It was a walk-off obstruction call that tilted the series to the Cardinals, 5-4 winners over the Red Sox and now owners of a 2-1 lead in the Series, a truly classic matchup of storied franchises that is carving its own niche with twists like the final play Saturday night.
With the Road to the World Series taking another unpredictable turn, the Cardinals staved off the visiting Red Sox in a game that was played under National League rules and ended with everyone reaching for the Official Rules of Baseball.
Whether the National League will rule the roost again this year with a fourth consecutive World Series title is an issue still very much hanging in the balance, following a back-and-forth battle that ended with a crescendo nobody knew was coming.
Allen Craig scored the winning run after seemingly being tagged out and apparently never touching home plate -- awarded the run on an obstruction call after a tangle with third baseman Will Middlebrooks, setting off a wild celebration for the Cardinals amid confusion and despair for the Red Sox.
"I had to do the obstacle course to get home and sprint home as fast as I could for the first time in a couple of months," said Craig, whose appearance in the World Series is his first action since severely spraining his left foot in September.
With Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia making a stellar play on the infield grass and throwing home to start the action, it was so close to being one of the most dramatic double plays in World Series history before the obstruction call, made by third-base umpire Jim Joyce, ended the game in a most bizarre way.
"I guess by the letter of the rule you could say it's obstruction, but it's a tough pill to swallow," Red Sox manager John Farrell said.
Said Joe Torre, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball operations: "Intentional or not intentional, he just has to clear the path. I know sometimes it's unfair because he's laying on the ground, but that's the way the rule is."
For much of the prelude to the crazy finish, the fact that the two teams were playing under NL rules was the biggest storyline. Most glaringly, the Red Sox had one of their best players -- Mike Napoli -- sitting on the sideline, champing at the bit while postseason stalwart David Ortiz took over at first base.
As the game entered the middle innings, Sox starter Jake Peavy's outing was over after just four innings and 64 pitches after he worked his way out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam, as Mike Carp pinch-hit for him in the fifth, delivering an RBI fielder's choice. And, ultimately, the Sox never did give Napoli a chance to bat -- instead allowing reliever Brandon Workman to hit for himself in the ninth.
Whatever the rules, the Cardinals have proven to be tough to beat at home all year -- and particularly down the stretch. They have won 27 of the past 33 games played there, finishing the regular season with seven straight home wins and going 6-1 at Busch Stadium for the postseason.
Also, history tells us winning a Game 3 to untie the Series goes a long way, especially in the most recent occasions. Overall, the team winning Game 3 after a 1-1 tie has gone on to win it all 37 times, or 67.3 percent of the time. Recently, however, the last four and 11 of the last 12 have turned that Game 3 victory into a title.
But, hey, this was a Game 3 like no other seen before in World Series history, so everything is up for grabs.
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One situation October so often brings to the table is that pitchers who haven't been on the mound in a while find themselves holding the ball for a pivotal postseason assignment.
Game 4 is one of those occasions, with Lance Lynn taking the ball for the Cardinals on 11 days' rest, and Clay Buchholz pitching for the Red Sox on seven days' rest as the two teams get back to work after Saturday night's scramble.
How each starter handles the extra rest will figure into how Game 4 goes, but naturally each is hoping to be as fresh as can be going into Sunday's 8 p.m. ET start on FOX.
"This is the first time in my life I've thrown over 200 innings during the regular season. I'm OK with it, especially this time of year," said Lynn, who will be making his 20th postseason appearance and fifth start.
Buchholz, who got off to a brilliant start to the regular season but was shelved with shoulder problems until the very end, will be making his fifth postseason appearance but first at this level, admitting he's a little rusty and not quite 100 percent with the shoulder but up to the task.
"I'm going to compete and give my team the best chance of winning that I can," Buchholz said.
Whether Napoli finds his way into the Sox lineup or Craig is available for the Cardinals after limping off the field will be primary questions for pregame fodder, although it's likely there will be a lot of people still talking about the end of Game 3.
Also prior to Game 4, the Hank Aaron Award will be presented to the most outstanding offensive performer in each league. Ortiz of the Red Sox and Matt Carpenter of the Cardinals are the finalists representing the World Series clubs.
No doubt, the only hardware either player is thinking about is that World Series trophy that is only days away from being claimed.
Sunday's World Series game
Game 4: Red Sox (RHP Buchholz 0-0, 5.40 ERA postseason) at Cardinals (RHP Lynn 2-1, 5.40 ERA), 8 p.m. ET Preview >
2013 MLB POSTSEASON
Wild Card: Rays 4, Indians 0
Division Series: Red Sox beat Rays, 3-1 | Tigers beat A's, 3-2
Championship Series: Red Sox beat Tigers, 4-2
Wild Card: Pirates 6, Reds 2
Division Series: Cardinals beat Pirates, 3-2 | Dodgers beat Braves, 3-1
Championship Series: Cardinals beat Dodgers, 4-2
2013 postseason schedule
NL Division Series
Game 1: Cardinals 9, Pirates 1
Game 2: Pirates 7, Cardinals 1
Game 3: Pirates 5, Cardinals 3
Game 4: Cardinals 2, Pirates 1
Game 5: Cardinals 6, Pirates 1, St. Louis wins series, 3-2
Game 1: Dodgers 6, Braves 1
Game 2: Braves 4, Dodgers 3
Game 3: Dodgers 13, Braves 6
Game 4: Dodgers 4, Braves 3, Los Angeles wins series, 3-1
AL Division Series
Game 1: Red Sox 12, Rays 2
Game 2: Red Sox 7, Rays 4
Game 3: Rays 5, Red Sox 4
Game 4: Red Sox 3, Rays 1, Boston wins series, 3-1
Game 1: Tigers 3, A's 2
Game 2: A's 1, Tigers 0
Game 3: A's 6, Tigers 3
Game 4: Tigers 8, A's 6
Game 5: Tigers 3, A's 0, Detroit wins series, 3-2
NL Championship Series
Game 1: Cardinals 3, Dodgers 2 (13 innings)
Game 2: Cardinals 1, Dodgers 0
Game 3: Dodgers 3, Cardinals 0
Game 4: Cardinals 4, Dodgers 2
Game 5: Dodgers 6, Cardinals 4
Game 6: Cardinals 9, Dodgers 0, St. Louis wins series, 4-2
AL Championship Series
Game 1: Tigers 1, Red Sox 0
Game 2: Red Sox 6, Tigers 5
Game 3: Red Sox 1, Tigers 0
Game 4: Tigers 7, Red Sox 3
Game 5: Red Sox 4, Tigers 3
Game 6: Red Sox 5, Tigers 2, Boston win series, 4-2
World Series (All games on FOX)
Game 1: Red Sox 8, Cardinals 1
Game 2: Cardinals 4, Red Sox 2
Game 3: Cardinals 5, Red Sox 4, St. Louis leads series, 2-1
Game 4: Red Sox at Cardinals, Sunday, airtime 8 p.m. ET, game 8:15
Game 5: Red Sox at Cardinals, Monday, airtime 7:30 p.m. ET, game 8:07
*Game 6: Cardinals at Red Sox, Wednesday, airtime 7:30 p.m. ET, game 8:07
*Game 7: Cardinals at Red Sox, Thursday, airtime 7:30 p.m. ET, game 8:07
* -- if necessary