Game three of the 2013 World Series ended in an unprecedented fashion Saturday night. The St. Louis Cardinals won the game, besting the Boston Red Sox 5-4, after the umpires made a rare obstruction call at the bottom ninth inning to end the game. It was the first time an obstruction call had ever decided a World Series game, and the first time an obstruction call decided a Major League Baseball game since a 2004 regular season Tampa Bay Devil Rays game. The Cardinals took a 2-1 series lead over the Red Sox after Saturday night's debacle, so the controversial call already plays a huge part in this series' fate. Here's the video:
Cardinals baserunner Allan Craig tripped over Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks after an errant throw sailed past Middlebrooks into left field. Sox leftfielder Daniel Nava was able to throw the ball home on time to beat Craig at the plate. In any other game, in any other instance, Craig was out by a mile. But third base umpire Jim Joyce, who has a bad reputation with baseball fans, called obstruction and awarded Craig the walkoff run to win the game. The Red Sox couldn't believe it, the announcers couldn't believe it, everyone watching at home couldn't believe it. The last time an obstruction call ended a baseball game was in 2004 in Tampa Bay.
Now, if you have no idea what an obstruction call in baseball is, you're not alone. It's such a rare ruling that most fans on Twitter were shocked it was called at all. The reaction that came over social media last night was outrageous, vulgar, hilarious, and probably tame compared to the furious Sox fans who were enjoying the game from bars in Boston.
Deadspin found the "obstruction" rules as applied by the officials last night. The rules, as worded, seem to suggest they got it right:
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: If 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.
This mean Middlebrooks had to get up in the split second after the ball soared over his head, his chest hit the ground, and Craig flew into third to avoid breaking the rule. The rules clarify later that obstruction should only be called in extreme situations. Again, per Deadspin, with their emphasis:
Rule 7.09(i) Comment: When a catcher and batter-runner going to first base have contact when the catcher is fielding the ball, there is generally no violation and nothing should be called. “Obstruction” by a fielder attempting to field a ball should be called only in very flagrant and violent cases because the rules give him the right of way, but of course such “right of way” is not a license to, for example, intentionally trip a runner even though fielding the ball. If the catcher is fielding the ball and the first baseman or pitcher obstructs a runner going to first base “obstruction” shall be called and the base runner awarded first base.
By the book, Middlebrooks was dead or alive on that play. There was nothing he could do. "If he lies prone on the dirt, he might be obstructing, according to the rulebook. If he gets up, he might be obstructing, according to the rulebook," writes Samar Kalaf. Still, the decision stung for passionate Red Sox fans, life-long diehards and bandwagons jumpers alike. Many casual observers complained that Joyce had bungled the call in certain ways:
It appears Jim Joyce was not looking at the players during the so-called obstruction event? Does this matter?— Margarita Noriega (@margafret) October 27, 2013
This is the obstruction that Jim Joyce saw pic.twitter.com/jy1C1kxuf0— Matthew Knell (@MatthewKnell) October 27, 2013
I don’t think Jim Joyce could have been any less emphatic with his obstruction call. Umpire is supposed to raise both hands.— Jesse Spector (@jessespector) October 27, 2013
But ultimately replay, in a strange way, proved Joyce's innocence:
And here's a GIF, showing Joyce was watching the full extent of the obstruction: http://t.co/wA3kUUaEE4— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) October 27, 2013
After the morning came, cooler head eventually prevailed. Most level-headed, reasonable people, like the Sporting News' Jesse Spector, agree that Joyce made the right call. But it was such a split second moment, with so many factors coming into play, that people were still begging for proper explanation. Yahoo! columnist Jeff Passan tried to further explain things in simple terms over Twitter:
Also important to note: Craig's hustle got him the winning run. If play at plate isn't close, DeMuth doesn't award him home on obstruction.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) October 27, 2013
More clarification: Obstruction does NOT automatically give runner a base. It's why DeMuth waited until close play to award Craig the run.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) October 27, 2013
Craig advanced at his own risk. If he had been out by a decent margin -- up to ump's determination -- obstruction wouldn't have mattered.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) October 27, 2013
For some, depending on how the rest of this series plays out, this game will go down in infamy as "the Jim Joyce game." Some already curse his name for costing Armando Galarraga a perfect game in 2010. His name may not draw the strong reactions of Bucky Dent, or Aaron Boone -- other villains in Red Sox playoff history. But, depending on how history's written over the next few days, he'll be known as the guy who possibly obstructed the Sox's third World Series win this century.
2004 seems so long ago.