Joe Torre: Player must clear path

ST. LOUIS -- They were all in agreement -- umpiring crew chief John Hirschbeck, third-base umpire Jim Joyce, plate umpire Dana DeMuth and executive vice president of baseball operations Joe Torre -- about the obstruction call against Boston Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks that ended Game 3 of the 109th World Series and gave the St. Louis Cardinals a 5-4 win on Saturday night.

It was the first time in Series history that a game has ended on an obstruction call.

"Just to go over the rule quickly, 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," Hirschbeck said. "There does not have to be intent, OK? Once he has the opportunity to field the ball, he can no longer in any way obstruct the runner. That's basically the rule."

During the play in question, Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia threw wildly to third base in an attempt to catch baserunner Allen Craig after a play at the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning. Craig, who had slid into third, got up and headed toward home, but tripped over the legs of Middlebrooks, who was face down on the third-base line after a futile attempt to catch Saltalamacchia's throw.

The fact that intent is not required on the part of the fielder is important because it eliminates any debate over whether Middlebrooks deliberately lifted his legs in an attempt to trip Craig.

Joyce made the initial obstruction call.

"When the play developed after Saltalamacchia threw the ball at 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," he said. "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.

"The baserunner has every right to go unobstructed to home plate, and unfortunately for Middlebrooks, he was right there. And there was contact, so he could not advance to home plate naturally.

"With the defensive player on the ground, without intent or intent, it's still obstruction. You'd probably have to ask Middlebrooks that one, if he could have done anything. But that's not in our determination."

After the game, Torre read part of the applicable rule -- Section 2.00 Definition of Terms, under "Obstruction" in the Major League Baseball rulebook.

"Intentional or not intentional, he [Middlebrooks] just has to clear the path," Torre said. "I know sometimes it's unfair because he's laying on the ground, but that's the way the rule is."

Not every player, though, was happy about it.

"I cannot believe you make that call from home plate," Jake Peavy, who started Game 3 for the Red Sox, said. "I'm beat. I'm out of words. I don't know what to say. I think it's a crying shame a call like that is going to decide a World Series game. It's a joke. Two teams are pouring their hearts out on the field and that's the call you make."

Hirschbeck has been an umpire for 30½ seasons. Joyce has been an umpire for 26 years.

When asked if they'd ever seen any game end in this fashion, both replied, "Never."

Information from ESPNBoston.com's Jackie MacMullan and The Associated Press was used in this report.