Game Three: Controversy is in the Cards and Boston Sees Red

“Immediately once we got off the field, and into our locker room, we congratulated Jim. We said ‘great call.’”

Those were the words of crew chief John Hirschbeck, referring to third base umpire Jim Joyce’s obstruction call that gave the Cardinals a 5-4 win in Game Three of the World Series. The Red Sox weren’t so sure.

To say the call was controversial would be an understatement. It rivaled football’s infamous “tuck rule game,” but this time it didn’t benefit a team from New England, nor did it happen in a snowstorm. It happened in a sea of Busch Stadium red, white towels twirling, and ended one of the most-captivating baseball games you’ll ever see.

Boston manager John Farrell’s interpretation is telling.

“I’ve seen [the replay] and I can’t say the legs were being raised to impede his progress,” said Farrell. “It’s a tough way to have a game end. He’s on the ground, and if he tries to raise up, then he’s clearly getting in his way.”

In other words, there was nothing third baseman Will Middlebrooks could do to avoid being called for obstruction. Much like what happened in Foxboro in 2001, an umpire was forced to make a call that arguably defies logic. Joyce’s explanation backs that up.

“The feet didn’t really play too much into it,” said Joyce. “He was still in the area where the base runner needs to go to advance to home plate. The base runner has every right to go, unobstructed, to home plate, and unfortunately for Middlebrooks, he was right there.”

“Obstruction is the act of a fielder obstructing a runner when not in the act of fielding the ball,” said Hirschbeck. “There does not have to be intent.”

Middlebrooks claims there was no intent, and the runner, Allen Craig, said “He was in my way, but I couldn’t tell you if he tried to trip me or not, I was just trying to get over him and score” But again, that doesn’t matter. In order for obstruction to have not been called, Middlebrooks would have had to become invisible.

Asked what Middlebrooks could have done, Hirschbeck said, “Just get out of the way quickly and not obstruct the runner. It’s really as simple as that.”

What led up to the first obstruction walk-off in post-season history wasn’t so simple. The game had twists and turns throughout, and some questionable decisions. The wheels began turning in the sixth inning, with St. Louis leading 2-1.

Shane Victorino — who had just walked for the second time in 114 plate appearances — was on first base with one out. Mike Matheny went to his bullpen, bringing in lefthander Randy Choate, who had held same-handed hitters to a .171 average. His job was to retire David Ortiz, but the Red Sox slugger singled to put runners on the corners.

Due up next was switch-hitting Daniel Nava, a .252/.311/.336 hitter from the right side. Had Farrell brought in Jonny Gomes or Mike Napoli to pinch hit, Matheny would have opted for right-hander Seth Maness, who was warming in the bullpen.

Instead, Farrell let Nava hit, and Matheny… went with Maness anyway. Choate is primarily a lefty specialist, but he isn’t terrible against righties. In 42 plate appearances this year, they hit .275/.310/.325 against him.

Maness, who has a neutral split, had a 73.8 ground-ball rate versus left-handed hitters this season, so Matheny was presumably banking on a double play. Instead, Nava — a .322/.411/.484 hitter versus righties — lined a first-pitch single to tie the game.

Three innings later, with the game tied 4-4, Farrell made a questionable decision of his own.

Despite having Mike Napoli available to pinch hit, Farrell allowed rookie-right-hander Brandon Workman to bat — and strike out on three pitches — in the ninth inning. In the bottom of the ninth, after a one-out single by Yadier Molina, he brought Koji Uehara into the game. Basically, Farrell gave away a free out to get an out.

That was the same amount of outs Uehara recorded. It came on a play at the plate, which was followed by another play at the plate that was over-ruled by an umpire. Controversy ensued.



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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.


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JeremyR
Guest
JeremyR
2 years 9 months ago

No, in order for Middlebrook to not obstruct, he should have caught the ball.

The Red Sox made a misplay – throwing a ball to 3rd base that wasn’t caught.

Why is it then logical or moral for the Cardinals to be out when the Red Sox made an error?

