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Angels Go Out on Strike

Times Staff Writer

The Angels thought they had seen it all on Aug. 11, when closer Francisco Rodriguez missed a routine throw back from the catcher and Jason Kendall of the Oakland Athletics scampered home from third base with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Not even close.

In one of the most controversial and bizarre plays in recent postseason history, the Angels lost Game 2 of the American League championship series, 2-1, to the Chicago White Sox, who put the eventual winning run on base after the Angels thought they had recorded the third out of the ninth inning Wednesday night.

The best-of-seven series, tied at a game apiece, moves to Anaheim for Game 3 on Friday.

With two out, no one on base and the score tied, 1-1, Chicago catcher A.J. Pierzynski swung through a Kelvim Escobar split-fingered fastball that darted toward the dirt, and home plate umpire Doug Eddings balled his right hand into a fist, indicating strike three.

Josh Paul, the Angels’ third-string catcher who was making his first playoff appearance because starter Jose Molina was lifted for a pinch-runner in the eighth inning, rolled the ball toward the mound, Escobar skipped toward the dugout, and the Angels thought they were headed for extra innings.

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Pierzynski took a few steps toward the third-base dugout, but when it occurred to him there was some question as to whether Paul caught the ball on the fly, he took off for first, reaching the bag before Escobar or any of the Angel infielders could react.

Eddings, believing the ball hit the dirt before reaching Paul’s glove -- if the ball hits the dirt before the mitt on strike three, the catcher must either tag the batter or throw to first before the runner reaches the bag to complete the strikeout -- failed to indicate that Pierzynski was out.

When it became apparent to Angel Manager Mike Scioscia that Eddings was ruling the ball was trapped and Pierzynski was safe, Scioscia stormed onto the field to argue with Eddings and crew chief Jerry Crawford, who was umpiring the right-field line.

After long and heated exchanges between Scioscia and several umpires, Eddings and Crawford ruled that the play stood.

Pinch-runner Pablo Ozuna replaced Pierzynski, stole second base and scored on Joe Crede’s double off the left-field wall, giving the White Sox the victory.

Moments after Ozuna crossed the plate with the winning run and a crowd of 41,013 in U.S. Cellular Field erupted, there was a volcanic reaction from the Angel dugout, with several players standing on the top step, waving their arms and hurling expletives at the umpires as they walked off the field.

“I was [ticked] off, all my teammates were,” Jose Molina said. “That’s not the way you want the game to end.”

There were two central questions to the play, neither of which was answered to the satisfaction of the Angels. One, did the ball actually hit the dirt? Two, what constitutes an out call from an umpire, a clenching of the fist and pump of the arm, or a verbal “out” call?

As to the first question, Paul and virtually every Angel player and coach who saw the replay had no doubt the ball was caught before it hit the dirt. In fact, Paul was so convinced, he didn’t even bother tagging Pierzynski, which would have eliminated any question about the strikeout and ended the inning immediately.

“It was the wrong call,” said Paul, who was halfway to the dugout when Pierzynski bolted for first. “When you know you catch the ball, you just roll it back to the mound and walk off the field.”

Added pitcher Jarrod Washburn, who fought off the effects of strep throat to give up one unearned run in 4 2/3 innings: “The call was missed.”

But after watching slow-motion replays from several different angles, umpire supervisor Rich Rieker said “the ball changes direction, so I don’t see how you guys can say it’s clearly a caught ball.”

Rieker did add “that at this point, I would say at best it’s inconclusive. I wouldn’t totally agree that the ball was caught, but there was a change in direction there that we saw on the replay available to us.”

Said Escobar: “There was no doubt about it. He caught the ball. I saw him raise his hand to indicate he was out.”

Eddings, though, said the raising of his fist didn’t necessarily indicate the batter was out.

“That’s my mechanism when it’s a swinging strike,” Eddings said. “I did not say, ‘No catch.’ If you watch the replay, as I’m [pumping my fist], I’m watching Josh Paul, so I’m seeing what he’s going to do. I’m looking directly at him. That’s when Pierzynski ran to first base.”

Paul said it’s customary for umpires “to yell no catch, no catch” when they think the ball hits the dirt, “and I didn’t hear that. I thought it was strike three, and the inning was over.”

Said Pierzynski, also a catcher: “I didn’t hear him call me out, so I thought for sure the ball hit the ground. I watched the replay 50 different times, and I still don’t know. I think Josh thought he caught it, and I just ran, and luckily it worked out.”

Scioscia believed Eddings had called Pierzynski out and didn’t change his mind until the White Sox catcher ran to first base.

“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,” said Scioscia, the former Dodger catcher. “When an umpire calls a guy out and you’re the catcher, and I’ve caught my share of them, he’s out.”

Whether the ball was caught or trapped, it was close enough to the ground for there to be a question. Shouldn’t Paul, just to make sure, have tagged Pierzynski?

