Umpire Jim Joyce had already made one of the most controversial calls in Major League Baseball history, and in Game 3 of the 2013 World Series added another one to his resume.
The third-base umpire delivered the obstruction call that handed Game 3 to the St. Louis Cardinals, a call that has been derided and defended, and ultimately touched off a major controversy.
The play came in the bottom of the ninth inning of a tied game. The Cardinals had runners on second and third with one out when Jon Jay scorched a ground ball that was stopped by a diving Dustin Pedroia. He threw out Yadier Molina at the plate, but when catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia tried to throw out Allen Craig at third base the ball ended up skipping past third baseman Will Middlebrooks.
Middlebrooks sprawled on the ground after missing the catch and Craig tripped over him briefly before getting thrown out at home plate. But umpire Jim Joyce had already signaled runner interference, handing Craig the run and the Cardinals the win.
For many Boston fans, it was reminiscent of famously blown call made by Joyce. On June 2, 2010, Joyce was the first-base umpire when Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga threw what should have been a perfect game. But Joyce flubbed the would-be 27th out, ruling that Cleveland Indians hitter Jason Donald was safe when indeed he was out by a step.
Joyce admitted the mistake after the game, saying “I kicked the (expletive) out of it.”
This time, Joyce has found plenty of defenders. They point out that the obstruction call was correct by the letter of the MLB rule book, which states:
“Rule 2.00 (Obstruction) Comment:… 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.”
But the ruling has done little to ease the pain of Boston Red Sox players and fans, many of whom have filtered their anger toward umpire Jim Joyce.
“It blows your mind to lose a game like that,” Middlebrooks said.
Other have pointed to a picture showing Joyce behind third base, looking away as the obstruction took place.
Jim Joyce’s view of the obstruction, while looking to see if a fan touched the ball pic.twitter.com/kU5DFujJr6
— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) October 27, 2013
But many Boston Red Sox fans have moved on quickly from their Game 3 hangups thanks to a thrilling Game 4 win, and umpire Jim Joyce seems to be off the hook.