More on Rule 7.06, Obstruction

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The Cardinals just won Game 3 of the World Series on an obstruction call by third base umpire Jim Joyce. You can read how the play went down in the recap right here or watch this video:

This post will deal with the intricacies of the rule for those of you who may find the jargon used in MLB’s official rules confusing. The official definition:

OBSTRUCTION is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.

Rule 2.00 (Obstruction) Comment: If a fielder is about to receive a thrown ball and if the ball is in flight directly toward and near enough to the fielder so he must occupy his position to receive the ball he may be considered “in the act of fielding a ball.” It is entirely up to the judgment of the umpire as to whether a fielder is in the act of fielding a ball. 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: If 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.

As you can see in the video above, Middlebrooks was clearly “in the act of fielding a ball” as he was attempting to retrieve an errant throw by catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but that’s not the part in the timeline that matters. When Craig attempts to run home, the ball had already skipped past the dirt of the infield towards the left field stands. Middlebrooks was no longer “in the act of fielding”.

The next objection many have to the call is the intent of Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks. Intent does not matter. Middlebrooks prevented Craig from attempting to run home, and that’s all that matters. It is patently obvious Middlebrooks did not mean to get involved in a collision, but it does not make a difference.

Another objection deals with the baseline. Rule 7.08 states that “a runner’s baseline is established when the tag attempt occurs and is a straight line from the runner to the base he is attempting to reach safely.” As you can see in the following picture tweeted by MLB’s official Twitter account…

… they were to the right of the third base line but the baseline starts at the spot of the collision. From there, draw a straight line home, as Craig had already reached third base safely. That is the baseline. From there, Craig ran in a straight line home. He did not venture out of the baseline.

As for the rest of the play, Rule 7.06(b) states:*

(b) If no play is being made on the obstructed runner, the play shall proceed until no further action is possible. The umpire shall then call “Time” and impose such penalties, if any, as in his judgment will nullify the act of obstruction.

Rule 7.06(b) Comment: Under 7.06(b) when the ball is not dead on obstruction and an obstructed runner advances beyond the base which, in the umpire’s judgment, he would have been awarded because of being obstructed, he does so at his own peril and may be tagged out. This is a judgment call.

Craig was tagged at home, but because of the obstruction, the umpire used his judgment to determine if he would have been safe absent the obstruction. Here, because Craig was running hard home, the umpire ruled — correctly, all video evidence suggests — that Craig would have been safe absent the obstruction.

Ultimately, third base umpire Jim Joyce made the correct call. It will be hotly debated, but all the evidence seems to support Joyce here.

How often does obstruction happen? According to an unofficial look by Baseball Reference, obstruction has been called twice in the post-season: in Game 4 of the 1986 NLCS between the Mets and Astros and in Game 3 of the 2003 ALDS between the Athletics and Red Sox. They found one game that ended on an obstruction call: a 2-1 victory by the Devil Rays over the Mariners on August 6, 2004.

*An earlier draft of this post cited Rule 7.08(a), which automatically awards a player a base for situations in which a play is being made on an obstructed runner. Since Middlebrooks did not have the ball and was not making a play, Rule 7.08(b) applies. We apologize for the error and any confusion it may have caused.

Jeff Mathis has an avulsion fracture in his right hand

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Diamondbacks catcher Jeff Mathis has an avulsion fracture in his right hand, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports. As Piecoro explains, an avulsion fracture is when a ligament comes off of the bone and pulls fragments of bone with it.

Mathis is likely done for the season, but he wants to see hand specialist Dr. Don Sheridan, per Piecoro. He suffered the injury on Monday when he was hit in the hand with a foul tip.

Mathis, 34, hit an uninspiring .213/.276/.322 in 200 plate appearances for the Diamondbacks, but was a plus defensively. Chris Iannetta and Chris Herrmann will handle catching duties with Mathis out for at least a while.

Dodgers place Cody Bellinger and Alex Wood on the 10-day disabled list

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The Dodgers announced on Tuesday that first baseman Cody Bellinger and starter Alex Wood were placed on the 10-day disabled list. Bellinger has a sprained right ankle and Wood is dealing with left SC joint inflammation. To take their spots on the roster, the Dodgers recalled pitchers Brock Stewart and Josh Ravin from Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Bellinger, 22, has had an outstanding rookie season, batting .274/.356/.612 with 34 home runs and 79 RBI in 419 plate appearances. Fortunately, the Dodgers just got Adrian Gonzalez back from the DL, so their first base situation is already handled.

Wood, 26, has had a career year. He’s 14-1 with a 2.41 ERA and a 127/30 K/BB ratio over 123 1/3 innings. He’s been successful despite his velocity declining more and more with every passing month this season. The Dodgers’ rotation is already in disarray, so losing Wood hurts even more. On the bright side, Clayton Kershaw should be returning from the disabled list soon.