Forget that play at the plate. Forget the throw from left fielder Daniel Nava and the tag from catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Third base umpire Jim Joyce had watched Craig slide into Middlebrooks, and Middlebrooks fall on Craig, and made the obstruction call — granting Craig home plate, where he scored the winning run, and immediately found himself in the second tangle of bodies, with the Cardinals celebrating around him.
“Tough way to have a game end, particularly of this significance, when Will is trying to dive inside to stop the throw,” Red Sox Manager John Farrell said. “I don’t know how he gets out of the way when he’s lying on the ground.”
Yet the Cardinals were immediately prepared to argue the other way.
“It was going to be a conversation one way or another,” St. Louis Manager Mike Matheny said. “We saw the tangle there. It’s just a matter of how they interpreted it — and that’s the rule.”
How unusual was this ending? Joyce and crew chief John Hirschbeck — veteran umpires both — were asked if they had ever seen a game end in such a fashion.
“Never,” Hirschbeck said.
“Never,” Joyce said.
Untangle this one before Game 4 begins Sunday night, with St. Louis holding a two-games-to-one lead. Boston reliever Brandon Workman — who, strangely, was allowed to have his first major league plate appearance in the top of the ninth — began the ninth inning of a 4-4 game by striking out Matt Adams. But Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina followed with a single to right, and here came Farrell to get Workman.
This brought up a point: Why was Workman still in the game if he was going to be removed so early in the ninth. The Red Sox had Mike Napoli, a key cog in their best-in-baseball offense, on the bench because they had started regular designated hitter David Ortiz at first base. But with one out in the ninth inning of a 4-4 game, Farrell let Workman face Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal — who dismissed him with three straight fastballs.
“Having Workman hit against Rosenthal is a mismatch,” Farrell said. “I recognize it. But we needed more than one inning out of Workman.”
But he went just one out more than one inning, and here came Koji Uehara, the Red Sox’ closer. Craig, the Cardinals’ regular first baseman who has a reduced role in this series because he missed six weeks with a foot injury, came on to pinch-hit, and he sent the first pitch he saw into left field. Molina chugged into third base, and the Cardinals had runners on second and third with one out.