By Ben Walker
ST. LOUIS: By Sunday morning, most everyone had become an expert on the obstruction rule.
“How can u make a call like that in the World Series,” rapper Lil Wayne tweeted.
“Worst ending to a World Series game ever!” PGA golfer Hunter Mahan posted.
“Obstruction of justice,” Arizona Cardinals kicker Jay Feely wrote.
No matter that the Official Baseball Rules have a slightly different take on what happened between the Cardinals and Red Sox in Game 3 at Busch Stadium.
But anytime someone scores the winning run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning without even touching home plate — called safe on an extremely rare ruling by an umpire — it’s bound to cause a little ruckus.
On this point, all sides seemed to agree: Allen Craig’s wild trip over Boston third baseman Will Middlebrooks likely made for the most crazy, chaotic October finish of all time.
And it gave St. Louis a 5-4 win Saturday night and a 2-1 edge.
“As a baseball fan, you hate to see a game end like that,” pitcher Adam Wainwright said Sunday before Game 4. “Obviously I’m on the Cardinals, so I’m fortunate the rule is the way it is. And you hate to say it, but he impeded the process of running home.”
“But I totally understand why Red Sox players would be upset about that. That is just a horrible way to lose a baseball game, no question about it,” he said.
For more than a century, the World Series has delivered dramatic endings — Kirk Gibson’s homer, Carlton Fisk’s shot, David Freese’s drive on this very same field in 2011.
There have been plenty of kooky plays — Reggie Jackson turning his hip to get hit by a throw, Roger Clemens throwing part of a broken bat toward Mike Piazza, an out in the 1970 Series when the catcher missed the runner and the runner missed the plate.
But no one had seen anything quite like this.
“Never,” umpire crew chief John Hirschbeck said.
“Never,” third-base umpire Jim Joyce said after making the call.
Said Craig: “I didn’t know if I was out or safe or not.”
Craig was awarded home after getting tangled with Middlebrooks. A wild throw set off the sequence, and Middlebrooks was sprawled in the baseline and kicked up his legs as Craig tripped over him.
Running on a banged-up foot, Craig headed home and the throw by left fielder Daniel Nava beat him. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia made the tag in plenty of time and Craig never reached the plate. But umpire Dana DeMuth signaled safe, having seen Joyce’s call at third base.
Both teams immediately rushed to the plate. Middlebrooks threw down his glove and joined the Boston argument. The Cardinals came out to celebrate.
The fans took awhile to react, unsure of what they’d just witnessed.
“I think maybe 75 percent of the guys didn’t know what happened,” Cardinals star Carlos Beltran said.
“I wasn’t sure why he was called safe,” Middlebrooks said.
Middlebrooks said any contact was accidental. Doesn’t matter, though. The play is covered by Rule 2.00 and Rule 7.06, and makes it clear that obstruction is called anytime a runner is impeded.
“It does not have to be intent. There does not have to be intent. OK?” Hirschbeck said.
Not OK, Boston pitcher Jake Peavy said.
“It’s a joke,” Peavy groused.
Saltalamacchia was more forgiving.
“At the end of the day, if it was obstruction, you’ve got to call it. It’s part of the game,” he said. “I don’t know the rule book in and out. To me, it didn’t look like it was obstruction.”
How rare was it?
The last time a big-league game ended on an obstruction call was 2004, when umpire Paul Emmel said Seattle shortstop Jose Lopez blocked Carl Crawford’s sightline. Emmel was the first-base umpire Saturday night.
Longtime Red Sox fans remember a noncall that went against them in the 1975 World Series. In Game 3, Cincinnati’s Ed Armbrister bunted in the 10th inning and bumped into catcher Carlton Fisk. There was no interference called, Fisk made a wild throw and Joe Morgan hit a winning single.
Watching from the dugout Saturday night, St. Louis manager Mike Matheny wasn’t sure what to think.
Matheny had seen umpires reverse a call in Game 1 that cost the Cardinals. He’d seen Craig trip and was ready to argue. And he also saw Craig down in the dirt after re-injuring his foot.
“We were wanting to celebrate, but we see a guy laying there and it’s all confusing,” Matheny said Sunday. “And we see the umpires come together, and that didn’t work out real good for us last time.”
“We got inside the clubhouse, and it was still kind of that somber mood,” he said. “And Chris Carpenter yelled out real loud, ‘Hey, boys, we just won a World Series game!’ ”