11 Half-Innings to a Championship: 2005 ALCS Game 2
This is an in-depth breakdown of the most important half-innings during the White Sox 2005 championship run, publishing concurrently with the NBC Sports Chicago playoff reruns. The fourth installment covers the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 2 of the ALCS.
Setting the scene
After dropping Game 1, the White Sox are tied 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth in the ALCS vs. the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (aka Anaheim Angels). If they lose this game, they will have dropped the first two games at home, an almost certain death sentence for the series. Up to this point, the story for the White Sox had been bad baserunning, as they'd run themselves out of two innings.
In the second, Aaron Rowand made the first out at home plate in attempting to score a Little League “home run” off of a Vladimir Guerrero throwing error, and in the seventh, Joe Crede was doubled off of second on a line drive to left field. Chicago's only run came via gift, as a first inning throwing error by Angels starter Jarrod Washburn led to an RBI ground out.
White Sox starter Mark Buehrle has been lights-out, with his only blemish being a fifth inning HR to Rob Quinlan. We enter the ninth with Angels reliever Kelvim Escobar staying in the game for his third inning of work, after a scoreless seventh and eighth.
Batter: Carl Everett
Bases empty, no outs, tied 1-1
White Sox win probability: 65%
Everett takes a strike, and then Escobar hits him with a rare curve ball, which he throws only 3.2% of the time. Everett is fooled, and rolls over weakly to first base for the first out.
Batter: Aaron Rowand
Bases empty, one out, tied 1-1
White Sox win probability: 59%
Rowand falls behind 1-2 after taking two good fastballs by Escobar, and then strikes out on a splitter in the dirt. The most notable part of this at-bat is the fact that strike three was in the dirt. Home plate umpire Doug Eddings makes the strike signal right away, but, per standard procedure for a dropped third strike, does not make the out signal, waiting until catcher Josh Paul applies the tag. This is Escobar’s fourth strikeout in his last six batters, and the Angels are an out away from sending Game 2 to extra innings.
Batter: A.J. Pierzynski
Bases empty, two outs, tied 1-1
White Sox win probability: 54%
Pierzynski steps up, looking to spark a two-out rally. After the count runs full, Escobar throws a great changeup that A.J. waves at. I won’t go into detail on whether or not the ball hit dirt because it is too close to call, and if you are reading this article, you’ve most likely seen the play. Eddings calls strike three WITH the out signal, A.J. starts towards the dugout, and Paul rolls the ball back to the mound as the Angels trot off the field.
At this point, A.J. breaks for first. Ultimately, it is the confidence of A.J., along with the rising excitement of the home crowd, that leads to the umpire making the safe call. In the postgame interview, A.J. said he was on the other end of a similar situation in 2004 with the Giants, which prompted him to run it out, but I could not find any information on that prior play. Pierzynski gets to first, turns around, and immediately starts clapping his hands. The fans are cheering, and Eddings, put on the spot, makes the safe call. The Sox catch an enormous break, as based on the three videos above, I definitely think Eddings changed his mind based on A.J.’s conviction.
Batter: Joe Crede
Runner on first, two outs, tied 1-1
White Sox win probability: 57%
After a long argument from Mike Scioscia and the Angels, Pablo Ozuna comes on to pinch-run for A.J. Escobar is very slow to the plate, and after bluffing a steal on strike one, Ozuna times the next delivery up perfectly and steals second with no throw. Crede takes both of these fastballs for strikes and is behind, 0-2. Escobar then makes a huge mistake and leaves a 0-2 splitter right down the middle. Crede hammers it into the left-field corner for a walk-off double, and the White Sox escape, heading to Anaheim tied 1-1 behind a complete game by Buehrle.
Thanks to Buehrle, the Sox bullpen gets the night off; hopefully now they will be well-rested and ready to go for the rest of the series ...