Game 3 of the 2013 MLB World Series had one of the most exciting finishes ever, or perhaps the most anticlimactic one ever, depending on who you were rooting for. In the bottom of the ninth, with one out and runners on second and third, Boston Red Sox pitcher Koji Uehara threw a pitch to St. Louis Cardinals batter Jon Jay that resulted in a fielder’s choice.
Jay hit a sharp ground ball to Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia fielded the ball and threw out Yadier Molina at home plate. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, after tagging out Molina, threw a wild throw to third in an attempt to catch Allen Craig, who was advancing on the play. The ball went into left field, and when Craig started to run home, he stumbled over third baseman Will Middlebrooks. The result was an obstruction call that gave the Cardinals the go-ahead run and Game 3.
The Boston Red Sox fans and players were in shock over the call. They didn’t think it was obstruction. After looking at the rules, they clearly state 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.” According to this rule, since Middlebrooks did impede Craigs progress running home, obstruction did occur. Had Craig not tripped over Middlebrooks, he would reached home and scored. If you watch the play (you can view it here), you’ll see the amount of time Craig loses from tripping is longer than what would be needed to beat the throw home.
From watching the replay, I noticed Craig stepped a bit toward the pitcher’s mound on his path home. Some Red Sox fans have been asking if the runner should be out in this instance for leaving the baseline. The answer is no. According to the rules, the runner has to be more than three feet out of the baseline before being out. Interestingly, had Craig stepped the same distance to the other side of third base (in foul territory), he probably would have avoided making contact with Middlebrooks altogether. He would have easily scored. The runner is entitled to the baseline in his path from one base to the next, so Craig did not have to attempt to avoid Middlebrooks.
I thought it was a shame the game had to end this way. It’s the first time a World Series game has ended on an obstruction call that decided the game. I personally feel it’s a shame the game had to end in this fashion, even though it was technically the right call according to the rules. I guess it’s that I don’t like someone being penalized for doing something unintentionally. Yes, it’s still the rule, but I think there’s a simple way to avoid it. Remember the rule from earlier? The part that says “ not in the act of fielding the ball” could be modified. Middlebrooks was deemed to not be fielding the ball since it got past him while the runner was going to third and Craig tripped over him on the way home. I think it should be the motion of fielding the ball. Middlebrooks was still in his dive to field the throw from Saltalamacchia when Middlebrooks stumbled over him. I believe “the act of fielding” should include any continued motion of a player attempting to field a ball.
Of course, without an errant throw, Craig doesn’t even have the option of running home. He’s either tagged out or he has to stay at third. In reality, it was the throw that cost the Boston Red Sox the game, not the obstruction call. It does give us a reason to look at and examine the obstruction rule. Though the right call was made in this situation, according to the rules, it will be interesting to see if MLB takes any steps in the postseason to prevent this from happening again. Hopefully nothing like this happens in the remaining World Series games.