I'm glad the Rays beat the Red Sox in Game 3, because I wanted to see Game 4. I'm especially glad the Red Sox didn't beat the Rays, with Quintin Berry scoring the decisive run in the top of the eighth inning. If that had happened -- if Berry, after stealing second with nobody out, had wound up scoring and the Sox had held the lead -- Rays fans never would have stopped screaming about umpire Mike Winters' safe call. Because it's pretty obvious that Ben Zobrist tagged Berry before Berry tagged the bag. Here's just one of many data points:
Berry came in hands-first, with his left hand targeting the base. Setting up to receive the throw, Zobrist was actually facing Berry head-on. Berry's left hand ran straight into Zobrist's left leg; how he didn't hurt something, I don't know. But by the time Berry was able to get his other hand around Zobrist to finally touch the base, Zobrist had applied the tag.
Mike Winters called Berry safe. It's not clear why. Joe Maddon argued. Also, not clear why. But Winters could have told Maddon that Zobrist was guilty of OBSTRUCTION.
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.
People who defend this sort of behavior love to focus on those words -- not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball -- without any sort of context. In isolation, don't those words dictate that it's not Obstruction if he's does have the ball and is fielding the ball?
Actually, I'm not sure why that and is in there; shouldn't it be one or the other?
But I mentioned context. That's the rulebook definition of Obstruction. But that definition is immediately followed by this passage:
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.
One might interpret that comment to mean that a fielder may block the base before receiving the baseball only if he must block the base to receive the ball ... Which clearly was not the case with Zobrist. If you watch the play, you'll see that he set up, well before receiving the throw, with the specific intent of blocking the runner. Yes, of course he was fielding a ball ... but he was not, for the purpose of judging Obstruction, in the act of fielding a ball.
Which probably isn't why Winters called Berry safe. He probably just blew it.
Intentional or not, though, it was a just call. Baseball's rules are specifically designed to reward positive activities; for example, reaching a base before getting tagged (or forced) out. When things go wrong, when things are unjust, it's usually not because of the rules, but because the rules were not applied correctly.
Leaving aside any partisan preferences, let's imagine that we're watching a baseball between two teams of perfectly equal, perfectly generic players. Are you capable of enjoying a game like that? I am. And while I'm enjoying this imaginary game, I would like to see the events decided by the players, with the umpires applying the rules as they were originally meant, with good reason, to be applied.
It's not supposed to be a contact sport, friends. When it comes a contact sport, somebody's doing something wrong. At the very least, a player should not be rewarded for turning it into a contact sport. Ben Zobrist, by all that is good and holy, did not deserve an out on that play. So we must praise the Fates for making Quintin Berry safe.