As you've probably heard by now, Saturday night's Game 3 of the World Series between the Cardinals and Red Sox ended on a bizzarre play, unlike any I can recall seeing, in which the winning run scored on an obstruction call by third-base umpire Jim Joyce.
With one out in the bottom of the 9th, with the score tied at 4, St. Louis had Yadier Molina on 3rd base and Allen Craig on 2nd with Jon Jay up next. Boston pulled its infield in to give them a chance at cutting Molina down at the plate, should there be a ground ball. Sure enough, Jay hit a sharp grounder, but Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia made a fine play to snag it and fired home, with Molina out by a comfortable margin. This set up a 1st and 3rd with 2 outs situation, with perhaps the bes relief pitcher in baseball, Koji Uehara facing maybe the Cardinals' worst hitter, Pete Kozma, giving Boston a very strong chance at getting out of the inning. Or that would have been the scenario, if catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia had decided he could throw Allen Craig out at third (he couldn't have).
That led to this:
You can just barely see in the rop right corner of that clip, third base umpire Jim Joyce's hand go up as he call obstruction, ruling that third baseman Will Middlebrooks interfered with Craig's path to home plate.
Here is the pertinent portion of the MLB rulebook:
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.
Rule 2.00 (Obstruction) Comment: If a fielder is about to receive a thrown ball and if the ball is in flight directly toward and near enough to the fielder so he must occupy his position to receive the ball he may be considered "in the act of fielding a ball." It is entirely up to the judgment of the umpire as to whether a fielder is in the act of fielding a ball. After a fielder has made an attempt to field a ball and missed, he can no longer be in the "act of fielding" the ball. For example: If 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.
The example at the end of the rule (emphasis mine) almost perfectly captures last night's scenario. It seems MLB had considered this sort of play before, and like it or not, they'd already decided what should be called. Joyce was on top of it, and did not hesitate to make the (correct) call.
Many have already studied the clip as though it were the Zapruder film, trying to determine whether Craig's legs went up in an intentional effort to slow Craig down or not, but intent is not mentioned anywhere in this section of the rule book, and as the umpire's made clear during their postgame press conference, intent in this instance does not matter.
As I said last night:
Everyone has been complaining about baseball's unwritten rules. Now they're complaining about the ones that ARE written down too.— Jason Lukehart (@JasonLukehart) October 27, 2013
Aesthetically, this may not have been the ideal way for a World Series game to end (and if it had been the Indians on the losing end of last night's game, I'm sure I would have lost all objectivity and flipped out about the call, the way many intelligent Red Sox fans did), but that isn't (and shouldn't be) the umpires' concern. If the call is correct, it should be made whether the game is close or not, whether it's the 1st inning or the 9th.
It was the right call.