When the umpire says it isn't, and that very conundrum stumped the Angels on Wednesday, and proved costly in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series.
Instead of A.J. Pierzynski's ninth-inning strikeout sending the game into extra innings, Joe Crede doubled home pinch-runner Pablo Ozuna to hand the Angels a 2-1 loss to the White Sox, evening the best-of-seven series at 1.
Sound confusing? It was, and it may take a few days to sort out.
"I wouldn't say 'stolen,' but it did have a big effect on this game and we're very disappointed at the outcome," said backup catcher Josh Paul, who will be forever linked to a play that he has routinely made since grade school.
Here's what happened: With each team holding dearly to one run in the bottom of the ninth, Kelvim Escobar threw a hard-breaking slider at which Pierzynski took a cut and missed. Paul caught the ball near the dirt and replays appeared to confirm that the ball did not touch the ground.
Home-plate umpire Doug Eddings first waved outwardly with his right hand and then closed his right fist and made the out call. With an apparent third out, Paul tossed the ball back to the mound and trotted off the field.
Pierzynski took a couple of steps to the dugout and then suddenly sprinted toward first. He was ruled safe, and it was determined that Paul trapped the ball, meaning that he had to tag Pierzynski or throw him out at first. That's when it broke loose.
Manager Mike Scioscia came out to argue with Eddings and crew chief Jerry Crawford and even came out a second time for clarification after seeing the replay, but the call stood essentially because there was no call. The play stood, Ozuna pinch-ran, stole second and scored after Crede lined an 0-2 game-winner off Escobar.
"It was a swing; our catcher caught it," Scioscia said. "Doug Eddings called him out and somewhere along the line, because the guy ran to first base, he altered the call and that's disappointing."
Paul was clear about what he felt and more so about what he didn't hear, something that has guided his baseball instincts for years.
"Customarily, if the ball is in the dirt, you hear: 'No catch, no catch, no catch' and I didn't hear any of that," Paul said. "It was strike three, the third out of the inning and I threw the ball back to the mound."
Eddings did not deny he made a call, in fact admitting he made a strike-three call, but it was the Angels' interpretation that it was an out call that contributed to the pivotal play.
"I did not say 'No catch,' " said Eddings, adding he felt the ball was trapped and was surprised Paul did not tag Pierzynski. "If you watch the play, you do watch me as I'm making the mechanic, I'm watching Josh Paul, and so I'm seeing what he's going to do. I'm looking directly at him while I'm watching Josh Paul. That's when Pierzynski ran to first base."
After Ozuna pinch-ran, Crede came to the plate.
"I got ahead 0-2 and I thought I executed a good pitch, but you're not going to be perfect the whole time," said Escobar, who was nearing a three-inning, scoreless-relief stint and had fanned four batters. "It was the only time I didn't execute in three innings."
The play in question may not have happened at all had the Angels not handed the White Sox a run in the bottom of the first inning.
Scott Podsednik hit a comebacker to the mound that Angels starter Jarrod Washburn fielded cleanly, but he airmailed the throw over Darin Erstad at first and Podsednik reached second on the two-base error. After advancing to third on a sacrifice by Tad Iguchi, Podsednik scored on Jermaine Dye's groundout to short and the White Sox led, 1-0.
Robb Quinlan tied the game in the top of the fifth when he led off the inning with a homer to left off White Sox starter Mark Buehrle, his first homer in the postseason.
But mostly it was a game of missed opportunities.
Aaron Rowand doubled into the right-field corner in the second and advanced to third when Vladimir Guerrero booted the ball for an error. Shortstop Orlando Cabrera let Guerrero's throw go through but it sailed wide of third and Rowand headed for home. Quinlan made chase and from his knees fired a strike to catcher Jose Molina at the plate for the out.
In the seventh, Crede doubled sharply with one out. But on Juan Uribe's liner to left, Crede went halfway and Garret Anderson doubled him up at second base with a strike to Adam Kennedy.
The Angels also had a couple of chances. Cabrera doubled with one out in the fourth, but Buehrle got a pair of groundouts to third to escape the inning. In the sixth, Cabrera led off with a sharp single to sixth, but Guerrero bounced into a double play and Bengie Molina struck out to end the inning.
Jose Molina led off the eighth with a single and was replaced by pinch-runner Jeff DaVanon, who went to second on Kennedy's sacrifice and third on a groundout by Chone Figgins. But Cabrera's fly ball was caught by Podsednik at the wall in left to end the inning.
"There's a lot of focus on that play, but we didn't play to a high enough level to win the ball game," Scioscia said. "That's the bottom line."
So in a game that saw Buehrle go the distance for the win and Escobar handed a loss he didn't think he deserved, it was all distilled to one moment.
"That was the first time I've ever seen that happen," Erstad said. "But that's the beauty of this game and that is the bad part of this game. Unfortunately, the bad part happened to us."
Mike Scarr is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less