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.

There was another miscommunication between the Phillies and Pat Neshek

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Back in June 2017, then-manager of the Phillies Pete Mackanin and reliever Pat Neshek had some miscommunication. In a series against the Cardinals, Neshek worked a five-pitch eighth inning and it was believed he would come back out for the ninth inning, but he never did. Mackanin said Neshek said he didn’t want to pitch another inning. Neshek said he was never asked. There was also some miscommunication the game prior. Neshek thought he had the day off; Mackanin said Neshek said he wasn’t available to pitch.

Mackanin is no longer the Phillies’ manager, but the miscommunication between Neshek and the team apparently persist. Neshek was notably absent during the Phillies’ hard-fought 5-4 win over the Cubs on Monday night. The game featured a struggling Seranthony Domínguez pitching two innings, yielding three crucial runs in his second inning of work.

Manager Gabe Kapler called the bullpen and instructed Neshek to begin warming up to prepare to face Albert Almora, Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Kapler rang the bullpen after Domínguez walked Jason Heyward, who batted ahead of Almora. Neshek wasn’t warmed up yet. Domínguez was able to retire Almora on a sacrifice bunt, which was reviewed and gave Neshek some extra time to get ready. He was ready for the next batter, Daniel Descalso, but at this point Kapler no longer wanted to bring Neshek into the game. Descalso lined a triple to left-center field, scoring two runs and came home himself when shortstop Jean Segura‘s throw caromed off of his foot out of play.

Recounting the situation, Neshek said, “I got on the mound and threw two pitches. [Kapler] said, ‘Is he ready?’ And I said, ‘No. I’m not ready yet. I’ve thrown two pitches.” Neshek was asked how long it takes him to get ready. The veteran said, “A minute. Not 20 seconds. I’m, like, the best in the league at getting ready. My whole career has been coming in like that.”

The Phillies were able to eke out a 5-4 win. Had they lost the game, Kapler and Neshek would likely have been under the microscope for the awkward situation leading to a crushing defeat. Kapler drew plenty of criticism over his bullpen management last year in his rookie managerial season. That included bringing in lefty reliever Hoby Milner into a game in which he hadn’t yet warmed up.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence that the manager who struggled with bullpen management last year nearly mucked up a win last night, and maybe it’s just a coincidence that a reliever who’s had prior issues with communication had another communication mix-up. Maybe it’s not. It’s worth noting that the Phillies needed three innings from the bullpen to protect a 2-1 lead over the Cubs on Tuesday. Kapler called on rookie Edgar Garcia for two outs, lefty José Álvarez for four, and then brought in Juan Nicasio to close things out in the ninth. No Neshek, even as Nicasio got into trouble. Nicasio would surrender the tying and go-ahead runs, resulting in a deflating 3-2 loss.