In final analysis of ALCS flap, it's ump who dropped the ball

Commentary

October 14, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

Maybe my Southern California roots are showing again, but I think the Los Angeles Angels should have been kicking and screaming all the way back to Anaheim after that phantom third strike Wednesday night cost them a chance to take a commanding lead in the American League Championship Series.

If you didn't see it, Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski swung and missed at what appeared to be the final pitch of the ninth inning in Game 2. Home plate umpire Doug Eddings signaled that the third out had been recorded. The Angels began to jog off the field in anticipation of extra innings.

But the pitch was low and Pierzynski waited for reserve catcher Josh Paul to roll the ball back to the mound before breaking toward first base, where he was allowed to remain after the umpires conferred and somehow decided without the benefit of video replay that the third strike had hit the ground and entitled the batter to reach base.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia argued long and hard, but the ruling stood and put the Sox in position to even the series when Joe Crede followed with a long double to break a 1-1 tie.

There's nothing to be done about it now, of course, except to point out that the White Sox found a crease in the rulebook and exploited it to keep from falling into a deep hole in the best-of-seven series that resumes with Game 3 tonight at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Baseball needs to have the equivalent of an "inadvertent whistle" rule.

The ball may have touched the ground (though the replays were inconclusive), but that wasn't really the issue. Eddings clearly signaled that Pierzynski was out and the Angels stopped playing, a situation that - in a perfect baseball world - should be treated the same way the NFL treats a play in which an official accidentally blows his whistle.

The action should be stopped right there. Pierzynski should not have been allowed to jog unmolested to first base while there was no one trying to stop him - except that baseball doesn't have a rule like that.

If there had been no out call, the catcher might have held onto the ball or reflexively tagged the batter. Paul probably should have done that anyway, but he was sure he had caught the ball cleanly and the umpire had called Pierzynski out, so he did what catchers do after inning-ending strikeouts - you roll the ball back to the mound.

The Angels didn't deserve to lose that way, and the White Sox didn't deserve to win that way. The game should have been decided in extra innings, but instead was decided in a conference of umpires, none of whom clearly saw what happened.

Don't even start. The play was not an argument in favor of baseball adopting instant replay. If the Jeffrey Maier incident in Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS in New York didn't persuade Major League Baseball to adopt replay to overturn egregious calls in the postseason, this certainly shouldn't.

The replays were inconclusive and, as I already have pointed out, irrelevant. If the pitch hit the ground and the umpire's call had been clear, Pierzynski almost certainly would have been tagged out or thrown out at first base to end the inning. If the pitch did not hit the ground, Pierzynski was out and the inning was over. Either outcome would have sent the game into extra innings.

I would not welcome instant replay under any circumstances. I don't think it works all that well in football, as Sunday's Ravens-Lions game clearly demonstrated.

The one thing that was crystal clear Wednesday night was that Scioscia is a terrific manager and a class act. He remained under control on the field and did not blame the loss on the umpires after the game.

If you don't believe me, here's a quick excerpt from the MLB.com playoff diary of part-time Maryland resident and legendary game show host Pat Sajak:

Instead of exploding, Scioscia reminded everyone his team didn't play particularly well and, besides, they should have been able to absorb such a call and win in spite of it. He didn't excuse the umpires or say they were right. By implication, he made it very clear he thought the call was bad for a number of reasons. And yet, he refused to blame the loss on that single play, and he refused to take the bait when several reporters tried to get him to do just that. In short, Mike Scioscia cared more about baseball's reputation than a tough loss. What a concept.

Ditto.

Late night talk-show host David Letterman, after the Angels won the decisive fifth game of their Division Series on Monday:

"George W. Bush called a press conference yesterday to announce that the United States will spend whatever it takes to rebuild the Yankees."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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