Yirmiyahu
Member
2 years 9 months ago

Let’s make the whole thing a lot simpler: the runner would have scored, except there was a fielder in the way. If you look at it like that, it’s fair, it has nothing to do with intent or punishment, it’s intuitive, and it also happens to be correct under the rulebook.

It would be much more ridiculous if the fielding team could prevent a runner from scoring because they made an error or tripped or fell down.

Jay
Guest
2 years 9 months ago

Exactly. People keep talking about how Middlebrooks would have had to teleport to avoid the call. This is basically true, he couldn’t have gotten out of the way. However, assuming Middlebrooks could have teleported the game still ends on that play. The call is not about punishing Middlebrooks. It’s about awarding Craig the run he would have otherwise had easily.

David Britt
Guest
David Britt
2 years 8 months ago

This, this, and this again. So much discussion about poor Middlebrooks inability to teleport. If he HAD teleported the Erin woulscored. Correct call, excellent rule. I’m actually impressed by how well the rule is written to address any ambiguity.

David Britt
Guest
David Britt
2 years 8 months ago

Stupid phone “run would have scored”

david k
Guest
david k
2 years 8 months ago

Not so stupid phone, probably knew Erin Andrews was at the game ;-)

AC_Butcha_AC
Member
AC_Butcha_AC
2 years 9 months ago

In my opinion it was CLEARLY obstruction.

To all the guys claiming it is a bad rule, becuase Middlebrooks wasn’t in any way able to not obstruct him after missing the ball.

What about swinging strikes? The batter gets a penalty for doing everything he could and there was no way he could have hit the ball. Still he gets penalized.

A batter hitting a deep fly ball with an outfielder waiting under it. What should the batter do for not being called out? Hit a Home Run every time?

Exact same thing here. It doesn’t matter at all if Middlebrooks had no chance of avoiding this obstruction. This argument could be taken so far as to say a Home Run should not count as a hit because the OF had no chance to catch the ball. Think about a towering drive with no fans directly behind the fence and the OF already there long before the ball arrives.

I think you get my point… so DEFINATELY OBSTRUCTION! There really isn’t even room for argument…

AC_Butcha_AC
Member
AC_Butcha_AC
2 years 9 months ago

would anybody argue that swinging strikes are a bad rule because the batter (expecting he tries everything he could possibly to get a hit, since being a professional ballplayer who gets paid to get hits)was not able to hit the baseball?

what else could he possibly do? a bat as large as the whole strike zone? which is forbidden btw..

this happens all the time in baseball. I really do not understand what the problem is. Of course, Middlebrooks can’t teleport himself away. not his fault.

Also not the fault of a hitter who hits the crap out of the ball and lines out directly to a fielder, while the soft broken bat blooper drops in for a hit. what else could batter a have done? make the fielder disappear? not his fault. he is called out nevertheless.

just sayin… get over it guys

ralph
Guest
ralph
2 years 9 months ago

The context makes it clear what you mean, but you should probably change the part that says Nava is a .322/.411/.484 hitter versus lefties, since that’s actually his regular season line against RHP this year.

jim S.
Guest
jim S.
2 years 9 months ago

I think Farrell’s decision to pinch-hit Middlebrooks for Drew was questionable because it cost the Red Sox at both short and third — and, possibly, two runs. Bottom of the inning, Carpenter leads off with a difficult grounder on which Bogaerts can’t make a play — but maybe Drew does. Two batters later, Holliday doubles down the line. Middlebrooks can’t make the play, but maybe Bogaerts does.

fardbart
Guest
fardbart
2 years 9 months ago

the question isn’t whether it’s obstruction or not it’s whether the runner was out of the base path and causing interference.

Magneto
Guest
Magneto
2 years 9 months ago

The runner in the situation Allen Craig was in creates their own base path. Only rule is that it has to be within three feet of either side of the foul line.

Evan
Guest
Evan
2 years 9 months ago

This isn’t correct either. The three foot rule applies to the base path that the runner has established when a fielder attempts to tag him (7.08(a)(1)).

