By Larry Fine
ST. LOUIS (Reuters) - The St. Louis Cardinals scored a controversial run on an rare obstruction call in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Boston Red Sox 5-4 in a wild finish to Game Three of the World Series on Saturday.
The confusing, controversial ending gave St. Louis a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Fall Classic.
With men on second and third and one out, and the infield drawn in, second baseman Dustin Pedroia made a sprawling stop of Jon Jay's grounder and fired home for an out. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchi then threw to third to try and catch Allen Craig advancing.
The ball got past third baseman Will Middlebrooks who sprawled to his left on his belly to try and catch the throw. Left-fielder Daniel Nava backed up the play and threw home in time for Craig to be tagged out attempting to score.
The Red Sox thought they had turned a remarkable double play to send the game into extra innings.
But the umpires ruled that Middlebrooks had gotten in the way of Craig as the baserunner stumbled over him while trying to leave third base and obstruction was ruled, allowing Craig's run to count and the game to go into the Cardinals' column.
While the Red Sox players rushed to the umpires to object to the ruling by third base umpire Jim Joyce, the Cardinals celebrated a sudden victory with hugs along the first base line.
"Wow, it's unbelievable," said St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina. "We really need this game. Obviously every game is important. This was back and forth."
Boston left themselves an uphill climb, as teams winning Game Three in a 1-1 Series have gone on to win the World Series two-thirds of the time, including 11 of the last 12 occasions.
Game Four is on Sunday in the Cardinals' Busch Stadium home.
"Tough way to have a game end, particularly of this significance, when Will is trying to dive inside to stop the throw," Boston manager John Farrell lamented.
"I don't know how he gets out of the way when he's lying on the ground. And when Craig trips over him, I guess by the letter of the rule you could say it's obstruction. That's a tough pill to swallow."
Umpiring crew chief John Hirschbeck explained the call. "Obstruction is the act of a fielder obstructing a runner when not in the act of fielding a ball. It does not have to be intent," he said.
Red Sox slugger David Ortiz said: "They say it was obstruction, but when I watched the video, I don't agree."
The rare call on Craig's strange trip around the bases ended a see-saw contest that kept a crowd of more than 47,000, white handkerchief-waving St. Louis fans on the edge of their seats.
St. Louis battered Red Sox starter Jake Peavy for four hits and two runs in the first inning, but Boston came back with single runs in the fifth and sixth to tie it 2-2.
The Cardinals scored two runs in the seventh and the Red Sox responded with two in the eighth to tie it again.
But it all came down to the wild play at the end, when for a moment it was not certain whether Boston had pulled off an incredible double play or St. Louis had ended the thriller.
Matt Holliday had three runs batted in for St. Louis and Molina had three hits and an RBI, while Boston rookie Xander Bogaerts stroked two hits and an RBI and Nava drove in two runs.
The big hit of the ninth belonged to Craig, who cracked a pinch-hit double to left after a Molina single to set up the improbable finish.
Each team used six pitchers in the tense struggle, with St. Louis out-hitting Boston 12-6.
Trevor Rosenthal registered the win, while Brandon Workman took the loss.
St. Louis is scheduled to send Lance Lynn, 15-10 in the regular season, to the mound for Game Four against Boston's Clay Buchholz (12-1).
(Reporting by Larry Fine, Editing by Gene Cherry and John O'Brien)