In what will go down as one of the most debated calls in World Series history, the Red Sox find themselves on the road in a 1-2 hole. "Obstruction" may become a synonym of "Buckner" and "Boone" in Boston after tonight.
With two on and the game tied in the bottom of the 9th, Jon Jay grounded a ball to Dustin Pedroia, who immediately made a heads up play to Jarrod Saltalamacchia at home for an easy out. With a hobbling Allen Craig attempting to advance to third on the throw, the ghosts of Game 2 came back to haunt Boston. Salty fired the ball back to Will Middlebrooks at third in an attempt to get Craig out, but his throw went wide right, forcing Middlebrooks to dive. With Middlebrooks on the ground and the ball in shallow left, Craig tripped over him in an attempt to score. From left, Daniel Nava threw out Craig by three feet, but obstruction was called on Middlebrooks. Run automatically scores. Game over. Cue: Madness.
It was a play that was wrong for all the wrong reasons. Yet, somehow, it was perfectly right. To understand what was called and why it was called, we have to know the rule. As defined by the Official Rules of Major League Baseball:
- "Obstruction is the act of a field who, while not in possession of the ball, and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner."
Middlebrooks was certainly not in possession of the ball. However, it had been argued that he was in the act of fielding the ball; in other words, continuing the play in which he dove for Salty's errant throw. Aha! There is an example in the rules almost tailor made to this exact play!
- "Comment: 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"
So there it is. After the ball passed Middlebrooks and he lay on the ground, he was officially in obstruction of Craig.
"There was nothing I could do," Middlebrooks responded when asked what he could have done differently during that play. "I would do it the same again."
In a press conference following the game, the umpiring crew was asked what Middlebrooks could have done differently to avoid being in the way. There was a moment of awkward silence, Joe Torre and the crew attempting to come up with a "correct" answer to the question. There was none.
"Get out of the way quicker," was all they could muster. They knew there was nothing Middlebrooks could do in that situation. He was a helpless victim of a flawed rule. A flawed rule that cost the Red Sox a pivotal Game 3 in the World Series.
It was a game that the Red Sox put themselves in position to win, twice digging themselves out of 2-run deficits. Yet, it was a game they put themselves in position to lose, with manager John Farrell making critical errors late in the game.
Farrell decided not to pinch-hit for Brandon Workman, making his first Major League plate appearance in a crucial situation, leaving stud Mike Napoli to sit in the dugout knowing he wouldn't watch three straight fastballs pass him by. Farrell then decided not to walk Jon Jay with first base open in the bottom of the 9th. Doing so, with the postseason's most dominant reliever on the mound, could have induced an inning-ending double play and we head to extras. Instead, we have a disaster "obstruction" call to decide the biggest game of the baseball season.
The individual to blame here is not Jim Joyce, who made the call, it's John Farrell.
If you're not in the business of blaming your own manager, that's fine, there is plenty to be angry about when it comes to the rule itself, which the MLB needs to change.
Anybody with common sense watching that play knows that no matter what Middlebrooks does, he is in a no-win situation. He tries to get up, he gets in Craig's way. He continues to lay flat, Craig trips over him anyway. Middlebrooks has to dive for the errant throw to try and stop the runner from advancing home, and with Craig draped on top of him five feet from the base path, what is he to do?
If you ask me what the rule should be changed to, I'm going to tell you that's above my pay grade. It's not for me to decide how baseball should get their calls right. I do know, however, that a change needs to be made. In many other controversial calls in years past, it takes just one play in a critical moment to expose a flaw in a rule. These flaws provoke change to better our game. Let Game 3 of the 2013 World Series be that situation the bettered the game.
Now, down 1-2, the Red Sox know they let two games slip away. Two games that could have possibly been won by eating the ball at home and not trying to heroically throw runners out. For the first time since I can remember this season, John Farrell seemed mortal, making critical managerial mistakes when it counted the most. All of that aside, Boston has shown their grittiness to not only come out strong and maintain a lead, but also to fight back out of a deficit when the outcome looked bleak. The ending of Game 3 could be a huge blow to the psyche of this team, but Sunday is a brand new game.