Interference can only occur on a fielder actually attempting to make a play on a ball (which at the time of the contact Middlebrooks clearly wasn’t). When the fielder is trying to make a play on a fielded ball the act constituting the interference must be intentional (7.09(j)).

tom b
Guest
tom b
2 years 9 months ago

The runner establishes where the base path is, not the fielder.

Armando Galarraga
Guest
Armando Galarraga
2 years 9 months ago

While it’s arguably not even relevant to the analysis, I have a problem with this statement:

“He was still in the area where the base runner needs to go to advance to home plate.”

No, he wasn’t. Middlebrooks was only in the way because Craig stumbled towards second base as he got up. Craig did not NEED to do that. He had an unobstructed path. If that is the basis for Joyce’s reasoning, then it is incorrect.

Sparkles Peterson
Guest
Sparkles Peterson
2 years 9 months ago

He stumbled that way because:
1) His center of gravity was there, not at his feet.
2) He had a better chance of stepping over Middlebrooks’s body than the feet that were moving.

Mookie
Guest
Mookie
2 years 8 months ago

Hey, intent’s not relevant. He still DID stumble back toward second.

Frank Lee
Guest
Frank Lee
2 years 8 months ago

So many pink hats enjoying their first game of baseball and having no idea how it works.

cwendt
Guest
cwendt
2 years 9 months ago

“In order for obstruction to have not been called, Middlebrooks would have had to become invisible.”

Uhh… (nervously wipes glasses) I believe you mean INTANGIBLE. /nerd

Sparkles Peterson
Guest
Sparkles Peterson
2 years 9 months ago

If Craig trips over an invisible player, they assume he just stumbled and they don’t call obstruction.

Cybo
Guest
Cybo
2 years 9 months ago

Middlebrooks misplayed that throw big time. He layed out trying to make a play as if there were a force out. He should have come off the bag and made the correct play. Craig made the heads up play and would have been easily safe had he not been interfered with. A runner is entitled to a direct path to his next base. Middlebrooks foot was 16 inches away from the line tops. Craig while being in fair territory was still in a very routine base path considering the play and his slide into third. Middlebrooks screwed up plain and simple.

Armando Galarraga
Guest
Armando Galarraga
2 years 9 months ago

While I’m not sure this even matters, it doesn’t look like Middlebrooks laid out to make a play. It looks like he fell because Craig slid into him.

MLB Rainmaker
Member
Member
MLB Rainmaker
2 years 9 months ago

As a fan of neither team, but a fan of the game, it was a disappointing ending. I’d like to see the players decide the game, not the Umps. I don’t care if that means the call was wrong or it was right and the rule needs to be re-written.

Its bad for the sport for stuff like this to happen. As a devoted fan, I’m less interested in game 4 because of last night’s ending; I’d imagine the casual fan is even more discouraged.

John Thacker
Guest
John Thacker
2 years 9 months ago

How would you rewrite the rule? Make it so that runners have an obligation to avoid fielders lying on the ground? I think that would cause more problems. The rule is correct as written, IMO.

Baseball is not a contact sport, and as a fielder you don’t set screens or picks or get in somebody’s way, except insofar as you either have the ball and are trying to tag someone out, or you’re trying to field the ball. There’s a slight difference in responsibility for unintentional actions by a runner depending on whether a ball was batted or thrown.

I don’t know how you’d change the rule in a way that made sense. This case was straightforward, I can think of worse examples (like if Middlebrooks had only failed to catch the ball because of interference by Craig, and there was some question as to whether it was intentional or not.)

What’s your proposed rule?

NS
Guest
NS
2 years 9 months ago

If you have an opportunity to move out of the runner’s way and do not, it’s obstruction. If the act of fielding the play left you in a position in which you had no opportunity to move out of the runner’s way, it’s not obstruction. It’s baseball.

This wouldn’t be a new concept.

