The umpires involved in the controversial call that ended Game 3 of the World Series held a press conference to explain the ruling.
Crew chief John Hirschbeck began by explaining the rule itself.
“Obstruction is the act of a fielder obstructing a runner when not in the act of fielding a ball. It does not have to be intent. There does not have to be intent. Once he has the opportunity to field the ball, he can no longer in any way obstruct the runner,” he said.
Then Jim Joyce, the umpire who made the obstruction call on Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks, gave his view of the play. Cardinals runner Allen Craig stumbled over Middlebrooks, who had dove for a throw from catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
“When the play developed after Saltalamacchia threw to third base, after the ball had gone straight through and Allen had slid into third and stood up to attempt to go to home plate, everything was off right there and when he tried to advance to home plate, the feet were up in the air and he tripped over Middlebrooks right there, and immediately and instinctually, I called obstruction,” Joyce said.
Craig was awarded home and the winning run. The Cardinals won, 5-4, and took a 2-1 lead over the Red Sox in the World Series.
Following the game, there was much speculation over whether the rule applies if a fielder did not commit the obstruction intentionally.
“With the defensive player on the ground, with intent or without intent, it’s still obstruction,” Joyce said.
Rule 7.06 of the MLB rules states the following:
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: 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 umpires were asked if they conferred about the call, as they did when they reversed a call in Game 1.
“We congratulated Jim, and said great call. Because I could see it all in front of me, as it happened,” Hirschbeck said. “Mark Wegner made the comment he could see it from right field developing. We’re trained to look for these kind of things, and they are out of the ordinary, but when they happen, and it’s the World Series, you expect to get it right.”
Still, it didn’t sit well with Red Sox fans, especially since Joyce is famous for one of baseball’s biggest blown calls ever when he ruled a runner safe in the ninth inning of a perfect game bid by Detroit’s Armando Galarraga in 2010.
Craig was actually tagged out at the plate, but the ruling negated that outcome.
“If what you saw happened tonight and he’s out by 20 feet, then the umpire has to determine that if the obstruction had not occurred, he would have been out, OK? But since it was right there, a bang-bang play, obviously that obstruction definitely had something to do with it,” Hirschbeck said.