When we awoke the next morning, the call was still correct

In case you missed it, this is video of the Boston Red Sox getting completely hosed in Game 3 of the World Series, a game that was made all the more important by the fact that the two teams had split the first two games at Fenway Park. However, this video, on which you can hear the voices of NBC’s Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek and longtime Reds radio voice Marty Brennaman, isn’t from last night. It’s from Oct. 14, 1975. Because the Red Sox didn’t get hosed last night. More on that below the video.

For those of you not old enough to remember, what ended up happening here as a result of Ed Armbrister NOT getting called for interference with Carlton Fisk fielding his bunt was that the Reds had runners on second and third with nobody out in the 10th inning, and Joe Morgan eventually drove in the winning run with a walkoff single, giving the Reds a 2-1 lead in a Series they went on to win in seven games.

OK, about last night.

Jim Joyce‘s obstruction call on Will Middlebrooks, which allowed Allen Craig to score the winning run and give the St. Louis Cardinals a two-games-to-one-lead, was a tough way for the Red Sox to lose a World Series game. But it was absolutely, positively the right call. Judging by the TV sound bytes I saw from the Red Sox clubhouse after the game and the reaction of Red Sox Nation on Twitter, no one in New England was willing to accept this reality in the first couple of hours after the game, and I’m sure many of those folks still aren’t. But I’m guessing there are a few who have viewed the replay enough now, with their emotions removed from the equation, to see that this clearly was obstruction.

Let me join the chorus of those who hate to see such a big game on such a big stage end in such a bizarre way. You never want to see a World Series game decided on a controversial call by an umpire, or by the umpiring crew. It’s not the way such things should be determined. But the nature of the game is such that, on occasion, this is going to happen, and when it does, you just hope the umpires get that call right. And this time, they did.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m rooting for the Cardinals in this Series. As I told you before, I ALWAYS root for the National League team in the World Series. The reason for this is that, well, there is no reason, I just do. Always have, since I was a little kid. Can’t explain it to myself, much less to you. It’s the same reason I like peanuts and cashews but hate pecans and walnuts. Or that I like fish, chicken and beef but can’t stand pork. There is no reason for it. It just is.

But the fact I’m rooting for the Cardinals has nothing to do with the fact this call was correct. I knew instantly that the bad call in the first inning of Game 1 that went in the Cardinals’ favor was wrong, and when it was overturned, I was glad they got it right, even though it wound up costing the Cardinals three runs in that inning and they wound up losing a lopsided game.

But I want to address a few of the arguments I heard for why the game shouldn’t have ended this way.

First, here are the two applicable rules, Rule 2.00 and Rule 7.06

Rule 2.00.

OBSTRUCTION is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.

Rule 2.00 (Obstruction) Comment: If a fielder is about to receive a thrown ball and if the ball is in flight directly toward and near enough to the fielder so he must occupy his position to receive the ball he may be considered “in the act of fielding a ball.” 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.

Rule 7.06.

When obstruction occurs, the umpire shall call or signal “Obstruction.”

(a) If a play is being made on the obstructed runner, or if the batter-runner is obstructed before he touches first base, the ball is dead and all runners shall advance, without liability to be put out, to the bases they would have reached, in the umpire’s judgment, if there had been no obstruction. The obstructed runner shall be awarded at least one base beyond the base he had last legally touched before the obstruction. Any preceding runners, forced to advance by the award of bases as the penalty for obstruction, shall advance without liability to be put out.

Rule 7.06(a) Comment: When a play is being made on an obstructed runner, the umpire shall signal obstruction in the same manner that he calls “Time,” with both hands overhead. The ball is immediately dead when this signal is given; however, should a thrown ball be in flight before the obstruction is called by the umpire, the runners are to be awarded such bases on wild throws as they would have been awarded had not obstruction occurred. On a play where a runner was trapped between second and third and obstructed by the third baseman going into third base while the throw is in flight from the shortstop, if such throw goes into the dugout the obstructed runner is to be awarded home base. Any other runners on base in this situation would also be awarded two bases from the base they last legally touched before obstruction was called.

Now, one argument against the call that I heard — and dare I say the most ridiculous one — was that yeah, if you go by the letter of the law, it’s the right call, but the umpires shouldn’t let a World Series game end like that. Ummmm, OK, so what should they have done? NOT go by the letter of the law? What is this, Little League, where we want everybody to feel good afterward? No, this is the WORLD SERIES. Look, if Craig doesn’t trip over Middlebrooks, that play at the plate isn’t even close. He scores, game over. Can you imagine, then, the outcry if the umpires HADN’T called interference?

