ST. LOUIS — The Red Sox felt cheated. The St. Louis Cardinals felt elated. Observers of Game 3 of the World Series felt confused.
A wild game had a wild denouement that will be recalled for years to come for both its obscurity and its chaos. The Red Sox lost Game 3 of the World Series at Busch Stadium in the bottom of the ninth on an interference call on third baseman Will Middlebrooks that allowed the winning run to score and the Cardinals to take a two games to one lead in the series.
The game goes into the books as 5-4, St. Louis victory, and it joins the long register of heartbreaking Boston sports losses in big spots.
It was the second time in less than a week that a Boston sports team lost a game in unimaginable fashion on an obscure rule. First, it was the Patriots against the New York Jets last Sunday on a pushing penalty on a field goal attempt, now the Red Sox on an obstruction call.
Red Sox fans had a right to feel like this one was an obstruction of injustice. The winning run in the person of Cardinals slugger Allen Craig never actually scored. He was tagged out by a mile at home plate, but awarded home when home plate umpire Dana DeMuth pointed to third base, where third base umpire Jim Joyce had called obstruction on Middlebrooks.
You can’t make this stuff up.
The call, based on rule 7.06, negated a two-run Red Sox rally by the Sox against Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal in the eighth that tied the game, 4-4, after the Cardinals had taken a two-run lead in the bottom of the seventh on a two-run double by Matt Holliday off Junichi Tazawa.
Ok, I’ve waited long enough before making you re-live the ending, but it has to be recorded for posterity -- and possibly self-pity -- for generations to come.
With the game tied, 4-4, Yadier Molina, who hit a one-out single off Brandon Workman, was on third, after pinch-hitter Allen Craig hit a double off Sox closer Koji Uehara. Jon Jay hit a ground ball to Dustin Pedroia, who was playing in to cut down the game-winning run. Pedroia made a sprawling grab and fired home to nab Molina. Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia tagged out Molina, and then threw to third base to try to get Craig.
The throw was errant, and Middlebrooks had to reach across to try to get it. The ball ticked off his glove.
With Middlebrooks lying on his stomach, Craig, who had slid into third, got up and stumbled across Middlebrooks, who appeared to raise his legs at the knee, putting the soles of his cleats facing the firmament. Third base umpire Jim Joyce immediately called obstruction.
The play continued and Craig appeared to be out on Daniel Nava’s throw home, but home plate umpire Dana DeMuth, who was involved in a controversial call in Game 1 at second base, ruled him safe, pointing to third base, where Joyce had called obstruction.
The Cardinals poured out on to the field. The Red Sox had lost and were at a loss.
“It blows your mind to lose a game like that, especially when I can’t do anything different,” said a sullen Middlebrooks after the game.
“I guess by the letter of the rule you could say it’s obstruction,” said Sox manager John Farrell, who opened himself up to a few second-guesses in this game, including not starting the inning with Uehara.
There were eight and half innings of prologue and plot twists before the dramatic conclusion. But all baseball fans will recall years from now is the ending and the rule that begat it.
Rule 7.06 states in part: “...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: 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.”
The words “very likely” leave room for interpretation. It’s safe to say the Sox interpreted the rule differently than the umpires.
As two Red Sox players left Busch Stadium and headed into the Missouri night they were incredulous over the fashion they had lost in. “Worst call I’ve ever seen,” said one. The other muttered, “How can you end a World Series game on a call like that.”
Joyce said that whether the player has a reasonable chance to get out of the way is not part of determining the call.
“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,” he said.
Middlebrooks was asked the key question: how he could get out of the way on his stomach?
“You can’t. I tried. The guy was on top of me,” said Middlebrooks. He added, “I wouldn’t have done it different. There is no where else for me to go.”
Middlebrooks had entered the game in the seventh inning as a pinch-hitter for Stephen Drew. He had no way of knowing he would end up part of World Series history, or infamy.
You had to feel for Middlebrooks. This has been a tough year for him, with losing his starting job, getting exiled to Pawtucket, losing the starting job he regained to Bogaerts in the playoffs and now this.
Middlebrooks vehemently denied that he purposely raised his legs to impeded Craig.
“When I went to push myself up he was on my back pushing off of me, so what am I supposed to do there?, “ Middlebrooks, said. “That’s why it’s tough to swallow.”
Crew chief John Hirschbeck, who was stationed in left field for Game 3, said that if Joyce hadn’t made the call one of the other umpires would have. They all saw it.
“We’re trained to look for these kinds of things,” said Hirschbeck. “They’re out of the ordinary, but when they happen, and it’s the World Series, you expect to get it right.”
This play is going to be broken down like the Zapruder film for days to come, but it no matter how many times the play is watched it’s not going to change the result.
Now, these resilient Red Sox have to return to Busch Stadium on Sunday after losing two straight in the series with an ailing Clay Buchholz taking the mound.
The words of Middlebrooks ring true. No where else to go.
Buzzard’s luck against the Redbirds cost the Red Sox a baseball game, let’s hope it doesn’t cost them a World Series.Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.