ST. LOUIS – Turns out tripping is a penalty in baseball, too. And it's one that won the St. Louis Cardinals a World Series game.
A chaotic, back-and-forth night ended with umpire Jim Joyce calling obstruction on Boston Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks, allowing Allen Craig to score the winning run in the bottom of the ninth of a rollicking 5-4 victory that gave St. Louis a two-games-to-one advantage in the series.
With runners on second and third and one out in the ninth, Jon Jay hit a ground ball that Dustin Pedroia scooped and fired home to nail Yadier Molina at home. As Craig tried to advance to third, Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia threw to third base. The ball skipped by Middlebrooks, who fell to the ground and brought Craig down with him. Even though Craig continued running and was tagged out at the plate, Joyce called obstruction, awarding him home and giving the Cardinals a huge victory at Busch Stadium.
The back-and-forth, topsy-turvy, anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better (-and-sometimes-worse) third game of the World Series spent nearly four hours with Boston and St. Louis one-upping and -downing each other to see who would go one up and down in the series.
For the first eight innings, St. Louis and Boston traded moments good and bad, both at times looking brilliant and futile. Both stranded too many runners. Both came up with big hits in big situations. All of it led to Middlebrooks' fatal fall, which triggered Rules 2.00 and 7.06: obstruction and the umpire awarding the runner a base because of it.
Glory and devastation in October walk the same paths and find themselves separated by the smallest things. Like an accidental trip. Or an excuse-me swing and a rounded, black elbow pad, which seemed like they were going to cost Boston the game earlier. Because of them, Craig Breslow almost played World Series goat once again. And Matt Carpenter's check swing and Carlos Beltran's elbow pad nearly played their way into Cardinals lore.
After Carpenter eked out an infield single and Beltran's body armor was grazed by a Breslow pitch, red-hot Matt Holliday doubled down the left-field line in the seventh inning to score both and snap a 2-2 tie. With the 100-mph heat of Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal ready to lock down the final two innings, the game seemed a shoo-in for St. Louis.
Then Jacoby Ellsbury singled against Martinez to lead off the eighth, Shane Victorino took a pitch to the hip, Pedroia moved them up a base with a groundout and Cardinals manager Mike Matheny walked David Ortiz to load the bases and brought in Rosenthal. Daniel Nava's force out cut the deficit to one, and rookie Xander Bogaerts, who earlier in the game joined Ty Cobb and Mickey Mantle as the youngest players to triple in a World Series game, bounced a seeing-eye single up the middle to score Victorino and knot it up at 4-4. Boston stranded Nava on third, repeating an oft-seen pattern from St. Louis earlier.
Particularly awful for the Cardinals was the fourth inning, when they loaded the bases in the fourth inning with no outs. Their easy outs – shortstop Pete Kozma and starting pitcher Joe Kelly – played their roles to perfection with a strikeout and popout, and Carpenter ended the threat with a popout himself. Putting two on in the fifth against reliever Felix Doubront proved no better, as David Freese flied out to close the frame. And again in the seventh, with Holliday on third and no outs, a pair of strikeouts preceded a fly out that stranded him.
St. Louis took a 2-0 lead early when everything Boston starter Jake Peavy threw in the first inning came back at him with similar furor. Carpenter led off with a single to right and moved to second on a Beltran bunt. Holliday followed with an opposite-field single that drove home Carpenter. Matt Adams kept the right-field parade going with another single, and Molina jumped on the next pitch to plate Holliday. In all, St. Louis swung at 12 of Peavy's 21 pitches in the first inning, an aggressive total even for a team that isn't all that interested in working counts.
The eagerness boiled over into the ninth, when Jay swung at both pitches from closer Koji Uehara, who had given up a pinch-hit double to Craig. Pedroia's play wasn't enough, and the Cardinals took one more step toward their 12th championship in the Fall Classic.
Emphasis on fall.