11 Half-Innings to a Championship: 2005 ALCS Game 5

Trevor Lines

This is an in-depth breakdown of the most important half-innings during the 2005 championship run, publishing concurrently with the NBC Sports Chicago playoff reruns. The seventh installment covers the top of the eighth inning in Game 5 of the ALCS.

Setting the scene

The White Sox are one win away from the pennant and head into the eighth inning tied 3-3 in Game 5 vs. the Angels. José Contreras has continued the string of stellar starting pitching, and Joe Crede proved to be Kelvim Escobar’s kryptonite yet again, hitting a game-tying solo home run in the seventh. Escobar settles in after that and remains in the game in the eighth.

Batter: Paul Konerko
Bases empty, no outs, 3-3 tie 
White Sox win probability: 50%

Konerko steps to the plate having just missed inside fastballs in his previous two at-bats. Escobar stays away from him, and Konerko battles back from a 1-2 hole to get to a full count. Both of Konerko’s backbreaking home runs have come on 3-2 counts, but this time Escobar throws a good splitter to get Konerko swinging.

Batter: Carl Everett
Bases empty, one out, 3-3 tie
White Sox win probability: 45%

Everett has struggled a bit in the series, and in this at-bat, he looks to be trying to tie the game with one swing. He swings through a fastball, just late, and this may be in the back of his mind all at-bat. While trying to catch up to the fastball, he can only wave at back-to-back off-speed pitches, becoming Escobar’s latest strikeout victim. Escobar has struck out five of the last six White Sox batters.

Batter: Aaron Rowand
Bases empty, two outs, 3-3 tie
White Sox win probability: 42%

The inning has started off innocuously, with two quick outs, and Escobar looks to be locked in. He falls behind, 2-0, to Rowand, trying to get cute with two outs, something that drives pitching coaches crazy (“two outs, 2-0” was a common saying in the Bellarmine University dugout) but comes back with some nasty pitches to even the count at 2-2. After battling off a fastball, Rowand has a couple great takes on off-speed pitches just out of the zone and draws a walk.

Batter: A.J. Pierzynski
Runner on first, two outs, 3-3 tie
White Sox win probability: 44%

A.J. already has been in the middle of enough controversy for an entire season this series, but incredibly, there is more to come. After taking a first-pitch ball, Pierzynski hits a comebacker that bounces off of Escobar towards first base. Escobar quickly pounces on it, and has more than enough time to flip the ball to first for the third out. However, rather than do this, Escobar inexplicably tries to tag A.J., who is already on his way past him. Because of this, Escobar is only able to tag him with his glove, while the ball remains in his throwing hand. Once he misses the tag, Escobar still has time to throw the ball to first, but seeing the tag attempt, Darin Erstad has come off of the first base and catches the ball in his bare hand with a shocked look on his face.

First base umpire Randy Marsh must not have had the angle on the play, because he initially rules Pierzynski out on the tag. Both A.J. and Ozzie immediately begin to argue, and Marsh agrees to confer with home plate umpire Ed Rapuano, who saw the missed tag, overruling the call. A.J. is safe at first, and the inning continues, much to the displeasure of Scioscia and Angels fans, who must feel like they cannot catch a break.

Batter: Joe Crede
Runners on first and second, two outs, 3-3 tie
White Sox win probability: 48%

Crede is 3-for-3 with a home run and two doubles off of Escobar in the series, so Mike Scioscia decides to bring in his closer, Francisco Rodriguez, the AL saves leader. On a 1-1 count, Crede chases a curve ball in the dirt, missing badly. The great Honus Wagner was rumored to intentionally look bad on certain pitches in order to get them again in a more important spot. While Crede pulling such strings, a bad swing like this can definitely give a hitter valuable information on how the pitcher may try to get him out in the future. Crede then takes a couple close pitches for balls, bringing the count full.

Bengie Molina heads out to the mound to talk with Rodriguez. The announcers hypothesize that in this situation, you have to go with your best pitch, which for K-Rod is the curveball. Konerko gets Crede’s attention from the dugout and points to his eyes, baseball code for “watch the spin” to pick up the curve ball. Sure enough, Rodriguez comes with the curve, leaving it at the bottom of the strike zone. The pitch slightly buckles Crede, but he is still able to get a defensive swing on the pitch and chops it back up the middle, past Rodriguez. 

Second baseman Adam Kennedy makes a nice diving play in shallow center to keep the ball in front of him, but as a result of a full count with two outs, the runners are moving on the pitch. This is significant, because Rowand rounds third on the play and heads for home. Kennedy’s desperation, off-balance throw is not in time, and Rowand slides in with the tie-breaking run. 

This play increases Chicago's win probability all the way to 74%, a 26% increase. The Sox add two more insurance runs in the ninth, and Contreras coasts to the finish line. When Konerko steps on first for the final out, the White Sox have won their first pennant in 46 years.

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

Thanks for reminding me about the AJ play.