Baseball's decline as an important part of the lives of the majority of America's sporting public was emphasized again late on Saturday night. It wasn't based on the conclusion of the Cardinals' 5-4 victory over the Red Sox, but rather the reaction to the play in question.

Third base umpire Jim Joyce and plate umpire Dana DeMuth made the decisions that allowed Allen Craig to score the winning run based on the "obstuction'' of Boston third baseman Will Middlebrooks.

Joyce, DeMuth and crew chief John Hirschbeck explained the decision fully in a postgame news conference. The accuracy of the umpires' rule enforcement was indisputable, but then we started hearing this from the footballl crazies/baseball casuals crowd:

"Well, it's a bad rule.''

It's not a bad rule. It's a proper rule. It's an importanrt rule.

You can't have fielders tackling base runners as they attempt to advance. You can't even have fielders tackling base runners as they attempt to retreat, unless it happens to be a first baseman named Kent Hrbek, and he makes himself look oafish enough to pull Ron Gant away from the base, and get away with it, and help the Twins win a World Series.

When that happens, we're all for it here in Minnesota.

I made it through the Cardinals' tie-breaking two-run bottom of the seventh, and the Red Sox' tying two-run top of the eighth, which only took about a combined hour, and was still hanging with it in the bottom of the ninth.

John Farrell probably will be announced as the American League's Manager of the Year next month. He wasn't first on my ballot, but the post-Bobby V. turnaround in the standings and in the atmosphere with the Red Sox would make him a worthy winner.

Still, I had heard bad things about Farrell as an in-game tactician, and there were two or three examples as Game 3 was being decided.

A manager has as little to do with the outcome of a season as in any sport (Bobby V. being an exception), but a good man who creates a good atmosphere still can single-handedly cost his team a World Series ... as my guy Ron Washington proved with Texas to these very Cardinals in 2011.

Farrell's final mysterious act last night was to have Koji Uehara pitch to John Jay with runners at second and third and one out in the ninth. The feeble-hitting Pete Kozma was due up next ... and the Cardinals did not have a reasonable option to hit for him.

Dustin Pedroia (I love that little son of a gun) was pulled in at second and made a great play on a Jay shot to his right and gunned down Yadier Molina at the plate for the second out. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, this put the baseball in possession of Jarrod Saltamacchia, a modern-day Earl Williams (Orioles, 1973-74) as a meat-handed catcher.

"Salty'' had no chance to get Allen Craig advancing to third, but he made a throw wide right (and to Middlebrooks' left) and the third baseman made a futile dive to corral the baseball. Middlebrooks was still at rest from his dive when Craig got himself up from a slide.

Craig tripped over Middlebrooks, and I said from my prone observation point with three pillows under my head in Golden Valley, "That's interference'' -- forgetting that the baseball term actually was "obstruction.''

I didn't see Joyce's immediate signal of obstruction as the play was taking place live, but never for a moment did I think Craig would be called out ... no matter what happened at the plate.

I'm sure it wasn't a thought-out decision on Craig's part, but he did have to get up from the trip and proceed toward the plate in order to be rewarded with the run. If he had stopped, DeMuth would not have been able to judge if the obstruction prevented him from scoring, and the run would not have scored.

I'm hearing two things from the "bad rule" crowd:

*Middlebrooks wasn't in the base line.

Yes, he was. The chalk line (or whatever substance we use these days) is merely an indication of the base line. Baseball's definition of a base line is "a straight line between the bases, with three feet allowed to either side.''

There are other factors, but the three feet on either side works in this case. Part of Middlebrooks' body was within three feet of the base line after he dived and failed to stop Salty's horrible throw. Craig tripped over him. End of the base-line argument.

*Middlebrooks did not intend to trip Craig. And there was no time for him to take an action that would remove the third baseman from Craig's path.

This is what I like to call in sports, "Tough bananas.'' Outcome is what matters, not intent.

I'd guess that during his hellacious effort on Saturday, the Gophers' R'S Hageman did not intend to grab the facemasks of Cornhuskers, but he did so twice and paid with 15-yard penalties.

In this case, the penalty for Middlebrooks and the Red Sox was more severe. but Series Game 3 was decided by proper enforcement of an important rule.

It was a bad way to lose a ballgame, but it was still a way.

The Red Sox and their fans should be blaming this on Saltamacchia -- for a bad decision to throw to third, followed by an awful throw. And if they want to expand on that, they can ask why Farrell allowed Koji Uehara to pitch to Jay.

Even  Bobby V. wouldn't have done that.


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