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Obstruction on the basepaths

“Chances are you never heard of Major League Baseball’s Rule 7.06 before Saturday night,” wrote Boston Globe columnist Chad Finn after the Cardinals won World Series Game 3 on that rule.

It’s easy for me to say now, but when I saw Allen Craig trip over Will Middlebrooks trying to advance to the plate, the first thing I thought was, “He can’t do that!”

I couldn’t quote the rule number, but I took advantage of that rule a lot playing baseball in middle school.

It started with me being on the wrong side of that rule. I was playing first base one day for some insane reason–the shortest kid in the class doesn’t belong at first base–and the pastor’s kid knocked me down. I stepped into the baseline, he ran me over, and the coach said he was safe. I was livid, of course, but the coach explained the rule to me.

I never made that mistake again, but it seemed like at least once a year, someone else did, and when it happened when I was on base or trying to get on base, baseball turned into a contact sport.

There was this freaky 8th grader who was–scout’s honor–6’2″ or 6’3″. He normally played first base because he could stretch out and cut at least a foot off another infielder’s throw. But 8th graders are naturally clumsy, and freakishly tall 8th graders tend to be more so. So on more than one occasion, he would trip up over at first base as I was coming down the baseline and end up where he wasn’t supposed to be, and I wasn’t going to be the guy to budge. I probably wasn’t even 5’1″ at the time, so when I hit him, I hit him pretty low. And between my momentum and the element of surprise, he ended up flying in the wrong direction and I ended up on base.

Looking back, now I think the real reason my coaches liked to play me in the outfield was to avoid retaliation. It certainly wasn’t because of my throwing arm.

So, when St. Louis baserunner Allen Craig tripped over Boston third baseman Will Middlebrooks, staggered home, slid awkwardly into Boston catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s tag and was called safe, my biggest surprise was that the umpires immediately called him safe and that the Cardinal bench didn’t have to appeal.

Middlebrooks, of course, is used to playing with guys who rely on skill and/or athletic ability rather than technicalities to get on base and score runs. I have to give props to third base coach Jose Oquendo telling Craig to hobble home in spite of getting tripped up. Had Craig not kept going, I don’t know that the umpires could have awarded him the extra base.

Now, what Craig was doing running the bases is another question. Having a starting pitcher who would otherwise be unavailable for the game anyway pinch-run in the late innings is a fairly common practice. Even in the American League it happens sometimes–most pitchers can outrun a catcher or a lumbering DH–but when there’s an injury involved the difference becomes even greater. A healthy pitcher is much less likely to sustain an injury than an already injured Allen Craig, and a pitcher with two healthy ankles will probably outrun Craig handily.

The play was close enough with Craig lumbering on a bad ankle that I suspect Adam Wainwright or Michael Wacha would have been able to trip over Middlebrooks, recover, and perhaps beat the throw to the plate without controversy.

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