Last night’s game in St. Louis ended with an umpire’s ruling that Red Sox third baseman, Will Middlebrooks, obstructed the Cardinal’s Allen Craig’s effort to score on a throw that got past Middlebrooks. The situation is as follows. The game was in the bottom of the ninth iñning tied at 4-4. After one out, Molina singled off Brandon Workman and Manager Farrell brought in closer Koji Uehara and Allen Craig doubled on the first pitch putting runners on second and third with one out.
(NOTE: This was the third game between these two very good teams and such teams know how to win games. The hitters have seen the pitchers now, and are starting to figure out how to hit them. Koji Uehara likes to throw first pitch strikes and seldom walks hitters, so attacking the first pitch is the smart move. In the top of the eighth inning, the Red Sox had scored when Daniel Nava, facing the remarkable Trevor Rosenthal on a 0-2 pitch, hit it “up the middle” to score the tying run. This is the way many tight games are decided when smart players do the smart thing. Both Craig and Nava did the smart thing against a pitcher with whom they were now familiar.)
Then the fun started. John Jay hit the ball sharply to second and Justin Pedroia, one the the handfull of players around who make the great play when necessary, made one here by diving to his right, fielding the ball and throwing home to beat Molina. On the play, Craig advanced to third and Jarrod Saltalamacchia threw just a bit to Middlebrooks’ left and the ball glanced off Craig’s arm. Middlebrooks dove to catch the throw and was lying on the ground, his feet even with the bag and his body between Craig and homeplate. If he remained still, the outcome may have been different, but he raised his lower legs and Craig attempted to step over him on his way home; he tripped. The umpire immediatley ruled obstruction and awarded Craig home even though Nava’s throw from left beat the runner to the plate. It was the correct call. The time from Jay’s swing to Craig’s run took less than 15 seconds.
The rule invoked at this time was Official Playing Rule 7.06 that says “obstructed runners shall be awarded one base. . . ,” and 7.09J says “obstruction. . . should be called only in very flagrant and violent cases. . .” The definitional section under Rule 2.0 defines Obstruction as the act of a fielder, while not in possesion of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.” “Impede” is a sufficiently
vague term to allow some prosecutorial lattitude. Had Middlebrooks dove in the act of attempting to field the ball and had stayed there, Craig would have had to step over him to advance home. Even if Craig tripped stepping over Craig, no obstruction would have been called, but he made an overt act that materially impeded Craig. Middlebrooks did the smart act; he tried to prevent the run. The umpire exersized his prosecutorial lattitude and ruled it Obstruction and 2013 World Series Game Three became the only such game to be decided on such a call.
When I spent my time studying the rules, I once asked a senior umpire about the play where a batter hits a swinging bunt in front of the plate and the runner and catcher collide while the runner is attempting to run to first and the catcher is attempting to field the ball. It is the collision of the “Interference Rule,” where a runner interfers with the fielder while fielding a ball, and the “Obstruction Rule.” The umpire looked at me and said, “Clark, that would be an act of God.” Such is baseball.