Last night Game 3 of the World Series ended in a fashion that no one who watched will ever forget. The St. Louis Cardinals won the game 5-4 against the Boston Red Sox in a game filled with quality pitching, clutch hitting, and outstanding defensive plays in crucial situations. But the game ended with an error and what will forever be known as “The Call” by Red Sox and Cardinals fans, though each fan base will view “The Call” from wildly different points of view. Here is a recap of exactly what happened, and an attempt to explain why "The Call" may be good for baseball.
Those who missed the crucial can see it in the video above. As seen in the video, with runners on second and third base and one out Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedrioa makes a great play on a ground ball hit by Jon Jay of the Cardinals. Pedroia throws home where Yadier Molina is tagged out easily by Red Sox catcher Jared Satlalamacchia. Saltalamacchia then made the fateful decision to throw to third base, where Cardinals runner Allen Craig was attempting to advance from second base. Saltalamacchia’s throw was offline, and Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrook dived in a failed attempt to catch it. At this point Allen Craig was safe at third base, and Saltalamacchia’s throw sailed into the left field foul territory. Craig correctly sensed that this was opportunity for him to go home to score the winning run, but as he attempted to advance Middlebrooks legs, unintentionally or not, raised and Craig tripped. Craig momentum was stopped, which gave Red Sox’s left fieder David Nava an opportunity to run and field it. Craig then gained his footing and advanced, but not before Nava’s throw arrived on a few bounces to home plate where Craig was tagged.
At this point many viewers assumed that Craig was the third out in the inning and that the game was going to extra innings. However, third base umpire Jim Joyce had immediately signaled obstruction when Craig tripped, and at that point under Major League Baseball rules Craig was to be automatically awarded home. Craig constituted the winning run even though he still has not touched home plate.
An excellent analysis of the call, along with accompanying still frames and GIF’s, was written by Sam Miller at Baseball Prospectus. As Miller notes, Rule 2.00 does not demand that the fielder intended to obstruct the runner, but merely demands that the runner be obstructed by a fielder who is not actively fielding a ball:
“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.”
Indeed, it appears that the rule was specifically written for Game 3 if one simply substitutes “thrown ball” for “ground ball.” Middlebrooks undoubtedly delayed the progress of the runner by lying on the ground whether he intended to or not, and by the letter of the law that is obstruction and Craig has a right to third base.
Still, there is controversy because there are players and fans who have a very vested interest in a contrary result. In addition, there is a media who loves controversy. Some may argue that this is bad for baseball, but let me politely argue for a different conclusion
Consider the amount of emotion generated over the last 30 seconds of last night’s game.
Cardinals’ fans went through the following internal dialogue:
- Jay hits ground ball: “Yes get through.” (Anxiety and Excitement)
- Pedroia catch: “No throw it away please!” (Devastation)
- Molina is tagged out: “He never had a chance.” (Devastation building)
- Saltalamacchia throws to third: “What is happening?” (Confusion and a bit of hope)
- The throw sails into left field: “Loud noises!” (Extraordinary joy and revival)
- Craig trips: “Oh no he is already slow.” (Preparation for more devastation)
- Craig regains footing and heads home: “Please be faster than this!” (Wishing something upon Craig that he clearly does not have).
- Craig is tagged out: “This does not seem fair.” (Disappointment)
- Craig is called safe: “The world is right again! That was a good call! He clearly got tripped. Let me see the replay! Yes, Middlebrooks clearly raised his legs. Slow as Craig is he still would have made it home if not for the evil tripping. We are not getting messed over like 1985. Thank God!” (A sense of justice fulfilled)
The internal dialogue for Red Sox fans went something like this:
- Jay hits ground ball: “Oh no the infield is in that could get through.” (Anxiety)
- Pedroia catch: “Oh I forgot our second baseman is awesome.” (Excitement)
- Molina is tagged out: “Oh that was cute he still tried to come home.” (Feeling good about the world)
- Saltalamacchia throws to third: “What is he doing?!?!?!” (Content feeling going back to anxiety)
- The throw sails into left field: “Really? Again?!?!” (Extraordinary frustration)
- Craig trips: “Wait a second that guy is uncoordinated and slow.” (Letting a seed of hope creep back inside)
- Craig regains footing and heads home: “Oh he is really slow, I think we might nail him.” (Letting more hope build)
- Craig is tagged out: “Yes! We have this thing in extra innings!” (Contentment returns)
- Craig is called safe: “That is the worst call I have ever seen in my life. How can we lose because some bumbling idiot cannot make it home in time. I want to punch something! Surely this is not happening. Surely they will reverse this. No they are not reversing this. I hate the Cardinals. I hate the umpires. I hate everyone in the world right now except my dog, David Ortiz, and Dustin Pedroia. (A sense of justice denied)
“The Call” is what makes baseball both frustrating and captivating. There is a degree of subjectivity in baseball that simply does not exist in any other major sport. Indeed, every play ultimately comes down to the judgment of a man, and hopefully someday a woman, who decides based on his judgment whether a small white ball crossed an imaginary plane which itself changes according the height of the hitter. Every out call comes down to a judgment of whether a ball was caught before it touched the ground, or when a ball was caught, or whether a runner was tagged. Last night, an obstruction call came down to the umpire’s judgment that Allen Craig had a right to a certain baseline, and whether the fielder unjustifiably created a barrier in that baseline. Too much subjectivity is bad, of course, but the right amount generates the emotion, drama, and lively debate which is good because it builds community and creates an unobstructed (pardon me please) debate that would not otherwise exist. Though they may not know each other from Adam or Eve, baseball fans may immediately share a connection now with one question, “So, obstruction or not?”