What’s a World Series without a little controversy?
Actually, there shouldn’t be much discussion about the ending of Saturday night’s Game 3. Third base umpire Jim Joyce immediately called obstruction on Boston Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks, allowing Allen Craig to score the winning run.
Boston starter Jake Peavy took issue, saying that call shouldn’t have decided the game. That’s wrong.
As replays showed, it was clearly obstruction. Middlebrooks didn’t attempt to interfere with Craig, but he didn’t have to.
A disappointing way to end a World Series Game, but Jarrod Saltalamacchia probably shouldn’t have thrown to third after he tagged Yadier Molina out at the plate. The wild throw should have easily allowed Craig to score, but Middlebrooks got tangled up with him.
This play will be talked about for years, perhaps as a turning point for the Series, but it was the wild throw that cost the Red Sox, not a correctly interpreted rule.
Fans will often see an NFL game marred by penalties and scream that the officials should let the players play. In an NBA game, a foul called in the first 46 minutes may not be called in the final moments. That’s not the case here.
Middlebrooks clearly interfered, and while it is tough to lose a game that way, the Cardinals won it, and lead the Series 2-1.
The call came with some irony. Joyce, long considered one of baseball’s best umpires, who inadvertently helped spur replay’s adoption, made the call. In June 2010, Joyce blew a call at first base, costing Detroit’s Armando Galarraga a perfect game.
He quickly and publicly admitted error. “It was the biggest call of my life,” Joyce said. “And I kicked it. I just cost that kid a perfect game.”
Joyce was chosen for the postseason for the next two years, and now he was again the center of attention, this time for making a correct call.
For the second time in the first three games, the umpires played a key role. In the first game, Dana DeMuth, umpiring at second, and Saturday night at the plate, erroneously called Dustin Pedroia out at second. The other umpires gathered and made the call correct.
Crew Chief John Hirschbeck told Cardinals manager Mike Matheny that the other five umpires all saw the call differently than DeMuth, and their job was to get the call right.
The decisiveness and the willingness to make the call right augurs for improved umpiring next season when replay comes in. Umpires don’t want games decided on their errors, and they’re working together to get the calls right. It also helps that some of the best umpires are calling the World Series.
Joyce made a more important call on Aug. 20, 2012 when he saved the life of an Arizona Diamondbacks employee at Phoenix’s Chase Field by administering CPR.
After covering Buck Showalter for several years, my awareness of the umpires’ vulnerabilities has been heightened. Showalter loves to talk about umpiring. He’ll talk about his days of trying to earn extra money in the offseason by refereeing basketball games.
He made it to Division 1, and tried out for the NBA, but was told as an official, he was too small.
Showalter empathizes with umpires, says it’s hard, but will argue aggressively for the correct interpretation of the rules. He’s long been a forceful advocate for the adoption of replay, saying the game is too fast to always get the calls correct.
The life of a minor league umpire is difficult, terrible pay, hard travel and working conditions that aren’t favorable. Major league aspirants spend years trying to get to the big time, and the process weeds out lots of worthy candidates.
One of Showalter’s ideas is to get players who weren’t good enough to play in the majors, but are knowledgeable, into umpiring. They know the rules and are used to pressure. Train them in the minors for a year or two, and they’ll be effective umpires, he thinks.
There have been former players who became umpires, but not for many years. There are a few former NBA players who became officials, and there have been a few NFL players who officiated, too.
Clay Buchholz, whose physical condition is questionable, will start Game 4 on Sunday night for the Red Sox. Ryan Dempster is available to back him up. Lance Lynn starts for the Cardinals.
It was the first Series game to end on an error since the Bill Buckner miscue in 1986’s Game 6. It may be talked about as long.
“That was a walk-off," said St. Louis’ Matt Holliday. “But it was actually kind of a fall-off."