World Series 2013: Game Three gamechanger

As the World Series switched from Fenway Park to Busch Stadium for Game Three last night, one thing was evident throughout the game and all the way to the end, where St. Louis walked-off on an obstruction call at third base; National League rules change the way a baseball game is played, both strategically and tactically.

Boston – the AL team – found it hard throughout with manager John Farrell missing a key double-switch in the eighth inning, and twice in two games the Red Sox have lost a game on an errant throw from home plate to third.

Here’s how it went down last night in the Cardinals 5-4 victory:

Brandon Workman, the Boston reliever who was put into the ninth batting spot on the aforementioned double-switch, gave up a one-out single to Yadier Molina in the bottom of the ninth, with the game tied at 4-4.

With the hit and Allen Craig coming off the bench to pinch hit, Farrell finally brought in closer Koji Uehara. Craig hit the first ball he saw for a double into leftfield, and so Boston’s infield came in to face John Jay.

Jay hit a bouncer to second baseman Dustin Pedroia, and as slick as ever the veteran snared it with his backhand and threw a bullet to catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who tagged Molina out at home.

This is where it went wrong for Boston. Saltalamacchia could have held the ball and Boston would have needed just one out to end the inning with a man on third, but the Red Sox catcher saw Craig hobbling toward third base after Pedroia’s throw, and attempted to throw him out stealing. The attempt was wayward and third baseman Will Middlebrooks failed to catch it.

Just as Craig began his run home after the ball had got away behind third base, Middlebrooks was still on the ground and, unaware of Craig’s position, bent his knees to lift his feet and inadvertently tripped Craig. This led to umpire Jim Joyce signalling for an obstruction – which home plate umpire Dana DeMuth acknowledged quickly – and as Craig lumbered home, the relay throw had him out by two steps but DeMuth, after calling him out, pointed to Joyce to say ‘Yes, there was obstruction at third and therefore Craig’s run counts’.

Game over. Still with me?

This moment, pretty much two or three mini-games in one inning, has instantly gone down as one of the most dramatic ends to a World Series game ever.

We will get to the Red Sox complaints in a minute – there were plenty but none of them have any real substance when the rules are properly explained – but in such an important game; the Red Sox now down 2-1 in the series and their pitching staff facing several questions, this play will sting like no other.

NL rules meant that Boston’s usual first baseman Mike Napoli never faced a pitch, and the batter he usually protects in the line up, David Ortiz, had to play first base and was twice walked – one intentionally and the other an obvious pitch-around. The Cardinals would not use this tactic if Napoli were in the line up.

Red Sox starter Jake Peavy would have still been on the mound had the game been played in Boston, but after four innings and 64 pitches he was pulled because his spot came up in the batting order in the fifth inning, and with his team down 2-0, and no designated hitter to bat for him, a substitution was made.

This is why AL teams are 11-23 in NL ballparks since 2001.

Right, let’s get to the Red Sox complaints, the first of which was that Middlebrooks did not trip Craig intentionally.

This doesn’t matter, because the runner has the right to run the bases unobstructed, regardless of whether the defender trips him unintentionally or not.

The second weapon thrown from the Boston camp, there was no way Middlebrooks could have gotten out of the way, and here’s what he said afterward: “What was I supposed to do? Army-crawl to second base? I wouldn’t have done anything different. I don’t understand the call.”

That doesn’t matter, either. The rules specifically refer to a situation in which ‘an infielder dives at a groundball and the ball passes him, and he continues to lie on the ground and delays the progress of the runner.’

Unfortunately for Middlebrooks, he simply didn’t have the time to get out of the way, and when he did attempt to stand up, it was at precisely the wrong time.

But probably the argument you are all most intrigued about is the final one: Craig was out at home plate, so he shouldn’t be awarded the run.

First of all, an obstruction call doesn’t automatically give the runner a free base. If Craig had of jogged slowly to home and been tagged halfway between third and home, he would have been called out. But Craig was out by one or two steps, which crucially was a distance he would have made up had it not been for the trip, and therefore DeMuth awarded the run and a Cardinals win.

This is now a unique part of World Series history. With Boston’s Clay Bucholz unsure of how many innings he can throw thanks to not being completely healthy, and Ryan Dempster set to pitch Game Five– which could now be a potential clincher for St. Louis – it’s hard to see where Boston comes back from here.

Sure it’s only 2-1 in the series, but as I mentioned in my second article after Game Two, the Cardinals have Michael Wacha ready for Game Six after a normal four-day rest period and pitching lights out. Boston will do anything to bring this series back to Fenway Park, even if they are down 3-2, just so they can play by their own rules again.

The obstruction rule was applied properly. In the end, nine innings of baseball was nine innings of madness; 35 players — including 12 pitchers, five different third baseman and five pinch-hitters — 298 pitches and 234 minutes of baseball.

Had enough? Me neither. Tonight it’s Bucholz against Lance Lynn. AL vs. NL. Right now, we know just how that matchup will go.

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