Angels vs. White Sox and THE PLAY

By popular demand…

(Another blogger and one of my currrent students—the latter approaching me while wearing his Angels cap—asked yesterday why I had not had anything to say about the controversial call in game 2 of the series. Well, my excuse was a highly urgent matter that required attention away from blogging, but here you go. Never say that F&V does not respond to reader requests.)

As I have said before—in two of my earliest posts here at one of the the subdomains of this blog,—one of the really great things about baseball is that no matter how many games you watch, there is always a good chance you will see something you have never seen before. The first of these “never seen that before” posts was about “dropping the ball,” when the winning run scored against the Angels when their closer, Francisco Rodriguez, dropped the return throw from his catcher with a runner on third. The second was on Vlad Guerrero’s turning what looked like a routine line-drive single to right into a fielder’s choice.

Well, raise your hand if you have ever seen the defensive team run off the field after strike three for the (apparently) third out, while the batter charges to first. Yes, you have seen dropped third strikes before. But this one was not dropped, and the umpire’s call was, at best, ambiguous. The 9th inning of a tie game thus continued, and the next bater drove in the winning run for the White Sox, and the series now goes back to Angel Stadium tied, 1-1. (I will be going to game 4, Saturday.) The best thing about the play?: People are taking about baseball, which is cearly in the national public good.

Before getting into THE PLAY, I want to look at the series more broadly.

This series after two games is turning out just as I expected, in the bigger picture. You have the two best pitching staffs in the AL and the two most offensively challenged lineups (though the White Sox did hit many more homers than the Angels during the regular season). And so, not surprisingly, the two games have been decided by one run and the total run scoring is low (8 runs combined for the two teams in two games). So much for the AL style of play; this is good old-fashioned NL style! Either of the first two games could have gone either way, and the loser each night squandered numerous opportunities. The White Sox played a rather ragged game the first night, despite (or because of?) not having played in four days. The Angels played a tightly organized, inspired game in game 1 despite (or beacuse of?) having played solely on adrenaline, having taken overnight flights without days off on each of the three preivous nights. The roles of who played well and who played as if tired were reversed in game 2, and so was the outcome.

Going into the series, with their (alleged) ace pitcher out and their only available no. 2 with strep throat, the Angels were going to be challenged to win even one before taking the series back home for a rested John Lackey to start game 3 and Ervin Santana ready for game 4. But the Angels split. I am happy about that. Nonetheless, after getting game 1, of course, I was greedy, and the way they lost game 2 hurts.

But THE PLAY, when the umpire made an ambiguous non-call on an allegedly dropped third strike, allowing a runner who had been struck out to reach first, and subsequently score the winning run, was not what cost the Angels the game. It was a bad call, Josh Paul caught the ball, but it was close, and even with many replays it was not 100% certain that he caught the pitch cleanly (though it was probably in the 90% certainty range).

The two things that can not be blamed on the umpire are third-string catcher Paul’s assuming the third out had been recorded. I always thought the unwritten rule for players was always assume the ball is in play unless you have seen or heard a clear call from the umpire to the contrary. Paul dropped—or rather, rolled—the ball here. How hard is it, given you have just caught a third strike in the dirt—to tag the runner or toss the ball down to first instead of rolling it back towards the mound and scampering off the field?

The second thing that can’t be balmed on the umpire is Kelvim Escobar’s hanging a pitch to the next batter. Sure, he would have been out of the inning had the out call been made. But it wasn’t, and he threw a game-losing pitch.

Also worth keeping in perspective is that the best outcome of the inning for the Angels would have been that the game was tied and going to extra innings. They had already used up their best relievers, because starter Jarrod Washburn could not go deep into the game. The guy pitched his heart out; remember, three days before he was running a 102-degree fever. Escobar was not coming back out for the 10th, for sure. The White Sox were going to stay with their starter, Mark Buehrle, who had been brilliant, and they had their entire bullpen—which is excellent—rested and ready. In other words, the Angels were going to wear out their pen first, and they might still have lost with Esteban Yan or some other lower-tier reliever on the mound.

They have the series tied, 1-1, three games with their best starters at home. They can win the series with a sweep, or they can win it by winning two of the three and then taking one back in Chicago. They are in good position.

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