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Obstruction call is a tough way to lose, but Red Sox have to get out of their own way

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  October 26, 2013 11:05 PM

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ST. LOUIS -- Chances are you never heard of Major League Baseball's Rule 7.06 before Saturday night. And chances are you're raging against that brief explanation of precisely what constitutes baserunner obstruction deep into your Sunday.

Understood. No one wants a meaningful sporting event settled by fine print.

But remember this: While Game 3 of the World Series ended on an obstruction call on Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks, allowing Allen Craig to score the winning run, that was how the Red Sox lost this bizarre, thrilling, tense, ultimately devastating game by a 5-4 score.

It's not why they lost.

They lost because, for the second straight game, an ill-advised throw to third base took a detour to left field, allowing the Cardinals to plate the winning run.

It happened in the seventh inning of an eventual 4-2 loss in Game 2 back at Fenway, with Craig Breslow sailing a throw into the seats.

And damned if it didn't happen again last night. After the Red Sox had rallied back for the second time in the game from a two-run deficit in the eighth -- Daniel Nava's RBI force play and Xander Bogaerts's game-tying single up the middle doing the honors -- all hell broke loose in the bottom of the ninth.

With one out, Yadier Molina singled, and Craig greeted Koji Uehara by doubling him to third. The Red Sox brought the infield in, and Jon Jay obliged by hitting a one-hopper to Dustin Pedroia, who threw home to get Molina.

Then ... disaster. Chaos. And frustrating defeat for the Red Sox.

Rather than eating the ball and taking their chances with light-hitting Pete Kozma, Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia played hero ball in a situation that called for prudence and tried to throw out Craig heading for third.

His throw sailed to the left of Middlebrooks, who couldn't make the catch. As Nava retrieved the ball and threw home, Craig scrambled to hurdle the fallen Middlebrooks, who briefly raised his legs.

That's when one emphatic wave of the arm by umpire Jim Joyce turned the obstruction rule into an instant and permanent part of Boston Sports Lore, Rulebook Edition.

It's right there with the Tuck Rule, except ... well you know. The favorable outcome went the other way this time.

"Tough way to have a game end, particularly of this significance, when Will is trying to dive inside to stop the throw,'' said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "I don't know how he gets out of the way when he's lying on the ground. And when Craig trips over him, I guess by the letter of the rule you could say it's obstruction. Like I said, that's a tough pill to swallow."

The wild finish led to an unusual scene in the media interview room moments later:
Umpires Joyce, Dana DeMuth, crew chief John Hirschbeck, and MLB executive vice president of baseball operations Joe Torre took to the podium to explain what happened and why the call.

"The baserunner has every right to go unobstructed toward home plate,'' said Joyce. "Unfortunately for Middlebrooks, he was right there, and there was contact. [Craig] could not advance to home plate naturally."

"Intentional or not intentional, he just has to clear the path,'' added Torre. "It's unfair because he's laying on the ground, but that's the way the rule is."

The umpires were asked if there was anything Middlebrooks could do to avoid the call being made.

"Just to get out of the way quickly and not obstruct the runner,'' said Joyce. "It's really as simple as that."

It is that simple, and it's not at all sinister. This is not Larry Barnett, swallowing his proverbial whistle in Game 3 of the 1975 World Series when the Reds' Ed Armsbrister clearly interfered with Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk, leading to an errant throw and an eventual Boston loss.

It's not Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek all but pile-driving Braves base-runner Ron Gant off the bag on a successful pick-off play in Game 2 of that 1991 World Series.

And it's sure as heck not that blown call they'll never let go here in the land of the relentlessly cheery redbird, no matter how many championships they win. No, this is not Don Denkinger calling the Royals' Jorge Orta safe more than a split-second after the Cardinals formally recorded the out at first base in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series.

This was not a blown call at all. It's the correct call of an obscure but necessary rule at an incredibly inopportune time.

If anything, it was a blown opportunity by the Red Sox.

The ending will obscure a lot of good moments (Bogaerts had two hits, including a triple, Nava drove in two runs), curious decisions (Brandon Workman was allowed to bat in the top of the ninth while Mike Napoli was never used), and almost-forgotten disappointments (starter Jake Peavy plodded through four innings, and yes, that was this same game).

It was an exhausting, exhilarating ballgame with enough twists and turns to keep a fan's mind churning long after the final pitch.

And that was the case before the crazy, reckless ending that left the Red Sox looking at a 2-1 deficit in this series.

The Red Sox couldn't get out of the Cardinals way in the most pivotal moment of this series so far. But don't let it linger.

What's more important if the Red Sox, resilient as they are, plan to recover and win this thing is this:

They must get out of their own way. Ceasing with all daring throws to third base might be a good place to start.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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