White Sox catch a rare break

White Sox catch a rare break

CHICAGO -- If something like this can happen, maybe the message should be very clear: After 88 years, maybe this year, good old 2005, belongs to the White Sox.

What occurred Wednesday night at U.S. Cellular Field was strange, bizarre, weird, unprecedented, controversial, confusing and maybe not totally just. And that just skims the surface.

But on the scoreboard, the White Sox had defeated the Angels, 2-1. The American League Championship Series was all even at 1. This score and this knotted-up series would be the only thing about the evening that didn't provoke an argument.

Ninth inning, two outs, none on, tie score. A.J. Pierzynski strikes out on a very low pitch. You can see home plate umpire Doug Eddings signal the swinging third strike with his right fist. You can see Angels catcher Josh Paul rolling the ball back out to the mound. We're going to extra innings.

No, we're not, because if we were, Pierzynski wouldn't be running to first.

"I didn't hear him call me out and I thought for sure the ball hit the ground," Pierzynski said. "You're taught that if the third strike is in the dirt, you run."

What Eddings had ruled was that Paul trapped the ball, and thus, in the absence of a clean catch, to complete the play, Paul must tag Pierzynski. Tough to do that when the ball is rolling back to the mound and Pierzynski has left the area.

None of this would have mattered all that much if the next batter, Joe Crede, had gone away quietly. But he didn't. Pablo Ozuna ran for Pierzynski and stole second. Crede doubled. The game was over. The controversy had just begun.

"It was a swing, our catcher caught it, Doug Eddings called him out and somewhere along the line, because the guy ran to first base, he altered the call," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He called him out and that's what is disappointing."

The Angels were further upset because Paul said that an umpire would typically say, "No catch! No catch!" Paul said that Eddings did not make a verbal call, leading him to believe that the ball was cleanly caught and the play was over. On the other hand, Eddings said that he did not verbally call the batter out, either.

Of making the motion to ring up Pierzynski, Eddings said: "That's my strike-three mechanism for a swinging strike."

It was a third strike and it was swinging. But Eddings said that as he made that call, he saw Paul trap the ball. So the play was still alive.

"That's why I was pretty shocked at what took place," Eddings said, referring to Paul rolling the ball back toward the mound.

Catchers are typically taught that if there is any doubt about whether the catch was clean, they should tag the batter and remove the uncertainty.

You could look at replays of this third strike for a long time, and you know what would happen? If you were a White Sox fan, you would say the pitch was trapped. If you were an Angels fan, you would say that the pitch was caught. It was as close as close can be, although Eddings, asked after viewing the replay if he still believed he had made the proper call, said firmly: "Yes, I do."

And that is the way this one will stand. And this series will move on to Anaheim all tied up.

After it was over -- it being the surprise, the shock, the outrage on one side, the jubilation on the other -- Scioscia did a typically classy thing. He refused to blame the Angels' loss on this play.

"There's a lot of focus on that play, but we didn't play to a high enough level tonight to win the ballgame," Scioscia said. "That's the bottom line. You have to play at a level high enough. If there's a call you don't get or something happens, a bloop, whatever it might be, you have to play at a high enough level that you should be able to absorb it."

The Angels got 4 2/3 gutsy, highly effective innings from Jarrod Washburn, pitching while weakened by a recent bout of strep throat. But what they didn't get was much offense.

As Sox manager Ozzie Guillen helpfully noted: "Don't forget what we did to win the game."

What they did, primarily, was to send Mark Buehrle out to the mound, where he was terrific for all nine innings.

It was not as though the White Sox deserved to lose this game and were bailed out by a blatantly bad call. They deserved to be tied in the game and they were assisted by a very close call, in a truly strange set of circumstances.

You could watch the game for five, 10, 20 years and never see this play again. You might even, if you enjoyed that much longevity, watch the game for 88 years and never see this play again.

"I always say I'd rather be lucky than good," Guillen said.

But maybe this is one year when the White Sox are both lucky and good.

Mike Bauman is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.