- Jackie MacMullan, ESPNBoston.com columnist
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ST. LOUIS -- They don't really have time to digest the hard truth, because here come Games 4 and 5 of the World Series on the heels of a wild, emotional and controversial Game 3, three pivotal games in three action-packed days, with little time to dwell on what could have been or should have been or might have been.
Just as well for the Boston Red Sox.
Here's the bottom line on what happened last night: The Red Sox became the first team in postseason history to lose on an obstruction call, which is indisputably a really crummy way to end an otherwise terrific, dramatic, entertaining game filled with clutch performances from both teams.
But the call was the right one.
And the sooner manager John Farrell and his boys move beyond it, the better.
That may be a tall order. There were some raw, angry baseball players in the Red Sox clubhouse, none more vocal than the starting pitcher, Jake Peavy, who took direct aim at plate umpire Dana DeMuth, blaming him for making the call he termed "an absolute joke."
The play unfolded in the bottom of the ninth, with the score tied 4-4 and Allen Craig on second and Yadier Molina on third. Jon Jay hit a grounder that Dustin Pedroia dove for and pinned (a fine play that was lost in all that followed).
Pedroia quickly fired home and Jarrod Saltalamacchia tagged Molina out at the plate. Craig, who has been sidelined with a foot injury, was not yet at third, according to Saltalamacchia, so he fired the ball hoping to get two. His throw tailed off, Will Middlebrooks dove for it, and as it skidded away, Craig tripped over Middlebrooks as he tried to run home. When he finally stumbled toward the plate, left fielder Daniel Nava threw the ball to Saltalamacchia, who applied the tag and clearly had Craig out by a step.
But, what the Red Sox failed to notice, was that third base umpire Jim Joyce had already signaled obstruction.
Even though the replays clearly show Joyce making the call, Peavy mistakenly believed it was DeMuth who made it, and he unloaded on the umpire, who had a play overturned in Game 1 when he mistakenly called Dustin Pedroia out on force play at second as the ball fell out of Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma's glove.
"I cannot believe you make that call tonight from home plate," Peavy 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.
"It's a joke. I don't know how [DeMuth] is going to lay his head down tonight. When you watch how hard these two teams are playing, and what it takes to get to the World Series and what it took for us to climb back into this game, it's just is amazing to me that it would end on a call like that, that's not black and white. I don't know what else to say."
Asked if he thought the umpires should have conferred on the final play, which enabled St. Louis to scamper off with a 5-4 victory and a 2-1 Series lead, Peavy said, "Sure. [DeMuth] has already proven that he cannot see things correctly in Game 1. [He missed] a pretty obvious [call] 4 feet in front of him. It would have been nice to have a meeting of the minds.
"You could kind of tell when [DeMuth] was pointing to third what he was calling. I hope he rests well tonight in his hotel room knowing what he did. That is a joke, an absolute joke. I'm sorry. Go to talk to him and ask him if he feels good and right about his call to end a World Series game on a diving play … it's just beyond me."
Peavy can expect to be a little lighter in his wallet once his words reach the league office (just a hunch, but my guess is they've already made it there).
Middlebrooks, meanwhile, was still at a loss as to why, when he was lying prone on his belly after diving after the errant throw from Saltalamacchia, he was considered obstructing Craig, who, he insisted, "was inside the bag."
"I tried to get up," Middlebrooks said. "His hands were on top of me. I felt something [pushing] on top of me, when I saw the replay, I saw it was his hands. What am I supposed to do?"
"I was just trying to push myself up. The first thing I thought was [the ball] hit the baserunner, and it was somewhere around close. I was just going to get up and pick it up, as I'm trying to get back up, I get pushed back down, because he was going over me."
"I don't understand it. I don't understand it. I have to dive for that ball. I'm not in the baseline. I feel like if he's in the baseline, he's at my feet."
Crew chief John Hirschbeck explained, "Obstruction is the act of a fielder obstructing a runner when not in the act of fielding the ball. It does not have to be intent. There does not have to be intent, OK?"
And therein lies the rub. Whether Middlebrooks meant to or not, he impeded Craig. Those are the rules, even though, as Farrell correctly noted, "Tough way for a game to end. … I don't know how [Middlebrooks] gets out of the way when he's lying on the ground."
But here's something the manager also knows. After Pedroia saves the game-winning run from squirting through and throws a strike to Saltalamacchia to nail Molina at the plate, all Saltalamacchia had to do was hold onto the ball. If he did, there would be two outs, and the next batter would have been Kozma, who was 0-for-4 on the night.
Instead, for the second time in as many games, Saltalamacchia hurt his team with an overly aggressive mistake.
"He [Craig] has not been running well, obviously, so he's not going to be speeding in," Saltalamacchia said. "I was taught to make the tag and look up. So I made the tag on Yadier and looked up, and saw he was nowhere near third. He was halfway there. So I made the throw. It just ran off at the end and went underneath Will's glove."
When pressed about the play, Farrell conceded, "It's a bang-bang play. As it turns out, we have forced a couple of throws to third base that have proven costly. Tonight was a costly throw."
There were other costly developments for Boston. For the second straight start, Peavy faltered out of the gate (two runs and four hits in the first inning). He battled back to pitch three scoreless innings after that, but was pinch-hit for in the top of the fifth by Mike Carp, who grounded out to score Xander Bogaerts for Boston's first run.
And then there's the unraveling of lefty specialist Craig Breslow, who imploded in Game 2 with his own wild throw to third. Last night, he was summoned in the seventh with a chance at redemption. Instead, he hit a batter and was charged with two runs after not recording an out. How can Farrell trust him going forward?
Even the normally flawless Koji Uehara gave up the hit that enabled Craig to be on the basepaths.
Farrell had his share of curious personnel decisions, failing to find the optimal time to insert Mike Napoli and allowing Brandon Workman to bat in the ninth instead of pinch-hitting for him or using a double switch when he inserted him to pitch the bottom of the eighth.
The Cardinals had a few missteps of their own, but, for the second time in as many games, they limited their mistakes.
Whoever lost this game was going to feel the sting. It was that kind of battle; a gutty, pock-marked, gut-check kind of outing.
Losing was bad enough. But losing the way the Red Sox did was excruciating.
"This is going to be a tough one to swallow," Middlebrooks admitted. "I feel like we needed to win this game."
The next game is already here. Boston cannot afford to look back on yet another squandered opportunity. The umpires did not beat the Red Sox.
Once again, they beat themselves.
The odd end of Game 3 is hard to swallow, but the Sox must refocus.