ST. LOUIS — It will live simply in World Series history as The Obstruction Game.
All the details, all the twists and turns and managerial second-guesses you could make about Saturday’s taut thriller in Busch Stadium will long be forgotten. The crazy final play will overwhelm all of them in your memory banks.
The St. Louis Cardinals beat the Boston Red Sox, 5-4, in the wackiest ending to any October thriller you’ll ever see, when interference was called on Boston third baseman Will Middlebrooks and St. Louis runner Allen Craig was awarded the winning run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
St. Louis leads the series, two games to one, heading into Game Four here tonight at 8:15. Boston’s Clay Buchholz, a subject of much consternation in Red Sox Nation because of shoulder trouble that dates to June, gets the start against St. Louis’ Lance Lynn.
But there’s zero chance anything that happens tonight will top what took place Saturday in the lunacy department.
“It was incredible,” said St. Louis outfielder Carlos Beltran. “How do you explain that?”
It’s not easy. Here’s a good effort:
With runners at second and third and one out in the bottom of the ninth, John Jay grounded a Koji Uehara pitch to Dustin Pedroia at second. Pedroia made a great dive to his right and threw home to nail Yadier Molina at the plate. That was the inning’s second out.
Catcher Jarrad Saltalamacchia then foolishly tried to throw out Craig trying to advance to third on the throw home and the ball skittered into left field as Middlebrooks was unable to make the catch.
Daniel Nava alertly backed up the play in left field and threw home – with Craig apparently nailed at home in a headfirst slide for what would have been an incredible double play of two runners at home. But plate umpire Dana DeMuth signaled safe and pointed back toward third base. That’s where fellow umpire Jim Joyce ruled interference on Middlebrooks. DeMuth pointed to the plate, signifying the run was awarded as the Cardinals stormed out of the dugout in celebration, and the Red Sox did likewise in protest.
The play was so confusing, and players from both teams were pouring on the field, that there was clear confusion in the record of crowd of 47,432. It took several seconds for there to be any real celebration in the red-clad crowd of a walk-off victory.
“Was that a walk-off?” asked smiling Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday. “It was really kind of a fall-off.”
Whatever it was, Rule 2.00 was the main factor in play and crew chief John Hirschbeck explained the key point is that “obstruction is the act of a fielder obstructing a runner when not in the act of fielding a ball. There does not have to be intent.”
Replays showed Middlebrooks, on his chest just inside the third-base bag after diving for the throw, clearly raised his legs behind him and that impeded Craig’s progress, with the runner falling over him before getting up and proceeding home.
According to the umpires, whether he did that on purpose or not makes no difference. It would be obstruction either way.
“He said, ‘You have to get out of the way,’ ” Middlebrooks said. “I was inside the base and he was too. There wasn’t anywhere for me to go. As I was getting up, he was going over me. I felt something on my back.”
It was Craig’s hands, pushing on Middlebrooks to spring himself up so he could head home.
“I wasn’t focused on anything other than thinking thinking, ‘I gotta get home’ and he was in my way,” said Craig, who had doubled Molina to third as a pinch-hitter on the first pitch he saw from Uehara. “I couldn’t tell you if he was trying to trip me or not. I was just trying to get over him so I could score. As a runner, your one-track mind is to get to third and get to home.
Boston manager John Farrell didn’t argue long or hard because the umpires were clear and convincing on their decision.
“Craig trips over Will and I guess by the letter of the rule you can say it’s obstruction,” Farrell said. “But all that being said, that’s a tough pill to swallow.”
The Red Sox seemed resigned to the fact the call was probably right, but it was hard to stomach the way they had lost.
“That’s no way to end a World Series game,” grumbled David Ortiz.
“It was real shocking to end a game like that,” Saltalamacchia said. “At the end of the day, you have to call it I guess if it’s there. It’s part of the game. I don’t know the rulebook in and out but looking at the replay, I don’t see how that’s obstruction.”
Of course, there is no crazy call if Saltalamacchia eats the ball at home or Middlebrooks makes the catch.
“I thought I had a play on a guy going to third,” Saltalamacchia said.
“We have forced a couple throws to third base that haven proven costly,” said Farrell, a reference to reliever Craig Breslow’s errant throw to third that scored St. Louis’ winning run in Game Two. “Tonight was a costly throw.”
Three umpires on the dais were asked if they had ever seen a game end like that. DeMuth, Joyce and Hirschbeck all said “Never” at the same time. And with good reason.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it’s the first time in history a postseason game has ended on an obstruction call.
Baseball-Reference.com has play by play of more than 125,000 games in its database and tweeted early this morning it has only one such instance, a Tampa Bay win over Seattle in 2004.
St. Louis had a 4-2 lead in the eighth and brought in closer Trevor Rosenthal to try to get a five-out save but he only produced one out before Boston got two runs to tie the game.
It was an inning that featured an intentional walk to Ortiz that loaded the bases – and put the potential go-ahead run on base.
Nava followed with a fielder’s choice grounder that second baseman Kolton Wong speared and threw to the bag to get one out. Boston rookie Xander Bogaerts then followed with an RBI single on a chopper that high-hopped off the glove of Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma into the outfield as Shane Victorino scurried home to tie the game.
St. Louis scored two runs in the first off Boston starter Jake Peavy, saw the Red Sox tie the game but appeared to win it on Holliday’s two-run double to left in the seventh.
The Cardinals, however, were 4 for 15 with runners in scoring position and left 12 men on base. This one could have been over far sooner.
On his big double, Holliday went to third on a foolish attempt to throw home by Bogaerts and was there with no outs ready to score a big insurance run. But he never got the chance as Junichi Tazawa struck out Matt Adams and Molina and got Jay on a fly ball to center.
The Cardinals had a similar faux pas in the fifth, when Molina held at third on a Jay single to center when it looked like third base coach Jose Oquendo was waving him around and center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury was not looking to throw home.
The bases were loaded with no outs but Molina never got home. Peavy struck out Pete Kozma, got pitcher Joe Kelly on a lazy infield popup and then pumped his fist leaving the mound when Matt Carpenter popped to short to end the inning.
The game was played amid all the pomp and circumstance we’ve come to expect under the shadow of the Gateway Arch.
It was the 60th World Series game played in St. Louis, second among all cities to the 191 played in various venues in New York over the years.
The famous Clydesdales were paraded around the outfield prior to the introduction of the starting lineups and Hall of Famers Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Red Schoendienst and Ozzie Smith were introduced to the crowd, receiving a roaring standing ovation. Another one was reserved for 1982 World Series hero Willie McGee as he went to the mound to throw the ceremonial first pitch.
The team also had a pregame video presentation to honor legendary Cardinal Stan Musial, who passed away in January at age 92. Musial was a fixture at St. Louis posteason games, and appeared during the 2011 World Series against Texas a month before turning 91.
The team said this was the first Cardinals World Series since 1942 that Musial was not a part of.