Disputed call under microscope
Ninth-inning play kept frame and Chicago's hopes alive
CHICAGO -- Game 2 of the American League Championship Series turned when A.J. Pierzynski ran to first base after fanning for the third out in the bottom of the ninth.So when is a strikeout not an out? When the ball touches the ground, in which case the catcher must either tag the runner or throw him out at first base to make it count. When Angels catcher Josh Paul did neither after, in plate umpire Doug Eddings' estimation, he trapped the 3-and-2 Kelvim Escobar pitch Pierzynski had swung through, Pierzynski was allowed to keep the base. On the third subsequent pitch, Joe Crede's double scored pinch-runner Pablo Ozuna to give the White Sox a 2-1 win and even the ALCS at a game apiece. The "dropped" third strike is a staple baseball play. Usually obvious and uneventful, as the catcher retrieves the ball and guns down to first base to retire the batter. But on this occasion, the play found whatever little gray area exists between black and white. Paul received the ball with the webbing of his mitt pointed down, rose and while trotting back to his club's first base dugout rolled it back toward the mound -- right in front of Pierzynski, running at a right angle. So this game will take its permanent place in baseball lore for the disputed finish. It was also a confusing and contentious finish. Confusion over whether Eddings had called out Pierzynski, or merely indicated a third strike. According to the umpire, the gesture he made with his right fist is consistent with how he always calls strikes. "My interpretation is that's my strike-three mechanics," said Eddings, "when it's a swinging strike. If you watch, that's what I do the whole entire game." "Customarily, if the ball is in the dirt, you hear, 'No catch, no catch, no catch,' and I didn't hear any of that," Paul said. "It was strike three, the third out of the inning and I threw the ball back to the mound."
|The Official Rules|
A batter is out when (a) his fair or foul fly ball (other than a foul tip) is legally caught by a fielder; (b) a third strike is legally caught by the catcher; "legally caught" means in the catcher's glove before the ball touches the ground.
And there was disagreement over whether Eddings could actually be heard calling Pierzynski out."He didn't call swing," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. "He rang him up with his fist and said, 'You're out.' " "I saw [Eddings] point to the guy and raise his hand, so he's out," Escobar said. "That's what I saw." However, Pierzynski said that what had set him in motion was not hearing the out call. "I didn't hear him call me out, so I knew that I could run," he said. Regular Angels catcher Bengie Molina, who was the designated hitter in the game and watched the end unfold from the dugout, considered Paul's action after the pitch a dead giveaway that he had caught the ball cleanly. Paul took over behind the plate in the eighth after Scioscia used Jeff DaVanon to pinch-run for starting catcher Jose Molina, and the Angels would have lost the right to use a DH if Bengie Molina had taken the field. The rules state that a DH may be used defensively but the pitcher must then bat in the place of the substituted defensive player.
"You will never see a catcher trap a ball and just roll it back to the mound. Never," Bengie Molina said. "Why? If there is any doubt, why not just tag the guy? He's standing right there."After grudgingly making his way back to the dugout, Scioscia re-emerged to again press Eddings about asking for input from other umpires. Eddings walked up the line to confer briefly with third-base ump Ed Rapuano, who indicated to him that he had been blocked from the play and had not seen it cleanly.
"We asked for help from five other umpires," Scioscia said. "If we could find six, we'd ask for help."The play is certain to renew the issue of whether instant replay has a future role in the game, particularly postseason baseball. Yet, even the many angles available for replay analysis did not sway the umpires' confidence that they had called the play correctly. "At this point, I would say at best it's inconclusive," Rich Reiker, supervisor of umpires in the Commissioner's Office, said of replays. "I wouldn't totally agree that the ball was caught, but there was a change in direction there that we saw in the replays available to us." And even Scioscia rejected the concept of instant replay helping with future disputes.
"No, I'm not in favor of replay at all," Scioscia said. "Certainly not on something like that."There might be some replay that can come in on a home run fair or foul or fan interference, something like that, but as far as plays around the bases or home plate or pitches like that, I don't think the replay is anything that we should bring into the game." In the morose Angels clubhouse, the players seemed much more upset with the loss than with the play that put it into motion. "Whether he caught it or not ... I can't tell from my angle," said first baseman Darin Erstad. "I never want to be an umpire. It's a very tough job. "I'm never going to criticize them. They have a tough job to do, and they do a great job of it."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.