Are you getting the feeling the White Sox are living a charmed life? Are you getting the feeling we're going to be hearing more about instant replay in baseball?
Yet another controversial umpire's call went Chicago's way Sunday, and no one will ever know whether the Sox would have beaten the Houston Astros to take a 2-0 lead in the World Series without it. They did just that, though, winning 7-6 on something you don't see every day, or on hardly any day: a Scott Podsednik home run.
Three times in their five-game American League Championship Series win over the Los Angeles Angels, the White Sox benefited from close calls. One of them the umpires obviously got right, Kelvim Escobar's empty-glove tag on A.J. Pierzynski in Game 5. One was obviously blown, the missed catcher's interference against Pierzynski on Steve Finley's double-play ball in Game 4.
And on the most famous, the bounced -- or not -- third strike by Josh Paul that let Pierzynski reach base with the eventual winning run in Game 2, well, that's another thing we'll never know about. Replays were inconclusive.
In Game 2 of the World Series Sunday, the Astros were leading the White Sox 4-2 in the seventh inning. Chicago had two men on, two out and Jermaine Dye batting against reliever Dan Wheeler. A 3-2 pitch ran inside and hit Dye, who was awarded first base, loading the bases.
Except that to the naked eye, though not to home-plate umpire Jeff Nelson's naked eye, it looked like the ball hit Dye's bat, not his right arm, and the ruling should have been foul ball.
Astros manager Phil Garner and catcher Brad Ausmus pleaded their case and asked Nelson to ask other umpires for help, but Nelson, displaying all the confidence in his call that Greg Gibson had displayed in his call at second base in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series -- a call he knew he might have blown -- declined.
With the bases loaded, Paul Konerko greeted new pitcher Chad Qualls by drilling a pitch into the left-field bleachers for a grand slam and a 6-4 White Sox lead. The Astros tied the game in the top of the ninth on an unbelievably clutch pinch single by Jose Vizcaino, one of those "You're pinch-hitting with who? Oh! Hey, good call" moves by Garner.
Then Podsednik, with one home run in 614 plate appearances this year, postseason included, won the game with a solo shot in the bottom of the ninth off Astros closer Brad Lidge, who was last seen giving up a game-winning homer in Game 5 of the NLCS to Albert Pujols.
Note to all television personalities who comment on baseball: Podsednik's home run is a rare chance to use the word "ironic" correctly. Many in the commentariat will use the word correctly when referring to the go-go, smallball Sox winning a game on a pair of big home runs. They'll just be wrong on the facts. The White Sox got to the World Series with pitching and home runs.
Replays left no doubt that the seventh-inning pitch that was ruled to have hit Dye in the right arm hit the barrel of his bat. Nice work by Dye, who reacted at the moment of contact like a guy who'd just had the ball hit his bat, not his arm, to walk up the first-base line looking at and shaking out his arm. Ooh, yeah, that hurt. Ouchy.
The Astros didn't complain much about the bad call after the game, shrugging their shoulders and saying they caught a bad break, but the Sox did hit those two big home runs. Maybe Dye makes an out on the next pitch, the inning ends, and the rest of the game plays completely differently.
Then again, maybe the next pitch is Ball 4 and it plays out exactly the same way. Or maybe he hits a home run and the Sox win in some other way. Youneverknow.
With instant replay, we probably would have known. Dye would have been returned to the bat and Qualls would have had another chance to get him. Konerko might not have hit till the eighth inning, with the bases empty. The Astros might have won 14-9.
I've never heard as much talk about instant replay as I've heard this postseason, which has been pockmarked with umpiring controversies. If this were the NFL, instant replay starting next year would be a foregone conclusion. Pro football is willing to change the game's rules to deal with the slightest controversy, resulting in a crazy mishmash of regulations that often leaves fans wondering, "Where did that rule come from?"
Baseball, fortunately, is more circumspect with rules changes, and anyway the sport embraces human error, which is given equal billing with runs and hits on scoreboards and in box scores. I don't think there's momentum for instant replay in the near future, but with enough umpire arrogance, that might change.
That, I think, is the issue that needs to be addressed here. Why didn't Nelson ask for help on the call on Dye? The first-base umpire should have had a pretty decent view of whether the ball hit the bat or Dye's arm. If he didn't catch it, he can say, "I don't know," but why not ask?
In the NLCS, why didn't Gibson, who was caught on television asking Astros shortstop Adam Everett if he had really made the tag on the play in question, ask his fellow umpires for help? There were two umps on the first-base line who had a better angle. They were a long way away, but again, they could have said, "I don't know."
Last year, there seemed to be a trend for umpires to huddle up, discuss questionable calls and make an honest effort to get them right. That was a wonderful development. The Boston Red Sox might have been cheated out of their comeback ALCS victory over the New York Yankees without it.
What happened to that?
We seemed to have returned to the ugly days of "That was my call, and right or wrong, my call is the law."
Mark my words: If instant replay gains traction in baseball, it won't be because of blown calls, which have been around for 100 years and more. It'll be because of this return to arrogance by the umpiring crews.
Baseball fans don't require that umpires get every single call right. But they should demand that umps make their best effort to get them all right, rather than just acting like they're never wrong.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Astros demand a recount [PERMALINK]
The Astros have bigger problems than their shaky bullpen. They might want to look into election reform.
An ESPN.com poll Friday -- unscientific, of course -- showed that a 51-49 percent majority of readers thought the Astros would beat the White Sox in the World Series. But, as an election-style map showed, the White Sox had a big lead in the electoral college, 312-207.
The Astros captured their home state, naturally, and California and Ohio, but the White Sox won their state, plus New York, Florida, Pennsylvania and a host of states with electoral votes in the midteens -- Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Georgia.
Over the weekend, despite winning two games, the Sox managed to lose 41 electoral votes as New York, Nevada and Utah went back into the undecided category, joining Colorado, which remained there. Chicago still held a 271-207 lead, though.
The Astros need a super Tuesday from Game 3 starter Roy Oswalt. Otherwise, it might be time to work on the concession speech.
- - - - - - - - - - - -