Another argument: Craig was out of the baseline. No, he wasn’t. If you go to this link, you can see umpires Joyce, Dana DeMuth and crew chief John Hirschbeck, along with their supervisor, Joe Torre, in the postgame interview room. If you don’t want to sit through the entire eight-minute video, though, here are the money quotes on the subject of whether Craig was out of the baseline.

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.

I heard the argument that Middlebrooks clearly didn’t intend to obstruct Craig. But it doesn’t matter. The rule says nothing about intent. It’s the first statement made by Hirschbeck on the video I linked to above, before the umps even took any questions, when he said, “It does not have to be intent. There does not have to be intent.”

And finally, I heard the argument that the call was correct according to the rule, but it’s a stupid rule. OK, fine, but what are you going to do, change the rule in the middle of Game 3 of the World Series, just because the rule is a bad one? I’m pretty sure they can’t do that.

Now that we have settled that, I also would like to point out that …

If Red Sox manager John Farrell had done the wise thing and intentionally walked Jon Jay to load the bases, thus setting up a double play and a force at every base and bringing up light-hitting Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma, the Red Sox still might have lost, but they wouldn’t have lost this way. In fact, the insanity that ensued when the Cardinals were awarded the winning run probably saved Farrell from a barrage of second-guessing along the lines of what Don Mattingly dealt with in each of the two rounds his Dodgers played in these playoffs, and …

If Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia doesn’t make that questionable throw to third base in the first place, or if he does make the throw and makes it accurately, or if Middlebrooks leaves the bag in an effort to catch the ball and stop it from sailing up the third-base line, the Red Sox still might have lost, but they wouldn’t have lost this way. Either Craig would have been out at third, sending the game to extra innings, or Craig would have been safe at third and the game would have continued with runners on the corners and two outs in the ninth.

Look, the Red Sox may still win this Series. If they win Game 4, it’s a best-of-three, with two of the three at Fenway. But if Boston loses this Series, we may never hear the end of it. Despite the fact the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and 2007, Red Sox Nation may start whining about that ridiculous Curse of the Bambino again. And the heartache and heartbreak of being a Red Sox fan. And all those New England literary types may start to write 300-page tomes about the bitter disappointment of another promising October that slipped from the grasp of their heroes, just like Mookie Wilson‘s ground ball slipped through the legs of Bill Buckner.

Well, they can bring the Curse out of mothballs if they wish. But whatever happens the rest of the way in what is shaping up to be a classic World Series, the Red Sox didn’t lose Game 3 because of any black magic. They lost because of a freak play, an obscure rule and a correct call by Joyce and the entire crew, whose job it is to know the rule book so thoroughly that even when something this rare comes up, they are able to react to it instinctively and decisively and render a correct call within a split second.

It was a World Series moment that will be debated for years, maybe even decades to come. But in the end, there is no debate. The umpires got it right. The Cardinals won. And the Red Sox, righteously indignant though they and their fans may be, lost, fair and square, according to the rules of baseball.

And they better get over it, because Game 4 is a few hours away.

21 comments

  1. Nobody got screwed, it was a great game, let’s move on.

  2. I’m not saying one way or the other but it is inconsistent for Cardinal fans to rely on the black and white letter of the rule on this play but when Molina clearly didn’t tag Ellis at the plate rely on “the ball beat him to the plate” and that is called like that every time. I can’t wait for replay so we can finally see how bad the day-to-day umpiring is in every game.

    • Right, but remember, the Dodgers (including Mark Ellis) used that same rationale for why they didn’t argue the call.

      • I’m not sure what you are agreeing with? The Dodgers didn’t argue indicating that although the written rule requires the defensive player to tag the runner with the ball or glove while containing the ball they concede that the play is called like that on a regular basis but the Cardinals are relying on the black and white of the written rule regardless of any grey area interpretation.

      • It is going to be fascinating when that play happens again (catcher doesn’t apply tag, but since ball beats the play and the catcher didn’t drop the ball we’ll assume there was a tag applied) and it is replay challenged by the opposing manager.

  3. Craig was 3 feet on the 2nd base side of the bag.
    There was a clear path home, from 3rd base.
    What was Craig doing over there, shopping for donuts? Probably something else. Ya.
    The only time Middlebrooks was obstructing, is if Craig was trying to go back to second base.
    Craig was not out of the base path, he was in the wrong one. Intentionally.
    It’s the next day, and right about now Torre is just barely figuring it out. Needs to retire.

    • Karry… I’m sorry you missed the replay. Craig slid into third base, his foot and ankle wedged into the fair side of the bag. This is where he then stood up just as the ball skipped past the fielder. Because of his position on the field, he is allowed to run straight home from there.

      Great game, great call. Too bad for the Red Sox. Maybe they should have loaded the bases, right?

