ST. LOUIS — Class was in session Saturday night at Busch Stadium. Three umpires and former major league manager sat on a dais and tried explaining obstruction — rule No. 7.06 — to a bunch of reporters after Game 3 of the World Series.
Get your pencil, scorecard and college-ruled notebook ready!
In the bottom of the ninth, Allen Craig of the St. Louis Cardinals was awarded home plate after ump Jim Joyce called obstruction on Boston Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks. What's obstruction? The act of a fielder getting in the way of a runner when not in the act of fielding a ball. Interference, a different rule, is when the baserunner gets in the way of the player on defense fielding a ball.
Craig and Middlebrooks had become entangled near the bag after a wild throw to third by catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Once Craig made an effort to run home, and home plate umpire Dana DeMuth determined that the obstruction called by Joyce had a part in preventing Craig from reaching the plate, everything coming after the entanglement was moot. The wild throw by Saltalamacchia was moot. Cardinals third-base coach Jose Oquendo thoughtfully scurrying out of the way to allow outfielder Daniel Nava a clear path to throw home was moot. The tag applied by Saltalamacchia on Craig was moot. The play was dead, the game was over, the Cardinals had won 5-4.
John Hirschbeck, the crew chief, said almost everything he needed to in his opening statement:
"It does not have to be intent. There does not have to be intent, OK? Once he has the opportunity to field the ball, he can no longer in any way obstruct the runner. That's basically the rule. So you want to go ahead and ask questions?"
But what about Middlebrooks, with his feet and legs? What was he supposed to do, lying on the ground there?
"As a matter of fact, [Middlebrooks'] feet didn't play too much into that because he was still in the area where the baserunner needs to go to advance to home plate," Joyce said. "And the baserunner has every right to go unobstructed to home plate, and unfortunately for Middlebrooks, he was right there (in the way). And there was contact, so he could not advance to home plate naturally."
Joe Torre, a former manager and now MLB's executive vice president of operations, interjected:
"And let me read, [the rule book] gives the example: '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.'
"Intentional or not intentional, he just has to clear the path. I know sometimes it's unfair because he's laying on the ground, but that's the way the rule is."
And what about the base path? Was Craig even within the base path?
Inside the base PATH! Craig forced contact! pic.twitter.com/2ZhtJxoTaO
— Josh Donaldson (@BringerOfRain20) October 27, 2013
Joyce was under the impression — probably falsely, by looking at video replay — that Craig was "on the chalk" of the foul line. But even that isn't relevant, Hirschbeck said.
"Don't forget, the runner establishes his own baseline," Hirschbeck said. "If he's on second on a base hit and rounds third [base] wide, that baseline is from where he is, way outside the [foul] line, back to third and to home plate, it's almost a triangle. So the runner establishes his own baseline."
This probably is the most recent case of obstruction playing a key role in a postseason game since the 2003 American League Division Series between the A's and the Red Sox. That time, an obstruction play involving Miguel Tejada favored the Red Sox, helping them win Game 3. That time, Torre said, Tejada stopped running for the next base after getting tangled up — nullifying the obstruction call — and he was tagged out.
"And that's the last, most important part of this rule, is that [DeMuth] has to determine — if what [we] saw tonight happened and he's out by 20 feet, then the umpire determines that if the obstruction had not occurred, he would have been out," Hirschbeck said. "But since ... it was a bang-bang play, obviously that's obstruction."
And then there's the famous Ed Armbrister/Carlton Fisk collision at home plate during the 1975 World Series. That would have been interference, had umpire Barnett made a ruling. That one also went against the Red Sox. They're all about someone getting in the way, aren't they?
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