MLB: World Series-Boston Red Sox at St. Louis Cardinals

This game, man. This game. There are about one million different things that made this game what it became – an all-time classic. It isn’t often that a game culminates with three umpires sitting behind microphones explain the arcane rules that make baseball baseball, but there they were. And here are the Cardinals and Red Sox, three games into an inexplicable World Series.

This game had it all. The weird sloppiness of the first two games, some unforgettable moments that were instantly forgotten and baseball’s most timeless trait – esoteric record-keeping – leaving an indelible mark on the series forever. It had surges and responses, moments that made your scratch your head and moments that made you scream. It was a supertanker steaming its way toward history, the waves from each team lolling it back and forth in the current. The ship listed one way and then the other before all hell broke loose in the ninth inning.

There were questionable calls and then questionable substitutions – everything about this 5-4 Cardinals victory will be analyzed and scrutinized for years to come.

This baseball game, and the ninth inning specifically, didn’t progress as much as it cascaded. One after another, the little things turned into big things. So much will get lost to the madness at the end – the obstruction call on Will Middlebrooks who committed the unforgivable sin of lying prone on the ground in the vicinity of third base. The series of events that allowed him to get there started with Dustin Pedroia‘s incredible diving stop. The Sox played the infield in and Pedroia’s reactions allowed him to cut Yadier Molina down at the plate.

Allen Craig, who doubled against Koji Uehara the batter before, made a belated lunge towards third base as he saw Pedroia come home. The Cardinals first baseman and DH couldn’t start tonight because of the injured ankle that kept him out of the lineup for most of September. If he gets a better jump or can get his carcass to third in a more effective manner, maybe Jarrod Saltalamacchia takes a bite out of the baseball, rather than throwing to third trying to Make A Play.

Instead, Saltalamacchia throws the ball into the runner, beyond the reach of third baseman Will Middlebrooks. The rest is…history?

Third base umpire Jim Joyce made the obstruction call right away – meaning Craig’s run scores and the game is over regardless of the throw and tag applied well before the runner reaches home plate. Craig looked in a great deal of pain as he limped away from his delirious teammates. Tonight’s events might even continue cascading into the next game.

It began even before the ninth inning. John Farrell‘s inexplicable decision to let reliever Brandon Workman hit for himself in the top of the ninth inning. Needing an extra few outs from Workman is understandable but the option existed to double-switch backup catcher David Ross into the game, pushing the pitcher’s turn well back in the order. That removes Saltalamacchia from the equation, he of the fateful and errant throw.

There was all manner of second guess opportunity tonight. Mike Matheny choosing to use Randy Choate against David Ortiz in the sixth inning, rather than Kevin Siegrist. There were countless occasions of runners on third base with fewer than two outs failing to plate – the darker side of baseball’s current romance with the strikeout.

The defense of Will Middlebrooks and Xander Bogaerts and David Ortiz. The shape-shifting strike zone of home plate umpire Dana DeMuth. John Farrell’s aggression in the early going gives way to inaction and limited options later. The list goes on and on.

But nobody will remember these moments. The obstruction call that was or wasn’t is the takeaway from this game. The instantaneous recall of an arcane rule by third base umpire Jim Joyce – the correct call. There was plenty of talk about baselines and attempts to parse Allen Craig’s attempts but the rule is the rule.

Rule 2.00 (Obstruction) Comment: If a fielder is about to receive a thrown ball and if the ball is in flight directly toward and near enough to the fielder so he must occupy his position to receive the ball he may be considered “in the act of fielding a ball.” It is entirely up to the judgment of the umpire as to whether a fielder is in the act of fielding a ball. After a fielder has made an attempt to field a ball and missed, he can no longer be in the “act of fielding” the ball. For example: an infielder dives at a ground ball and the ball passes him and he continues to lie on the ground and delays the progress of the runner, he very likely has obstructed the runner.

Doesn’t matter how he got there. Doesn’t matter that he meant Craig no harm. Will Middlebrooks’ body intersected Allen Craig’s path to home plate. Craig had to go over him and that was that. The base line is where Craig is, not the chalk line used to determine fair or foul balls. There is no baseline. There is just a clear, sadistic rule that shifts the burden entirely to the fielder. It doesn’t matter if it is fair, it is so. You can argue the merit of the rule but it’s still the rule until somebody changes it.

And so the Cardinals have a 2-1 series lead. That’s the other takeaway here. Doesn’t matter how well or poorly this game was played, managed, and officiated. It’s in the books. Advantage: Cardinals.