    • Karry if you read the comments from Joyce/Hirschbeck, that is addressed. And if you’re trying to say he intentionally went out of the baseline in order to intentionally trip over Middlebrooks to get an obstruction call, believe me, in a moment like that, that isn’t a thought that ever crosses a player’s mind. He’s just trying to get to home plate as quickly as possible , and in the course of doing that, he tripped over the fielder. Fox had a GREAT live camera angle on the play as it was unfolding. There is no question the obstruction held up Craig long enough that without it, he would’ve scored easily.

  4. It might also help if John Farrell quickly hires a pretty good bench coach–Trey Hillman, maybe?–to help him out with double-switches for the next two games. Leaving your best hitter on the bench…*on the bench*…is not a recipe for World Series success.

    • Yeah I think the NL game sped up on Farrell a little bit last night. That’s one aspect of this that was lost in all the aftermath of the obstruction call.

      • Farrell actually admitted after the game that he erred in not doing a double switch when he brought in his reliever.

  5. If you have PLAYED this great game for any LENGTH of time you come to know that in the heat of battle the bang bang nature of last nights game ending play is what makes this game so unpredictable! That It’s a WS game makes it better because it illustrates perfectly the rule on the games grandest stage! That’s the way thee ball bounces sometimes. Stop complaining about the umps, to them It’s a no-brainer, I can visualize a roboump imploding on the play! This series just turned ‘must watch’ for me now, (my team not in it). IF my team was in it, it would have sucked to lose that way, but awesome to win it!

  6. As a former ump (college, semi pro leagues) I have plenty of issues with today’s umpires. To reduce it to a few words it’s attitude and being out of position. I could expound but I won’t.

    They got that one right. In fact, it really wasn’t that difficult a call.

  7. One last thing, small point, technicality but important:

    There is no vocal call by the ump. If he sees obstruction he is to raise his hands (same as a foul ball) signifying dead ball. All umps can see this move, as can players. Joyce did not do this – he just pointed. Not sure exactly what that means in this context (it was not part of my training) but I don’t believe it means dead ball.

    Things are much different now.

    • I agree with your comments and would also like to point out that if you watch the replay closely you can see that Jim Joyce isn’t even watching the play when it happens, he reacts to the result of the obstruction but didn’t actually see the obstruction. I don’t care either way but the one thing that I’m happy about with replay coming next year is that I agree with the comment about too many umpires are not in the correct position if the play is not routine.

    • I believe this specific instance is covered by 7.06 b) which says:

      (b) If no play is being made on the obstructed runner, the play shall proceed until no further action is possible. The umpire shall then call “Time” and impose such penalties, if any, as in his judgment will nullify the act of obstruction.

      Rule 7.06(b) Comment: Under 7.06(b) when the ball is not dead on obstruction and an obstructed runner advances beyond the base which, in the umpire’s judgment, he would have been awarded because of being obstructed, he does so at his own peril and may be tagged out. This is a judgment call.

      Because the obstruction occurred after 3B missed the ball, no play was being made on the runner at the time of obstruction, so play continues then penalties are done afterwards. This makes sense, if somehow the ball doesn’t get too far past 3B and LF makes a throw that beats Craig by half the base path then the ump could make the judgement that even without obstruction it’s an out, in this case it was more than close enough so the penalty was fair.

  8. Being a Dodger fan and not really caring who wins this WS I must say for the life of me I can not understand how that was obstruction. Ball was thrown to 3B and as I understand it, at the time of the throw, the runner was behind 3B sliding into 3B, not going forward to the plate. Having laid out in his effort to get to the ball he was in front of the runner. He had absolutely no chance of getting up and the runner now getting up from the slide has his hand on the 3B’s back. The runner then attempts to go over the 3B’s back and trips over him. My question is what could the 3B have done to prevent the obstruction ? The umps say with or without intent it’s still obstruction, but if that’s true it doesn’t allow the 3B the right to go for the ball. Once he’s on the ground and not getting up how could he have prevented the obstruction ?

    • Yeah, it’s a tough situation for 3B. Essentially as soon as he doesn’t make the catch or at least block the ball he has almost no chance NOT to obstruct. That doesn’t mean he can’t dive after the ball, but he can’t get in the way of the runner if he misses the ball. Another reason Salty shouldn’t have made the throw in the first place.

  9. Your concern is legit but you have answered your own question. Obstruction does not require intent. The only way to change that is to re-write the rule.

    And west coast ram saw the same thing I did. Joyce got it right, but he did so with his pants down around his ankles.

  10. Tony great write up!
    IMHO blame lies with Ferrell for not walking Jay and with Middlebrooks for not blocking that ball with his body.

    • thank you sir! and yes, I think you’re correct on both counts. If Middlebrooks leaves the bag to take the throw, it’s all moot.