John Thacker
Guest
John Thacker
2 years 9 months ago

Imagine a re-written rule. Wouldn’t most versions floating around encourage infielders to dive for balls that they couldn’t get, and then lie on the basepaths, forcing the runners to go around them and take slower paths? Then you’d have the football equivalent of the umps trying to decide if something was “catchable” or not.

The current rule is simple. A fielder can’t get in the runners way unless he has the ball, or is in the process of fielding it. Yes, in some cases failure to field will immediately lead to obstruction– the only remedy for the fielder is to either catch the ball, or not try to catch something that he can’t.

John Thacker
Guest
John Thacker
2 years 9 months ago

Or worse, have an argument about the umps mind-reading “intent” on the part of the fielders, about whether the fielder thought that that possibly uncatchable ball was catchable when he dived for it? No thank you.

David
Guest
David
2 years 9 months ago

The crew chief said clearly that “intent” is irrelevant – also sure looked like WM raised his legs awfully far to intentionally obstruct Craig.

John Thacker
Guest
John Thacker
2 years 9 months ago

David:

Right. That’s the good thing about the current rule. I’m replying to someone complaining that the rule should be re-written (apparently to insert intent into it, I guess, or to make the runner have to go around a fielder lying there.)

Putting intent into the rule would be a mistake. The rule is good as is.

David
Guest
David
2 years 9 months ago

The players DID decide the game – Middlebrooks did not catch the ball – end of story – Salty threw it away – that is failure on both ends. Why hold the ball and get Kozma who is hitless, to end the inning?

David
Guest
David
2 years 9 months ago

I mean – why NOT hold the ball.

Jim
Guest
Jim
2 years 9 months ago

MLB Rainmaker, you got it exactly right!! I am no Freudian but Jim Joyce seems addicted to some kind of public controversy in which he is the center. There is a quote where Joyce said after blowing the perfect game call that he would like to be remembered for making a great call in the World Series. I guess he saw this as his chance. I don’t really care if the call was right or not. I see good arguments on both sides. It was definitely, however, a miserable way for the game to end.

Ruki Motomiya
Guest
Ruki Motomiya
2 years 8 months ago

How is it not being decided by the players when the whole reason it happened is Salty making a bad idea for a throw? He scores standing up if Middlebrooks isn’t there and it’s obstruction if he is. Once Salty threw poorly, he had decided their loss.

chuckb
Guest
chuckb
2 years 8 months ago

I agree that the ending was somewhat anti-climatic but if the umpires don’t make that call and the Sox come back to win then the game was decided by the umpires.

It’s just not logical to say that the umps decide a game by making a call but aren’t deciding a game if they fail to make a call they should have made.

Anon
Guest
Anon
2 years 9 months ago

Choate is primarily a lefty specialist, but he isn’t terrible against righties. In 42 plate appearances this year

I’m surprised to see this on Fangraphs. Choate is awful against righties. 42 PA doesn’t change that.

buddaley
Guest
buddaley
2 years 9 months ago

“Choate is primarily a lefty specialist, but he isn’t terrible against righties. In 42 plate appearances this year, they hit .275/.310/.325 against him.”
__________________________________________________________________
Choate is pretty bad against righties. True, in 42 career plate appearances this year the numbers are not bad, but over his career and 631 PAs, the numbers are .278/.398/.395 and his tOPS+ is 142. I think the larger sample trumps the one season numbers.

I don’t know whether Maness was the best choice, but leaving Choate in would almost certainly not have been a good one.

Robert Noe
Guest
Robert Noe
2 years 9 months ago

What is the controversy? After the ball gets by Middlebrook and into left field, Middlebrook is out of the play while Craig is definitely still in the play. And poor throws caused the whole incident. But one thing I found absurd is when Middlebrook asked what was he supposed to do while he was laying on the ground as though he was totally innocent. I don’t know. But I do ask, what was Craig supposed to do? Stay at third because Middlebrook impeded his progress? If there had been no contact Craig would have scored easily ending the game.

NS
Guest
NS
2 years 9 months ago

How about take the unimpeded path to the plate up the baseline? Or just not trip over the player in front of you, which is Craig’s fault if it’s anyone’s.

