(SportsNetwork.com) - On June 2, 2010, Jim Joyce was embroiled in a controversy.
More than three years later, the veteran umpire was involved in another questionable ending to a high-profile game.
Joyce's obstruction call on Boston third baseman Will Middlebrooks allowed Allen Craig to score the winning run as the St. Louis Cardinals won Game 3 of the World Series, 5-4, Saturday night at Busch Stadium.
Three years ago, Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was one out away from throwing a perfect game. Joyce, though, incorrectly ruled Jason Donald reached first base safely on a ground ball in what would have been the game's final out.
Joyce was tearful and apologized to Galarraga after the game that he blew the call, but this time the 26-year umpiring veteran made the correct ruling that resulted in one of the most bizarre finishes in World Series history. It also gave the Cardinals a 2-1 edge in the best-of-seven set.
With one out in the ninth inning, Yadier Molina singled off Brandon Workman (0-1), and Craig, in a pinch-hit role, doubled to the left field corner against Koji Uehara.
Jon Jay then hit a sharp grounder to second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who threw home to get Molina. After catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia threw low to third to try to get Craig, the ball caromed off Middlebrooks' glove and Craig's arm and bounced away.
As Craig -- running on a sprained left foot -- got up to run home, Middlebrooks, lying on his stomach, raised his legs and Craig tripped over them. Saltalamacchia applied the tag at home on Craig after the throw from left fielder Daniel Nava, who was backing up the play, but Joyce, the third base umpire, ruled Middlebrooks impeded Craig's progress.
Home plate umpire Dana DeMuth pointed in the direction of third base to confirm the call.
"When the play developed after Saltalamacchia threw the ball at third base, after the ball had gone straight through, and Allen had slid into third and stood up to attempt to go to home plate, everything was off right there," Joyce said. "And when he tried to advance to home plate, the feet were up in the air, and he tripped over Middlebrooks right there, and immediately and instinctually I called obstruction."
Joyce stated the feet of Middlebrooks didn't play too much into his ruling because it was where the third baseman was in relation to the path Craig needed to go to get home.
"Intentional or not intentional. He just has to clear the path," stated Joe Torre, the MLB executive vice president for baseball operations. "I know sometimes it's unfair because he's laying on the ground, but that's the way the rule is."
Although the rule is a lengthy one, the interpretation is open for debate if Middlebrooks had the opportunity to get out of the way in time.
The rule as stated in the MLB rule book ...
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.
"With the defensive player on the ground, without intent or intent, it's still obstruction. You'd probably have to ask Middlebrooks that one, if he could have done anything. But that's not in our determination," stated Joyce.
Middlebrooks said there wasn't anything he could have done.
"What am I supposed to do there?" the Red Sox third baseman said. "I have to go down for that ball. I'm not in the baseline and five feet inside of it, maybe more. He (Joyce) said I have to make an attempt to get out of there."
Translation: the umpires determined Middlebrooks was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"Immediately after we got off the field into our locker room we congratulated Jim and said "great call." I could see it all in front of me as it happened," stated John Hirschbeck, the umpiring crew chief. "That was our first reaction when we got in the locker room. Mark Wegner made the comment he could see it developing from right field.
"We're trained to look for these things. It's out of the ordinary, but when it happens, and it's the World Series, you expect to get it right."