastating, with an ailing Clay Buchholz scheduled to start Game 4 Sunday night. The Sox had rallied twice from two-run deficits to tie the score before the controversy.
“It’s frustrating after we fought back against some of the best pitchers in the game,’’ Middlebrooks said.
“That’s going to be a tough one to swallow. I felt like we needed that game, so we really need to kick it into gear.’’Bob Hohler can be reached at email@example.com.