Posted: Thursday October 13, 2005 1:19AM; Updated: Friday October 14, 2005 8:53AM
A.J. Pierzynski races to first as Angels catcher Josh Paul, thinking he caught the third strike cleanly, rolls the ball back to the mound.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
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"They want you in the interview room."
Those are the last words an umpire wants to hear after a postseason game, far below, "The catering truck broke down," "the hot water heater is on the blink" or "Richie Phillips has this great idea ... "
Doug Eddings heard those words from a major league baseball official shortly after one of the strangest games you will ever see in October, a game in which the Angels became only the 15th team to lose a postseason game without allowing an earned run, this one a 2-1 Salvador Dali of a game in favor of Chicago. Eddings looked a little anxious at first. Eddings, 37, has been a relatively nondescript big league ump for six seasons. He must have known that status had just been permanently altered.
Eddings is the umpire who made the call that changed Game 2, that may have changed the ALCS. He ruled that a swinging strike by A.J. Pierzynski that otherwise would have sent Game 2 into extra innings bounced on the ground before Angels catcher Josh Paul caught it. Paul assumed he caught it cleanly, so he rolled the ball back toward the mound -- at precisely the moment Pierzynski began running to first base.
Three pitches later, the game was over and Eddings and Paul had become as indelible a part of postseason lore as Don Denkinger and Mickey Owen. A stolen base and then a double by Joe Crede put the game and the two men in the history books.
"More proof," said Angels first baseman Darin Estad, "that people who say they have seen it all, haven't seen it all."
From manager Mike Scioscia to regular catcher Bengie Molina, the Angels reacted with anger and surprise at Eddings' call. Their beef boiled down to this: Eddings raised his right fist on the call, the universal symbol for "Out." Ergo, they figured, Pierzynski was ruled out.
"The hitter can take off," Scioscia said, "but as a catcher when an umpire calls him out, rings him up with a fist, he's out."
Here's the problem with the Angels' argument: Paul admitted that whatever Eddings did had no bearing on his decision to roll the ball back to the mound.
"I caught the ball so I thought the inning was over," Paul said.
Stop right there. Paul's job for is to catch. It is not his job to umpire. It is not his call.
Maybe he did catch the ball. Maybe he didn't. Molina said a replay showed Paul caught the ball. Pierzynski said the replay showed the ball bounced. Umpire supervisor Rich Reiker watched it frame by frame with the picture blown up and concluded "there was definitely a change in direction there. At this point I would say at best it's inconclusive."
I agree with Reiker. I saw a slight change of direction. I would say it bounced. Bottom line: in no way was it obvious that Paul caught the ball cleanly. And that means Paul had no business assuming it is a third strike. He has to tag the hitter, or at least wait for confirmation.
Listen, Eddings could learn to give an audible call in these situations. A simple "No catch" or "I've got it on the ground" would help nicely, thank you. He admitted, "I did not say 'No catch."'
(By the way, give Eddings his props for going into the interview room. Too often umpires leave it to the crew chief to deal with the mess or relay their thoughts only to a pool reporter. Paul stood there and answered question after question. It was refreshing to see Eddings do the same.)
Flash back to the second inning. Pierzynski was sure he caught a third strike on Garret Anderson and fired it to third base without tagging Anderson. Only as the ball was thrown around the infield did Eddings make it known that the ball hit the ground. The ball was scuffed to prove the point.
"I was sure I caught it," Pierzynski said. "I didn't. It happens."
But don't make Eddings out to be the bad guy here. It was his call, not Paul's call.
And please don't start up with these arguments about the need for instant replay. I've been saying for years it can be helpful when it comes to ruling home runs, but you cannot slow the game down with replays on all the frequent close calls that occur on the bases. And the inconclusiveness of this replay is another example of why the method isn't foolproof, anyway.
Baseball is a game played and umpired by humans. What other sport gives official notification of mistakes and keeps track of such with a giant "E" on the scoreboard for all to see? The official scorer assigned the error to Paul, who heretofore had been as nondescript as Eddings. And there, for perpetuity, it shall stay.