Game 3: The Obstruction Game
In hockey, a tripping penalty will get you two minutes in the penalty box and a one-man advantage for the opposing team, in which most teams don’t even capitalize a third of the time. In soccer, you might get a yellow card for it. In basketball—I don’t know—a foul? Whatever. Probably not a big deal.
In the case of baseball—particularly Game 3 of the World Series between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals—an obstruction call on an inadvertent trip resulted in a walk-off victory for the Cardinals in the third game of the Fall Classic.
Add another infamous moment to Red Sox lore: The Obstruction Game.
Jake Peavy was on the hill for Boston and threw four innings of two run ball, before giving way to Felix Doubront. Rookie Xander Bogaerts was 2-4 with an RBI, and ignited two separate Red Sox charges. Daniel Nava was also 1-4 with 2 RBI on the night.
Peavy was rocked in the early innings, but managed to settle down eventually. The Red Sox rallied back from 2-0 and 4-2 deficits in the game, to eventually knot the game at 4-4 heading into the final frames.
However, in the top of the ninth and with the score tied, Boston manager John Farrell sent pitcher Brandon Workman to the plate against Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal—with Mike Napoli sitting on the bench.
With Koji Uehara still unused in the bullpen, Workman struck out in his first professional at-bat—and returned to pitch the bottom of the inning. He recorded the first out, and then allowed the next hitter to reach. It was at this moment that Farrell decided to pull the plug and bring in Uehara—a strategy that no fan watching at home could make sense of.
Allen Craig was introduced as the pinch-hitter, and smacked a double off Uehara on the first pitch the saw. Second and third, one out. Jon Jay was next, and he dribbled a soft bouncer that Dustin Pedroia quickly fielded. He whipped the ball home to nix Molina. Two out. Craig headed for third.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia threw down to Will Middlebrooks at third base, and the ball got away—reminiscent of Craig Breslow’s blunder in Game 2. Craig looked up and saw the ball headed for left field. He turned a step toward second and found Will Middlebrooks still lying on the ground from diving at Saltalamacchia’s errant throw.
Middlebrooks tried getting up, and Craig responded by putting his hands on him so as to not collide. In the process, Craig tripped over Middlebrooks’ legs as Will slumped back to the dirt from the shove. Third base umpire Jim Joyce signaled interference immediately, and Craig picked himself up and headed home. Daniel Nava’s throw from left nailed Craig at home, but the umpires were signaling for interference. And the game was over.
There is a lot of gray area in the call. This much we know: There was no way Middlebrooks could get out the way, the rule clearly states that obstruction does not have to be intentional, and that the likes of this is unprecedented.
By the book, it is a good call. The rules state that once a fielder has an opportunity to field a ball, he must vacate the area—even if such an action is physically near impossible—and if he does impede the progress of said runner, obstruction is the result.
It is a pity that such a call ended a World Series game. In this instance, the rule is not fair. And it was not enforced fairly—but it was the right call.
All we can hope is that Major League Baseball can revise the rule in the event of a future issue. In the case of the Red Sox, it just looked like an incredible double play. But it was not so. Looking forward, Clay Buchholz will be on the mound Sunday for the Red Sox against the Cardinals’ Lance Lynn for Game 4 of the World Series.
The controversy of the call will be immortalized, and we will never truly know if the right call was made in that situation. We’ll also never know how different things could have been if Napoli had been hitting for Workman.
It was a strange game, to be sure. In fact, it’s been an unusually strange series. And we’ve only played three games yet.