Rounding Third: All eyes on Buchholz now

6:04 AM, Oct 27, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - It doesn't matter how much baseball you watch, you continue to see things you've never seen before.

Wow. What a game. What a finish!

Saturday's Game 3 between the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox was already going to be on the list of best World Series games ever played.

The ending, though, will now make it an all-timer.

In a game that featured five lead changes, St. Louis walked off with a 5-4 victory thanks to an obstruction call at third base that allowed Allen Craig to score.

That's right, one of the best World Series games ever played was decided by an obstruction call.

With the score tied 4-4 in the ninth and runners on second and third with the infield in, St. Louis' John Jay ripped a shot at second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who dove to get to the ball then fired home to nail Yadier Molina. On the play Craig tried to advance to third and Jarrod Saltalamacchia threw low to third to try to get him. The ball caromed off the glove of third baseman Will Middlebrooks and Craig's arm and bounced away.

As Craig -- running on a sprained left foot -- tried to get up and run home, Middlebrooks, who was lying on his stomach, raised his feet. Craig tripped and stumbled home. Saltalamacchia applied the tag off the throw from left fielder Daniel Nava, but third baseman Jim Joyce ruled Middlebrooks impeded Craig's progress.

"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 said. "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. Like I said, that's a tough pill to swallow."

By the letter of the law it was obstruction. And to Joyce's credit, he called it right away. But, what exactly was Middlebrooks to do? There was clearly no intent. He was trying to make a play. Craig actually had his hands on him, preventing him from moving out of the way.

But, then again, Craig did trip over him in the basepath and intent does not matter. Admittedly, before the call was made, obstruction immediately came to my mind when I saw Craig fall. Never did I think they would call it.

Unbelievable.

Now the Red Sox will try to even the best-of-seven series with perhaps the biggest question mark in this Fall Classic -- Clay Buchholz -- on the mound in Game 4 on Sunday.

As if there wasn't enough pressure on him.

Buchholz was among the best pitchers in baseball through the first two months of the season and was 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA after beating the Angels on June 8. But thanks to a shoulder injury, that would be his last start for more than three months.

He won three of his four starts upon returning in September and pitched to a 1.88 ERA in those outings. With Jon Lester and a healthy Buchholz, the Red Sox seemingly had as good a 1-2 punch atop the rotation in baseball heading into the postseason.

That hasn't been the case.

While Lester has pitched like an ace, Buchholz has hit a wall in October. And what was once a sure thing, has become anything but, as Buchholz has a 5.40 ERA in three starts, while showing a dreaded dip in velocity.

Even more alarming is the fact that he has failed to get past the sixth inning in any of the three outings and lasted only five innings in his last start against the Detroit Tigers in Game 6 of the ALCS on Oct. 19.

The reduced velocity and the lack of stamina is a concern, but despite the abbreviated showing against the Tigers, it was easily his best outing of the postseason, as he limited the Tigers to two runs on four hits and two walks.

"The ball is not really coming out of my hands like it does in spring training or at the beginning of the season," Buchholz said. "I think that's true for the majority of the guys that have been pitching all year, and something that I've had to deal with over the last three and a half months."

Some thought Buchholz wouldn't even make this start, especially when Jake Peavy jumped him to start Game 3. The team insists, though, that whatever is ailing him now is not related to the bursitis earlier in the season and he will be ready to go.

Buchholz, who has been taking some anti-inflammatory drugs since his last start, has admitted to having a dead arm, but the Red Sox seem to be willing to take anything they can get from him on Sunday.

And what that is, is kind of anyone's guess.

"We go into tomorrow thinking that he's going to give us what he's been in the postseason," Farrell said. "That might be a little bit shorter of an outing than maybe we've seen back in April and May, but he's also been very effective. And we're fully anticipating that to be the case tomorrow."

Buchholz didn't get a chance to help the Red Sox win a World Series game back in 2007, as he was left off the roster. You have to wonder how much a part that is playing into him wanting the ball so bad on Sunday.

"Giving the team a chance to win, that's my goal," Buchholz said. "And to trust your pitches and to throw them to the best of your ability, that's what I've worked up to up to this point, and that's where I'm at."

Buchholz's start becomes even more important now with the Cardinals' amazing win on Saturday.

Boston's bullpen went 4 2/3 innings and the man who was supposedly going to be Buchholz's caddie -- Felix Doubront -- pitched two innings in relief of Peavy.

Should Buchholz get in trouble early, the Red Sox would turn to righty Ryan Dempster. Trouble or not, you have to think Dempster is going to find himself in Game 4.

Who'd have thought in September that a Buchholz start would cause this much angst?

But, then again, who thought a World Series game would be decided by an obstruction call?

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