Ruki Motomiya
Guest
Ruki Motomiya
2 years 8 months ago

The player being in front of you is obstruction. The runner should not be obligated to run past players to get around to a “free” base path, especially since Middlebrook’s feet were still there: Just imagine if it had to actually be this way, where you could dive and force someone to go around you to a little free bit while someone else caught the ball.

This really isn’t controversial, except for the fact that since it was a World Series umpire call people have to make a big deal out of it. The runner would have scored, except a fielder was in the way. He’s laying down in the basepaths and obstructing Craig’s way, be it by forcing him to waste time going to a different path entirely or forcing him to go over him. It’s open and shut.

NS
Guest
NS
2 years 8 months ago

“The player being in front of you is obstruction. ”

Except when it’s not.

Robert Noe
Guest
Robert Noe
2 years 8 months ago

“How about take the unimpeded path to the plate up the baseline”? You mean it should be that Craig should be obligated to run around a fielder to get to the next base? So then the baseline would become irrelevant? You’re not serious. If the fielder was in the process of fielding the ball would Craig or a runner be allowed the same right? To run over the fielder if the fielder is in the baseline? You do know the rule for that don’t you NS?

NS
Guest
NS
2 years 8 months ago

Nothing I said implies Craig has any obligation to do anything. What a disingenuous reply.

Tim
Guest
Tim
2 years 8 months ago

If you’re Red Sox enough, you should be able to throw the ball into left field without any consequences.

At least that’s the only argument I’ve been able to sift out of all of this.

Robert Noe
Guest
Robert Noe
2 years 9 months ago

In the old days, and I mean old as in the very early 1900’s and late 1800’s when baseball first started, infielders were allowed to bean the baserunner to keep them from advancing. Should we go back to that? ;)

E-Dub
Guest
E-Dub
2 years 8 months ago

If I’m a baserunner and Salty or Breslow is the one attempting the beaning I’m feeling pretty good about my chances. ;)

wes011
Member
wes011
2 years 9 months ago

Even if obstruction is called in this situation (which I believe was the right call) Craig still has to touch home plate, which he never did.

John Thacker
Guest
John Thacker
2 years 9 months ago

No, I don’t think so. From Rule 7.06(b):
“(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.”

Obstruction happened. Then the play continued until he was tagged, ending action. The umpire then awarded Craig home, since he would have made it home without the obstruction.

He didn’t have to touch home plate, he was awarded it.

wes011
Member
wes011
2 years 8 months ago

Even when awarded a base, the player still has to touch it. If obstruction was called when Craig was halfway to home and he’s awarded the base, he can’t just walk over to the dugout. It just so happened obstruction was called right at the plate because that’s where the tag was.

Bad Bill
Guest
Bad Bill
2 years 8 months ago

This came up earlier this season, with the Gomez/McCann silliness, where the showboat never touched home after the thug got in his way. Any doubt on my feelings about the two players? I detest them both in a non-partisan way. But the call was correctly made then, and it was correctly made now.

Robert Noe
Guest
Robert Noe
2 years 8 months ago

Third base umpire Joyce called the obstruction as soon as Craig started to get up.

Robert Noe
Guest
Robert Noe
2 years 8 months ago

Yes he did. And I agree he is required to touch the plate on his own, i.e. without any help.

Steve
Guest
Steve
2 years 8 months ago

David,

It was great meeting you yesterday and getting to talk shop on the way down to the ballpark. I shared your article with my daughter over breakfast. I told her you’d written a good article to which she replied, “There was definitely plenty to write about.” True words from a 11-year old who will always remember her (and my) first World Series game as being spectacular.

Btw, Carlos Beltran did a nice job of making your point when he dropped down the sac bunt during the first inning. Just know my daughter remembered your bunting advice. Enjoy the game tonight and the rest of your time in St. Louis.

DNA+
Guest
DNA+
2 years 8 months ago

The Cardinals didn’t win because of an obstruction call, the Redsox lost because they made a fielding error. The game obviously ended the way it should have.

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