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October 13, 2005
Both of these statements are true:
Let's make this very, very clear: Home-plate umpire Doug Eddings called A.J. Pierzynski out. Out. Out.
Why he then recanted on it, largely because Pierzynski ran to first on a hunch or an instinct or because of some change in Eddings' delivery of the out call, is a mystery. The decision--not a call, he'd already made that--was wrong in any number of ways. Paul caught the ball cleanly, and not only did it not hit the dirt, no dirt was even kicked up in the act of catching the pitch. The after-the-fact criticism of Paul for not tagging Pierzynski largely ignored the fact that he had no reason whatsoever to think there was an issue. Catchers tag strikeout victims in all kinds of situations where a third strike might be called a drop; this simply wasn't one of them. Blaming Paul for this sequence of events, rather than Eddings, is just wrong.
The analysis of Eddings' strikeout calls in other situations ("right, and to his body"), and in particular his call on Bengie Molina's ninth-inning whiff, all points to him using a two-action strikeout call. Hand out to indicate the strike, fist pump to indicate the out. There seems to be a consensus that he should have a third motion, making it strike/strikeout/out, but he clearly doesn't do that on Molina's at-bat, which is the closest parallel to this situation.
Eddings' post-game press conference was unconvincing, both in style and in substance. He and umpire supervisor Rich Reiker insist that the ball could have hit the ground, and I'm comfortable in saying that they're full of it. Eddings says that he was watching Paul and Pierzynski while making "his mechanic," but apparently had not concluded that there was an out, despite making the first-pump motion that had indicated out a dozen times that night.
This exchange is particularly damning. From a transcript of the press conference at ESPN.com:
Rich Reiker: He's not claiming that he dropped the ball. We're claiming that the ball hit the ground and went into the glove.Not in this or any other reality, guys.
So here's what I think happened. Eddings made the right call, strike three and out three, but when Pierzynski ran to first, took that as evidence that he'd missed something. What I don't understand is why Pierzynski's action of running to first, which would indicate the ball touched the ground, was necessarily more convincing than Paul's action of rolling the ball to the mound and heading for the dugout. Eddings just chose to "believe" Pierzynski and not Paul or his own eyes, changing his mind based on Pierzynski running.
There is something of a resistance to calling this what it is. I think people want to blame Paul, or the Angels, or credit Pierzynski for a heads-up play. No one really wants to say that Doug Eddings made one of the worst big-stage decisions in baseball history, changing the course of a critical game and perhaps the seasons of two teams.
That's what happened, though. Doug Eddings was absolutely wrong, the White Sox got a baserunner they had no business getting, and they won the game in regulation because of it. It's a shame, because Buerhle does deserve credit and Crede did get a big hit and those things matter. It's just that they didn't matter as much as the call did.
Baseball deserves better than that.
Is it me, or do the Cardinals play a lot of games that look like this: they get a middling lead early, a good start, tack on some runs later, maybe give up a couple, and win 5-3 or 6-2 or something like that?
The sense I had watching last night's game was déjà vu. The Astros were simply playing the role of the Padres, giving up some runs, hitting into double plays when needed, and staying close enough to make you think they could win, but never really following through on that promise. Even in the ninth inning, when they got the tying run to the plate, there was no sense of imminent danger, largely because it was Brad Ausmus with a bat in his hands. (No, Sunday's homer doesn't mean he's a threat now.)
The key for the Cardinals, the difference between this team and the one last year, and the one we saw in September, is Chris Carpenter. He gives them a shutdown #1 starter, and that's how he pitched last night, throwing eight excellent innings in which he got 17 groundball outs against four in the air.
Tonight's game is critical for the Astros, who will have the starting-pitching edge in Games Two and Three. If they can steal tonight's game in St. Louis against Mark Mulder, they have a real chance to be up 2-1 going into Sunday's Game Four. Mulder is coming off an 11-baserunner, one-run start in the Division Series, one in which he was able to get coax four double plays out of the Padres. He'll be looking to do the same tonight against an Astros team that is just as prone to twin killings.