What Los Angeles Angels catcher Josh Paul described as “kind of a one-in-a-million shot” Wednesday night transformed the White Sox’s 17 innings of frustration into a zany combination of relief and excitement.
That miracle occurred when A.J. Pierzynski swung at a low pitch for what could have been the final out of the ninth inning in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series.
But Pierzynski broke toward first base as Paul rolled the ball back to the mound and was rewarded when home-plate umpire Doug Eddings ruled Paul didn’t catch the ball or tag Pierzynski to send the game into extra innings.
Despite vehement protests from the Angels, the Sox celebrated wildly when Joe Crede ripped a double down the left-field line to score pinch-runner Pablo Ozuna for a 2-1 victory, evening this best-of-seven series at 1-1.
Nearly all of a sellout crowd of 41,013 at U.S. Cellular Field cheered for several minutes after witnessing one of the most bizarre endings in ALCS history.
“Did [the Angels] feel lucky when they won [Tuesday] night?” Pierzynski asked. “No.”
Pierzynski’s alert play gave Sox starter Mark Buehrle a well-deserved victory while briefly alleviating some of the frustration over a Sox offense that left seven runners stranded and didn’t get a hit with runners in scoring position until Crede’s game-winner.
Buehrle held sluggers Vladimir Guerrero and Garret Anderson to a combined 0-for-8 with no balls hit to the outfield.
“It’s almost frustrating when a guy battles like that and you can’t get anything going offensively,” said Scott Podsednik, who scored the Sox’s first run in the first inning but stranded a runner at second in the fifth. “But it all worked out. We were fortunate to push one across.”
The Sox took the toughest route to this victory. Aaron Rowand led off the second with a double and headed for third as Guerrero bobbled the ball in right.
As Guerrero’s throw skipped by relay man Orlando Cabrera and rolled toward the left-field line, Rowand slid headfirst into third.
Third-base coach Joey Cora waved Rowand home as Angels third baseman Robb Quinlan alertly retrieved the ball about 160 feet from home plate. Quinlan’s throw arrived in time to nail Rowand for the first out of the inning and deprived the Sox of a 2-0 lead.
“I thought [Pierzynski’s play] was retribution because I thought I was safe at home,” Rowand said while various parts of his body were wrapped in ice.
Rowand had struck out before Pierzynski’s at-bat in the ninth. Pierzynski admitted he swung at a bad pitch and took a step toward the dugout before breaking toward first as Paul rolled the ball back to the mound.
“I thought the ball hit the ground, and [Paul] didn’t tag me,” Pierzynski said.
Said Paul: “Usually if a ball isn’t caught, [the umpire] is going to say, `No catch.’”
Television replays showed Eddings extended his right arm to indicate a swing and a miss and pumped his arm to indicate a strike call. Eddings said this was his normal swinging strike-three call, and that he didn’t call Pierzynski out because he believed the pitch hit the ground before Paul caught it.
After the Angels ended their argument, Ozuna pinch-ran for Pierzynski and stole second on the second pitch to Crede.
Crede then ripped a hanging split-finger fastball from Kelvim Escobar down the line for the game-winner.
“It was a weird play, but we were able to capitalize on their mistake,” Crede said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
And it gave both sides plenty to dwell on as the ALCS shifts to Anaheim for Friday’s Game 3.
It was the 15th time in postseason history that a team lost a game without allowing an earned run.
The Sox’s first run was set up when Washburn heaved a routine throw over the head of first baseman Darin Erstad for a two-base error in the first.
“It’s definitely a momentum shifter,” Rowand said. “For us to go in there 1-1 instead of 0-2 is huge. Now we have a feeling that the ball is on our side of the court and we’ll try to get some momentum.”