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Middlebrooks Obstruction Call
Regarding the game-ending obstruction call in Game Three of the 2013 World Series involving Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks and the Cards’ Allen Craig, I think the umpires (Jim Joyce and Dana DeMuth) made the proper call and handled it well. Normally, this type of play occurs around second base on a pick-off. The runner and fielder collide as the ball goes into the outfield. The fielder lands on top of the runner and remains there thus running the risk of getting called for obstruction. Fielders will sometimes purposely lie on the runner to prevent an advance to the next base. They might even be coached to do this. This was not the case with Middlebrooks.
To reviewIn the bottom of the ninth inning, the teams were tied at 4 with runners at second and third for the Cardinals after Allen Craig delivered a one-out double. With the Red Sox's infield playing in, second baseman Dustin Pedroia dove for a Jon Jay grounder and threw home to retire the lead runner. Craig attempted to advance to third. Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia fired a throw to third base that got by Middlebrooks who fell to the ground while trying to reach the ball. With Middlebrooks face down in the dirt, Craig tried to hurdle him, tripped, then staggered toward home
Craig never quite made it, but home-plate umpire Dana DeMuth protected Craig and called him safe after he saw third base umpire Jim Joyce signal obstruction. Joyce used proper mechanics in making the call by properly pointing to the obstruction and making DeMuth, third base coach Jose Oquendo and Craig aware of it. He kept the ball alive which is important here. If he had called “Time,” and awarded Craig home, it would be a misinterpretation of rule 7.06 (b) because at the point of obstruction there was no play being directly made on the runner and would be grounds for a protest for the Red Sox.
If obstruction is called on a fielder when there is a play being directly made on a runner such as a rundown, the ball is dead immediately per Pro rule 7.06 (a) and NCAA rule 8-3e2 Penalty.This is referred to as a Type A obstruction. The runner is awarded the next base from the last base he legally occupied. Under NFHS rules it is a delayed dead ball. The runner will be awarded at least one base but may go further at his own risk. Rundowns and obstructing the batter-runner before reaching first base are the most common Type A obstruction
When no play is being directly made on a runner the ball remains alive and in play per rule 7.06 (b) and is referred to as a Type B obstruction.
There is no automatic base award playing under Pro and NCAA rules. However, under NFHS rule 8-3-2 the runner is awarded one base beyond the point of obstruction. In the above play, Craig would be awarded home.
If there is a play on the runner (Craig) subsequent to the act of obstruction, the umpire making the final call (DeMuth) must judge whether or not the obstruction affected the play. The most common Type B obstruction calls result when an infielder impedes the path of a runner while the ball is in the outfield or when an infielder impedes the path of a runner after attempting a pick-off play and the ball sails into the outfield or several feet beyond the base.
If Craig decided not to go home, he would have to remain at third unless the obstruction incapacitated him in such a way he could not advance. This, however, was not the case. If Craig was out easily at the plate, DeMuth would probably not protect him and in all likelihood call him out because the obstruction would have no bearing on the play. Because it was a close play at the plate, DeMuth properly protected the runner. This is a judgment call
Also, It made no difference that the contact occurred on the second base side of third base. A runner creates his own baseline and the onus is on the defense not to interfere or obstruct the runner.
Intent does not factor into the obstruction rule. The responsibility lies entirely with the fielder to clear the lane for the runner if he does not have the ball and is not making a play. There are times when it is virtually physically impossible for the fielder to immediately vacate such as in the Middlebrooks obstruction. Because of this there are plans to revisit the rule in the off season. The problem in dealing with intent is that you never know when a fielder is trying to circumvent the rule
Did the fact that Middlebrooks raised his legs while lying in a prone position influence the call? Joyce said he had obstruction before Middlebrooks raised his legs
Following are some points for umpires to consider when dealing with interference and obstruction plays and the subject of right of way.
1.The fielder always has the right of way when making a play and runners must avoid the fielder. Infielders are still protected when a ball is deflected unless he has to chase the ball
2.Once a fielder has had a chance to make the play but does not make it such as the Middlebrooks play, the fielder immediately relinquishes the right of way to the runner. If he does not, he has obstructed the runner. It is a natural reaction on the part of fielders to not react in such situations. By not reacting (attempting to get out of the runner’s path), the fielder is subjecting himself to obstruction
By the way, Middlebrooks was officially assigned a fielding error on that play, making Game Three the first in the history of the World Series to end on an error since Game Six of the 1986 Fall Classic, when Mookie Wilson's 10th-inning grounder went through Bill Buckner's legs to give the Mets a win over the Red Sox. But no postseason game had ever before ended on an obstruction callWow!
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