It was just as shocking as the Bill Buckner error in the 1986 World Series at Shea Stadium. Or J.C. Martin getting hit by pitcher Pete Richert's throw as he ran to first after a 10th-inning bunt in 1969, also at Shea. Or, if you want to go way back, you could weigh it against Babe Ruth being caught trying to steal second base for the last out of Game 7 in 1926.
All of those games have a common denominator: They did not feature a designated hitter.
Not that Middlebrooks and Allen Craig couldn't have gotten tangled up at Fenway Park just as easily as they did Saturday night at Busch Stadium, where most of the 47,432 fans celebrated third-base umpire Jim Joyce's call, even as they strained to understand why Craig was awarded home plate for the 5-4 victory. And, yes, balls can go through a first baseman's legs in American League parks, too.
But in this era of two leagues/two sets of rules, there's something about World Series games in National League parks that brings out the weirdness. Even that nutty 15-14 Blue Jays victory over the Phillies in 1993 happened at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, not SkyDome in Toronto.
"Baseball's a crazy game," said Trevor Rosenthal, the Cards' closer who was the winning pitcher after failing to convert a five-out save. "Anything can happen."
You've got to love it -- at least you do unless you are hoping the Red Sox win this series.
Two trends suggest how strongly the Cardinals are now in control of the 2013 World Series. For one, the team that has won Game 3 has captured the Fall Classic 37 of the previous 55 times that it had been tied 1-1. And here's an even bigger one: AL teams are 5-15 in NL parks the last seven years.
It's a huge disadvantage to lose your DH, and the twists and turns that put the game on the judgment of Saltalamacchia and then Joyce showed how tricky life can be when managers have to manage lineups that include pitchers. While Boston was 5-3 in Interleague road games this season, winning series at San Francisco and Los Angeles, even Farrell second-guessed himself afterward.
The Red Sox's manager admitted he struggled knowing when to go to his closer, Koji Uehara, and lamented not finding a place to hit Mike Napoli, whose three-run double was the signature piece of Boston's victory in Game 1.
After the Red Sox had scored twice in the top of the eighth to tie the score at 4, Brandon Workman got into a jam in the bottom of the inning. Farrell left Workman in rather than using Uehara, and Workman got Matt Holliday to fly out to leave two on. It seemed automatic that Farrell would then pinch-hit for Workman -- who came up second in the top of the ninth -- and bring in Uehara to start the ninth, but the manager didn't.
Workman struck out in a 1-2-3 ninth and then gave up a one-out single to Yadier Molina in the bottom of the inning. Only then did Farrell summon Uehara. The closer was greeted by a double from Craig, pinch-hitting for Rosenthal, before allowing Jon Jay to hit a hard grounder that Dustin Pedroia played nicely. Pedroia cut down Molina at the plate on the play that ended with Middlebrooks sprawled out in front of Craig after he tried in vain to catch Saltalamacchia's throw.
"In hindsight, [I] probably should have double-switched after Salty made the final out the previous inning, with Workman coming in the game," Farrell said. "I felt like if we get into an extended situation, which that game was looking like it was going to, [I] held Nap back in the event that spot came up again. In hindsight, having Workman hit against Rosenthal is a mismatch. I recognize it, but we needed more than one inning out of Workman."
Farrell said he didn't go to Uehara earlier because he only thought he could get four or five outs from the closer. The manager said he had hoped to get two innings from Workman, but he felt that with the reliever's pitch count at 30 and the winning run on base, it was time to pull the plug.
"That was the time to bring Koji in, even though this would have been five outs," Farrell said. "We fully expected him to go back out for the 10th."
Farrell's first decision influenced by NL rules came back in the top of the fifth. He hit Mike Carp for pitcher Jake Peavy with one out and men on first and third, trailing 2-0. Carp got a run home with a fielder's choice, but the 64-pitch effort from Farrell's starting pitcher -- who, in fairness, could have given up two or three more runs if the Cards had capitalized on their chances -- meant the manager would lean heavily on his bullpen.
The teams used six pitchers each and 35 players total, with backup catcher Tony Cruz the only reserve left on Cardinals manager Mike Matheny's bench at the end. While Farrell didn't find a spot for Napoli -- normally the first baseman, but left on the bench with David Ortiz at first -- he made an aggressive move when he pinch-hit Middlebrooks for Stephen Drew in the seventh inning.
You can argue that weakened the Red Sox's fielding, as rookie Xander Bogaerts moved from third to short and Middlebrooks stepped in at third. It definitely didn't work out, as Middlebrooks was 0-for-2 at the plate and in the wrong place at the wrong time when Craig started for home plate.
Bogaerts couldn't get an out on an infield single by Matt Carpenter to start the bottom of the seventh, but that was more the result of shading Carpenter to pull, not any deficit in comparison to Drew. But could the ultra-athletic Bogaerts somehow have caught -- or at least knocked down -- Saltalamacchia's throw that sailed wide as Craig was sliding into third?
That's one of about 1,000 great questions from a World Series game built for the second-guess -- and maybe also the team that is used to playing with NL rules.