“No,” Paul said. “When you catch the ball, you just walk off the field.”

Did the seldom-used Paul have a sick feeling being in the middle of this mess?

“It’s not my fault,” Paul said. “I take no responsibility for that, whatsoever.”

Baseball rules stipulate that a team can’t protest a game based on the judgment call of an umpire, so the Angels will have no recourse, but the play probably will spark more debate on whether baseball should use instant replay.

“I don’t think so,” Washburn said, when asked if instant replay should at least be used in the playoffs. “They get almost every call right. Doug called a great game all night, and unfortunately he missed that one. The umps have a tough job. They’re right 99% of the time, and on this one they were wrong. They never get praised when they do a good job, and they get crushed when they mess up.”

Said Angel first baseman Darin Erstad: “I tell you what, I would never want to be an umpire.”

As angry as the Angels were at the end of the game, they were already in the process of putting the loss behind them by the time reporters were allowed to enter the clubhouse.

The Angels suffered a series of crushing defeats this summer, including that Aug. 11 game in Oakland, but they always seemed to rebound. In fact, they won four in a row following that bizarre loss to the A’s.

“We’re going to respond like we always do -- it’s over, we lost, and we’ll move on to Friday,” Erstad said. “What happened, happened.”

And what happened Wednesday night is something these players have never seen before and may never see again.

“I know I haven’t seen it all, and I never will,” Erstad said. “That’s the beauty of the game, even if sometimes it stinks.”

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

AMERICAN LEAGUE -- GAME 2

*--* 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E Angels 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 5 3 Chicago 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 7 1

*--*

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

*--* BOX SCORE

*--*

WHITE SOX 2, ANGELS 1

*--* Angels AB R H BI Avg. Figgins cf 4 0 0 0 143 OCabrera ss 4 0 2 0 375 VGuerrero rf 4 0 0 0 000 BMolina dh 3 0 0 0 143 GAnderson lf 4 0 0 0 125 Quinlan 3b 3 1 1 1 333 Erstad 1b 3 0 1 0 286 JMolina c 3 0 1 0 333 1-DaVanon 0 0 0 0 --- Paul c 0 0 0 0 --- AKennedy 2b 2 0 0 0 200 Totals 30 1 5 1

*--*

*--* Chicago AB R H BI Avg. Podsednik lf 4 1 1 0 286 Iguchi 2b 2 0 0 0 167 Dye rf 4 0 1 1 250 Konerko 1b 4 0 1 0 125 CEverett dh 4 0 0 0 125 Rowand cf 4 0 1 0 143 Pierzynski c 3 0 0 0 143 2-Ozuna 0 1 0 0 --- Crede 3b 4 0 2 1 375 Uribe ss 3 0 1 0 333 Totals 32 2 7 2

*--*

*--* Angels 000 010 000 -- 1 5 3 Chicago 100 000 001 -- 2 7 1

*--*

Two out when winning run scored. 1-ran for J.Molina in the 8th. 2-ran for Pierzynski in the 9th.

E--VGuerrero (1), Paul (1), Washburn (1), Uribe (1).

Walks-- Chicago 1: Pierzynski 1. Strikeouts--Angels 4: BMolina 1, GAnderson 1, Quinlan 2. Chicago 9: Podsednik 1, Iguchi 1, Dye 1, Konerko 2, CEverett 1, Rowand 1, Pierzynski 2.

LOB--Angels 4, Chicago 7. 2B--OCabrera (1), Rowand (1), Crede 2 (2). HR--Quinlan (1), off Buehrle. RBIs--Quinlan (1), Dye (1), Crede (2). SB--Ozuna (1). S--AKennedy, Iguchi. GIDP--VGuerrero, AKennedy.

Runners left in scoring position--Angels 3 (Figgins, OCabrera, GAnderson); Chicago 2 (Dye 2).

Runners moved up--Figgins, Dye.

DP--Angels 1 (GAnderson and AKennedy); Chicago 2 (Buehrle, Uribe and Konerko), (Uribe, Iguchi and Konerko).

*--* Angels IP H R ER BB SO NP ERA Washburn...4 2/3 4 1 0 1 1 77 0.00 Donnelly... 1/3 0 0 0 0 1 3 0.00 Shields...1 0 0 0 0 2 12 0.00 KEscobar L, 0-1...2 2/3 3 1 0 0 5 39 0.00

*--*

*--* Chicago IP H R ER BB SO NP ERA Buehrle W, 1-0...9 5 1 1 0 4 99 1.00

*--*

Inherited runners-scored--Donnelly 3-0. HBP--by Washburn (Iguchi), by Buehrle (BMolina). PB--Pierzynski.

U--Doug Eddings, Ted Barrett, Ron Kulpa, Ed Rapuano, Randy Marsh, Jerry Crawford T--2:34. Tickets sold--41,013 (40,615).


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