Friday, October 14, 2005


Move Over, Don Denkinger, There's a New Goat in Town

This is why I love baseball. No other sport in the world offers fans anything close to the combination of the bizarre, the spontaneous, and the tragic that playoff baseball does. Baseball’s long, drawn-out nature lends itself to a slow buildup of expectation, unfolding as an intense drama that can end in jubilant ecstasy or backbreaking tragedy. There’s no time on the clock, only a long, gut-wrenching quest for that final out, and boy can that final out be a doozy. Sometimes it never comes, as the long nine-inning journey turns into an all-out nightmare, and expectations of glory are dashed, like a person saving up years of salary for that new Mercedes, only to see it trashed by a speeding meth junkie on the first drive out. The Angels got that last out, or at least they thought they did…

One moment the Halos are calmly walking back to the dugout, excited in the fact that Mark Buehrle is no longer in the game to further tantalize their bats. The next A.J. Pierzynski is busting down the first base line like a crazed wildebeest, and before the Angels can say Mickey Owen, the game is lost. In the span of one loony play, the game, the spark, and the momentum are all yanked rudely from the Angels’ grasp.

We can all get hung up on whether or not the ball was truly caught, but I don’t really think that’s the big dispute. In truth, the television replays don’t give us any definitive answer to whether Josh Paul actually caught the ball before it hit the ground, regardless of what the nitwits on FOX were saying. You can argue either way: in full speed it looks like Paul catches it, no problem. In slow-motion it looks like he might have trapped it against the dirt. The real problem was Doug Eddings’ bizarre out call, which no one can seem to figure out, least of all Eddings himself (after the game, Eddings claimed that signal meant “strike three”, not “out”, though this explanation reeks of blatant ass-covering to me).

But while the Angels may have gotten screwed by a bad call, it wasn’t Doug Eddings who decided to essentially ignore pinch runner Pablo Ozuna, and it wasn’t Eddings who decided to gas a fat fastball at the letters to Joe Crede. The final games of this series will be what separates the men from the boys. The Angels can’t fall into a trap where they feel they got jobbed out of a game so they just stop trying. This is Oakland Raider syndrome. Everybody remembers the Snow Game, I’m sure, and everybody remembers the way the Raiders bitched about the tuck play for the entire freaking offseason like they deserved to win or something. The same thing happened to the Cardinals in the 1985 World Series, when they were screwed by a bad call by Don Denkinger in Game 6, then spent the entire Game 7 simultaneously whining and self-destructing on their way to an 11-0 loss.

Unlike those two teams, who had relatively little time to recover, the Angels have five games to get their heads back in order and are advised to have a short memory. Sure, they’re going home for three, but the ChiSox have all the momentum now and the Halos go into Game 3 after the equivalent of being kicked in the crotch (hey, A.J. Pierzynski was the centerpiece to the whole fiasco). The Angels now are in danger of crumbling under the weight of this call, and Mike Scoscia, one of the better players’ managers in the league, faces what might be the toughest challenge of his career. Even if LA ends up going down in defeat, they’ll look noble if they can bounce back and make it competitive. If they win the series, they’ll look like champions of character and the paragon of resiliency. However, if they stop playing and blame this one call for their poor play, they’ll be the biggest losers of them all.

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