The much-maligned MLB umpires stood extremely tall last night as controversy erupted in an enormous way at a World Series that had been drawing poor TV ratings despite a classic matchup and some classic baseball.
Not only did the umpires get the controversial call exactly right, they got it right immediately. There was no need for a conference, no need to do anything but gesture, signal and walk off the field while much of the viewing public and paying customers at Busch Stadium had little idea what happened.
What happened was that St. Louis won, 5-4, to take a two game to one lead in the Series.
The situation was this:
St. Louis had runners on second and third with one out in the last of the ninth of a tie game. Surprisingly, Boston manager John Farrell elected to have closer Koji Uehara pitch to no. 7 hitter Jon Jay instead of intentionally walking him to set up a bases-loaded, force-out-at-home situation.
Jay lashed a shot up the middle that second baseman Dustin Pedroia spectacularly snared and threw home to get the runner, Yadier Molina, trying to score. After making the tag on Molina, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia immediately zinged a throw to third trying to get Allen Craig, advancing from second.
The throw tailed hard to the right and third baseman Will Middlebrooks dove to make the catch but could not. Seeing the ball get away, Craig headed for home but tripped over Middlebrooks. By the time he righted himself, he was thrown out at home on a terrific play by left fielder Daniel Nava, who had retrieved the errant throw.
It looked like one of those strange double plays that would become part of World Series lore -- both outs at home plate -- except the umpires were not going along with it.
At third base, umpire Jim Joyce clearly signaled something was amiss as soon as Craig tumbled to the ground in a tangle with Middlebrooks’ legs. At home, Dana DeMuth did not make the emphatic out call as Saltalamacchia put the tag on Craig, but instead made a less obvious safe call, while gesturing to third.
It was perfect umpiring teamwork. They got it exactly right. Replay would not have changed it.
Deliberately or not, Middlebrooks had obstructed Craig’s ability to score. Once Craig continued home and was almost safe -- showing he would have been safe without the obstruction -- the game was over. The run counted.
St. Louis won. The umps won. MLB won.
The throw to third by Saltalamacchia was off target and tailing into the advancing runner. But it’s a play, in my estimation, Middlebrooks has to make. Even if he can’t get the out at third, he has to prevent the ball from going to the outfield. He did not. It wasn’t an easy play, but these guys are the best in the world. It was a makeable play.
Game 4 is tonight at Busch Stadium with the Cardinals, two more home games in front of them, clearly in charge of this Series.