Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch
cbertsch

Capitalizing On "Their" Mistakes

The conclusion to the Angels-White Sox game was insane! Chicago's A.J. Pierzynski apparently struck out to end the bottom of the ninth inning. The ball was in the dirt, but the third-string Los Angeles catcher Josh Paul clearly thought that he had caught it cleanly. Home-plate umpire Doug Eddings called strike three. As Paul rolled the ball back toward the mound and the Angels started streaming in off the field, Pierzynski suddenly ran to first as if the ball had gotten past Paul on the strikeout. Since Paul no longer had the ball in hand, he couldn't have thrown to first if he'd wanted to. Astonishingly, Pierzynski was ruled safe at first. The White Sox sent in a pinch runner, who stole second. On the next pitch, batter Joe Crede hit a ball off the left-field wall. Game over. But the controversy never will be.

As a boy I obsessively read my cousin Donnie's paperback books filled with baseball lore. Many of the best tales concerned strange gaffes: balls hitting rocks, balls hitting people, balls hitting nothing. I can already imagine how tonight's game would have been written in the style of those books from the 1950s, with Pierzynski as the wily veteran, Angels' pitcher Kelvim Escobar as the ill-starred victim, and Crede as the beneficiary of an improbable opportunity to put his name in lights.

The more I watched the replay, the stranger the whole sequence seemed. But the postgame interviews clarified matters. Crede spoke first and, in a rhetorical sleight-of-hand worthy of a politician, repeated one of the mantras of the professional athlete, talking about "capitalizing on their mistakes," without ever specifying the antecedent for that possessive pronoun. Usually it means the other players; here it could only have meant the umpires, since the Angels didn't make any mistakes in the inning.

Then Pierzynski, a catcher himself, explained that he had belatedly decided to run to first because he thought he'd heard the ball hit the dirt and recalled a play from last season -- he was playing for the San Francisco Giants then -- when, after failing to catch the pitch cleanly, he had failed to tag a batter who had apparently struck out. When Pierzynski said that, I remembered the play he was talking about quite distinctly and wondered whether he had merely concluded that the catcher had to tag him tonight or, more interestingly, had made the split-second decision to execute a devilish ruse. I suppose we'll never know. And it would be better if we didn't.
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