Of Obstruction, Dejection, Jubilation, Frustration and Getting it Right


Oct 26, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals designated hitter

Allen Craig

(21) is tripped by Boston Red Sox third baseman

Will Middlebrooks

(16) during the ninth inning and would score on an obstruction call to win game three of the MLB baseball World Series at Busch Stadium. Cardinals won 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

In the aftermath of the Cardinals’ wild 5-4, bottom of the ninth game three World Series win in St. Louis over the Red Sox what has followed is what one might logically expect: controversy.

This is not some media manufactured Lester goo in the glove type controversy but a real cliff hanger upon which the fate of both participants hung in the balance. The Cardinals walked off the field with a dramatic win, a sheepish grin on their faces and a 2-1 series lead in their back pocket while the Red Sox were left to wonder what could have been had the Major League Baseball rule book not been thrown at them.

If a picture is worth a thousand words then this six minute video is worth a million. Check it out and come back here.

I am a Red Sox fan of the highest order. Intense and obsessed. When my team wins it’s a better day and when we lose, especially a loss like this one, it’s a bitter pill to swallow. The bottom line is that the umpiring crew got it right in a crucial situation. Crew Chief John Hirshbeck clearly stated the facts of the play and the resulting ruling.

"I’ll admit the obscure rule had me running for my MLB rule book, feverishly looking for two crucial words, “willful intent”, that would allow me to cry foul long and loud. Those words were not present. Figuratively and literally, game over."

Here’s how the obstruction rule reads:

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: 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.

Oct 26, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; Boston Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks (left) and second baseman Dustin Pedroia (15) react after an obstruction was called allowing the St. Louis Cardinals winning run to score in the 9th inning of game three of the MLB baseball World Series at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eileen Blass-USA TODAY Sports

The rule says nothing about intent. The rule is clear and unequivocal. The rule book even gives an example that fits the Will Middlebrooks and Allen Craig entanglement to a T. The bottom line is that the umpires got it right. One side rejoiced while the other was left to stew in their own juices over what woulda, shoulda, coulda been. This is why we watch.

Boston players groused about the call in post game interviews with some Cardinal players downplaying the entire affair as if they’d gotten away with something. That’s how fresh the interpretation of the obscure ruling was. Managers Mike Matheny and John Farrell agreed in post game press conferences, albeit the latter with a little less enthusiasm, that the rule was interpreted correctly.

Here’s why the ruling is good for the Red Sox. It’s a wake up call. It’s a call to arms. This team who has battled all year against the odds must once again saddle up and get ready to ride against the forces of adversity. They have been knocked to the mat again. Red Sox fans know one thing about this team; when they’re knocked down they get back up swinging. I suspect baseball fans will see a more aggressive and frankly pissed off Red Sox team on the field for game four of the Fall Classic Sunday night. If I were the Cardinals I’d prepare for a fist fight the rest of way.