David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
ST. LOUIS - David Ortiz sat on the couch in the middle of an angry and confused Red Sox clubhouse. He had ice packs strapped to both knees, and a long night standing at first base felt much, much longer after he watched the mayhem unfold across the diamond.
Will Middlebrooks flat on his stomach. Allen Craig scrambling to climb over him. Craig getting tagged out by Jarrod Saltalamacchia at the plate but being called safe because of an obstruction ruling. The Cardinals flooding the field to celebrate one of the unlikeliest 5-4 wins they'll ever remember in Game 3 of the World Series.
As reporters closed around Ortiz Saturday night, he wasn't in the mood to talk. Mustering the strength to stand, all Big Papi said was, "Watch the replay."
By then, what was the point? Once the dust had cleared and the Cardinals had peeled Craig off home plate, the game was over. The Red Sox were in a 2-1 hole, and nothing they could do would change that.
It's not every day that an obstruction call decides a World Series game on the final play. As far as we know, that's the first time it ever happened. And for the Red Sox, none of them could remember seeing a walk-off like that at any level, from tee-ball to Little League to Triple-A.
That's what made this one so difficult to absorb, and why the Red Sox didn't really know how to behave afterward. They were alternately shocked and surly, moving back and forth from denial to acceptance of Jim Joyce's stunning obstruction call at third base.
"Obviously, we're mad right now," Saltalamacchia said. "But you got to have that ability to walk out of the clubhouse and forget about it. But it's a lesson, a lesson you go through. I think we'll be all right."
Still, this one left a mark, and the Red Sox looked to be in no condition to rebound as they slumped around the clubhouse. In the manager's office, John Farrell slumped back in his chair, a sullen look on his face, as general manager Ben Cherington leaned on the door frame. Neither one spoke.
When the clubhouse door first opened, Middlebrooks was at his locker, and to his credit, he answered every question about the controversial play.
It did appear that Middlebrooks kicked up his legs, whether he was trying to or not, and the subtle motion is what tripped up Craig on his clumsy dash to the plate. Middlebrooks acted innocent afterward, but he finally admitted that maybe he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"Obviously, that blows your mind to lose a game like that when you literally can't do anything different there," Middlebrooks said. "I have to dive for that ball. I can't just let that ball go because it's into the baserunner.
"I expect him to be past me once I'm on the ground. But he slid and kind of stayed there, then went over me. I tried to get up, his hands were on top of me -- or I just felt him on top of me. He was going over me. What am I supposed to do?"
Anything but what he did do, apparently, because there's really no disputing it was the correct call. Joyce didn't hesitate. There was no need for the umpires to huddle or discuss the play before making a final announcement. It was a bang-bang play and certainly seemed to be the right call.
"I was real shocked, you know, to end the game like that," Saltalamacchia said. "But at the end of the day, if it was obstruction, then yeah, you got to call it. It's part of the game."
Even then, after watching the replay, Saltalamacchia couldn't be sure himself if it was actually obstruction. Many of the players involved didn't seem to know the letter of the law. And while the chaos was happening, nobody could get a grip on what was going on. Except for those close enough to hear Joyce or plate umpire Dana DeMuth yell the word obstruction.
Dustin Pedroia had just made the diving play that appeared to save the game for the Red Sox. He got up, threw out Yadier Molina at the plate, then watched the drama created when Saltalamacchia's throw rocketed past Middlebrooks. No biggie, he thought, because Daniel Nava then gunned down Craig at the plate. Or so Pedroia thought.
"Then the guy at home called him safe and he was out by three feet," Pedroia snapped.
Was it then that he knew something strange was happening?
"Yeah," Pedroia said, "because the game was over."