Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Hint of Obstruction

There are two lessons to take away from last night's game 3 of the World Series (3, if you count "don't let your short reliever who has never batted before in the major leagues get his first big league at-bat against a flame-throwing demon in the 9th inning of a World Series game because you're expecting to get another full inning out of him and then pull him after just one out).

One, the obstruction call on Will Middlebrooks that allowed an injured, lumbering, Prince-Fielder-esque Allen Craig to score the winning run was the correct call. The rules clearly state that what Middlebrooks did was interference. This is regardless of intent, this is regardless of where Craig was running vis-a-vis the baseline, this is regardless of the fact that Middlebrooks had nowhere else to go, this is regardless of the fact that he was kicking his legs like a Rockette and it didn't make a difference, and this is regardless of the fact that the Sainted Tom Brady once got away with one with the "tuck rule". The rule, as the umpires were stand-up enough to explain (and explain, and explain) after the game, clearly lays out what happens in that situation, and they called it. This is not the NBA, where refs "swallow their whistles" or admit to not calling fouls on star players to keep them on the court; the rules are the rules, and they - unlike the borders of Country Joe West's strike zone - get enforced from first pitch to last. A situation came up, the appropriate rule was applied, and that was that. Too bad it was the last play of the game, but, hey, that's what rules are for.

And if you want to argue that the rule is bad, or that it's poorly written, that's an entirely different argument. It's not the umps' job to legislate from the field. It's their job to know the rulebook as it exists (which Jim Joyce did) and to apply the rulebook (as Jim Joyce and Dana DeMuth did). That is all.

The other lesson is brutally simple: For all that people want to blame Will Middlebrooks or the umps, there is precisely one person who's at fault in all this: Jarrod Saltalamacchia. He did a marvelous job of taking Dustin Pedroia's marvelous throw and tagging out Yadier Molina at home plate. Later, he did a marvelous job of taking Daniel Nava's throw from left and somehow getting a tag down as Craig before he crossed home plate. But in between, he decided to try to nail Craig at third on a play that was going to be close at best, and instead threw the ball past Middlebrooks (causing him to a) dive and b) ultimately obstruct Craig) into left. Craig, as anyone following the series knows, has a bum wheel. The next guy up, Pete Kozma, carries slightly less oomph in his stick than a former drummer for Spinal Tap. The guy on the mound, Koji Uehara, has been largely unhittable. Even with Craig's bad wheel, the smart play is to eat the ball and let your superstar closer blow away the hitless wonder at the plate and get the hell out of the inning. 

But instead, Salty threw. He threw poorly, and he threw wide, and he caused Middlebrooks to go "timber" down into Craig's way. And that's where the ballgame went. Not with the umps, not with Middlebrooks, not with Craig, with a bad decision to throw. 

Maybe Salty shouldn't have been in there. Maybe it should have been David Ross, a better defensive catcher. But it was Salty behind the plate, and Salty who made the throw, and Salty who cost the Sox the game.

Not the umps. Not the rules. Not Middlebrooks. A bad throw by a bat-first catcher under World Series pressure. 

Which, on a certain level, is exactly the way it should be.

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