ST. LOUIS – When they'd lost on a technicality, in the pages of a rule book and in the literal act of trying to get back to their feet, the Boston Red Sox blamed the umpires, and there's no harm in that, no matter that the umpires were right and the Red Sox were not.
They'd left the field confused, but quite sure they'd been wronged, so those who were not confused were just blind mad, and as a result didn't even know which umpire to hang with the offending call, the call that rightfully ended Game 3 of the World Series.
What the Red Sox knew is they'd been obstructed from playing the 10th inning, a detail that sat on their souls like an anvil, which, by rule, would be obstruction if the anvil were attempting to go home from third base on a wild throw with two out in the ninth inning of the most important baseball game of the season so far.
Upstairs, on the top concourse at Busch Stadium, one wrung-out St. Louis Cardinals fan turned to another and said, "I don't know, this one feels kind of dirty, doesn't it?"
The other Cardinals fan stared at him like he'd grown another head, and it was Willie McGee's.
[Photos: Best of Game 3]
"No," he said.
The Red Sox are on their own with this, with the chaotic final play that ended with Allen Craig being thrown out at home plate but not. And Will Middlebrooks being face-down in the dirt and in the way. And two two-run leads overcome but meaningless. Craig fell over Middlebrooks, third-base umpire Jim Joyce pointed, Craig ran toward home and the right team won, even if it was in a very hollow way. World Series games are supposed to end with a ball in the gap, or a back-door slider on the black. Not with umpires reciting rulebooks.
The Cardinals celebrated their 5-4 win down the hall. The Red Sox believed they'd been cheated. So it will stand, as it should stand, even if it meant we were robbed of a great ending to a great game, one that might still be going if not for the fact time and circumstance brought Craig and Middlebrooks to the same patch of dirt amid screaming fans in red.
Middlebrooks stood near third base with his arms wide, befuddled. Then he spiked his glove, ran to the plate, doubled back to Joyce and shouted, "What am I supposed to do?"
He later stood at his locker, composed. Still, he asked, "What am I supposed to do?"
It wasn't his fault, of course. The game put him there. He was playing the game.
The Cardinals had a runner at third base – Yadier Molina, who'd singled with one out. They had another at second – Craig, who'd come off the bench and hit Koji Uehara's first pitch into the left-field corner. The Red Sox brought the infield in. Jon Jay hit a grounder toward the right side, which Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia snared. He threw home. Molina was out, sliding. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia looked up, saw the heavy-footed Craig steaming toward third and threw toward Middlebrooks, but too far right and into the oncoming Craig. The ball deflected off Craig and down the left-field line. If Craig could get up, get past Middlebrooks and get home before left fielder Daniel Nava picked up the ball and threw it back to Saltalamacchia, the Cardinals would win and hold a two-games-to-one lead.
If not, the Red Sox would drag the game into extra innings. So they threw out Craig.
While Joyce pointed to the area of the pile-up at third, while plate umpire Dana DeMuth pointed toward Joyce, while everyone leaned in to learn just what might have happened, the Red Sox – slowly, from one man to the next to the next – learned they had not ended the ninth inning.
"The baserunner," Joyce explained, "has every right to go unobstructed to home plate, and unfortunately for Middlebrooks he was right there. And there was contact. So [Craig] could not advance to home plate naturally."
John Hirschbeck, the crew chief, leaned into the microphone.
"It does not have to be intent," he said. "There does not have to be intent. OK?"
They don't make the rules, they enforce them. They don't enforce them only in April or May, or only when no one's watching, or only when they're not going to watch it on television for the next 24 hours and then hear about it next week in Boston. It's an NBA Finals game decided at the free-throw line. A Super Bowl on a pass interference call.
By the words in the book, Middlebrooks obstructed Craig. Craig stumbled and otherwise probably would have scored, though we'll never know, because his left foot caught on Middlebrooks, he almost fell, and then was out.
It stinks that a game ends with a manager on the field seeking explanation. It maybe feels a little dirty to some. This is the way it had to end, however, except it didn't feel that way to the Red Sox, whose lips were defiantly thin, their words even harder. And, yet, you get it. They lost in a terrible, painful way. They'd played their way out of a loss, only to be taken out by a guy trying to stay in the play.
Jake Peavy, who'd pitched the first four innings of the game, was most vocal. He called it "an awful way to end the game." He started sentences the way many of them did: "I don't know the rulebook, but…"
Except he ended them like this:
"It's absolutely a crying shame that a call like that is going to decide a World Series game," he said. "It's a joke. An absolute joke."
"Go find me one person who's OK with that call," he said. "Other than Cardinals fans because they won the game."
"He's already proven he cannot see things correctly in Game 1," he said of DeMuth, who missed a call at second base Wednesday, but was the plate umpire Saturday, and did not make the obstruction call. "I mean, four feet away."
"I'm hoping he rests well tonight in his hotel room," he said. "Go ask him if he feels good to end a game in this World Series like that."
An emotional sort and a competitive beast, Peavy had the wrong umpire. He didn't know the rule. But, he was in that moment bleeding for the Red Sox, and for a game that in that one moment they believed they could win. Only then they were told it was over, to go home, to come back tomorrow and try it again. It's a lot to sort through in the minutes after an agonizing swing, so he hated the call and he hated the call because it was late October and he hated the call because it meant they'd lost.
It was the right call, however. The umpires got it right. It doesn't mean the Red Sox got it wrong, it's just they were the ones who had to live with it.
David Ortiz sat at his locker, his knees icing under heavy wraps. When a reporter approached, he looked over his shoulder and snapped, "I'm not talkin'."
Betrayed, confused, just sad, they dressed believing they'd left a win out there, or had a win stolen out there. Something. Finally, there was only one truth left.
"You don't want to lose," Saltalamacchia said. "I don't know what the rulebook says. If the rulebook says obstruction, you tip your cap and walk off the field and take it like a man."