Another questionable call goes Chicago’s way

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 25, 2005

HOUSTON (AP) &045; Jermaine Dye did the smart thing: He kept quiet and went to first base.

He knew all along the ball glanced off his bat &045; but he wasn’t about to tell the umpires.

Foul ball or hit by pitch?

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Incredibly, the men in blue had yet another questionable call to make in Game 2 of the World Series, and it seems almost every one has gone Chicago’s way in October.

&8220;These couple of calls have overshadowed the way we’re playing,&8221; manager Ozzie Guillen said Monday as the teams worked out at Minute Maid Park. &8220;Take a look at the way we play, take a look at the way we pitch, take a look at the way we come back. … I’ve said before, I’d rather be

lucky than good, and I think we’ve been more lucky than good.&8221;

If the White Sox feel slighted, the umpires feel slandered.

Night after night, postseason games are turning on difficult calls in key situations. With slow-motion instant replay and super-close camera angles, fans watching at home can clearly see when the umps make even a minor mistake &045; and especially a major one.

That leads to unwanted attention for a distinguished group of arbiters who would rather remain anonymous. And it leads to plenty of criticism, too.

&8220;They’re getting blistered for things that happen every day,&8221; said Jerry Crawford, the crew chief for this year’s AL championship series, which was filled with disputed calls. &8220;My beef is you guys are supposed to report on what happens. You’re not supposed to dwell on what happens.&8221;

Umpires are graded throughout the regular season, then selected for postseason assignments. Crawford, a major league ump since 1976, said he and his colleagues are doing the best they can.

&8220;Do we make mistakes? Absolutely,&8221; he said. &8220;It’s the weird things that have happened that have put a damper on this. The balls and strikes, there haven’t been many beefs, and that’s probably the most important part.&8221;

Questionable calls have marked the entire postseason &045; a year after umpires were praised for huddling to get key calls correct in October, even if it meant overturning the original ruling.

The ruckus began in Game 2 of this year’s ALCS against the Angels, when plate umpire Doug Eddings called strike three on A.J. Pierzynski &045; but not the third out &045; in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Eddings ruled that Los Angeles catcher Josh Paul did not glove Kelvim Escobar’s low pitch before it hit the ground. Pierzynski alertly hustled to first &045; just in case &045; even as the Angels were walking off the field, thinking the inning was over.

Moments later, Joe Crede’s game-winning double evened the series.

The confusing call sure seemed to take all the starch out of the Angels, who lost the next three games at home and were eliminated.

Chicago has not lost since.

Later, Eddings said he should have been more emphatic in making the &8220;no-catch&8221; call.

Pierzynski got another break in Game 4 when plate umpire Ron Kulpa did not call him for catcher’s interference after his mitt tipped Steve Finley’s bat.

The NLCS had its share, too. Plate umpire Phil Cuzzi ejected Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and star center fielder Jim Edmonds for arguing balls and strikes in Game 4.

In Game 6, Astros shortstop Adam Everett missed a key tag at second base, but umpire Greg Gibson called Yadier Molina out.

&8220;Are there things in hindsight that could have been done otherwise? I think the umpires in fairness would be the first to admit that,&8221; said Mike Port, hired by the commissioner’s office as vice president of umpiring on Aug. 1. &8220;If there’s any good to come from this that we’ve experienced thus far in the postseason, it’s in the category of lessons learned.&8221;

And Port even thinks the dispute over the Pierzynski play could have a positive effect in the future.

&8220;He might have done 67 other umpires a favor. Everybody’s taken note of that play,&8221; Port said.

Dye was up Sunday night with two on, two outs and a 3-2 count. A foul ball would have kept him at the plate, and perhaps Houston would have escaped the jam with its 4-2 lead intact.

But he was awarded first base by plate umpire Jeff Nelson, though replays showed Dan Wheeler’s seventh-inning pitch actually hit Dye’s bat, not his hand or forearm &045; and the slugger later admitted as much. Paul Konerko followed with a go-ahead grand slam off Chad Qualls, and the White Sox beat Houston 7-6 for a 2-0 lead.

&8220;I could see where he thought I got hit. It was a ball up and in,&8221; Dye said. &8220;It’s tough to tell with the naked eye. It showed on the replay it hit my bat, but I’m not going to tell him it hit my bat and that I’m not going to first.&8221;

Astros manager Phil Garner argued the call but didn’t blame his team’s loss on the umpires.

&8220;I just don’t think that was the major play,&8221; Garner said. &8220;We had opportunities in the game we didn’t take advantage of.&8221;

In fairness, the White Sox aren’t winning by accident. They are 9-1 in the postseason and have won 14 of 15 games overall dating to the regular season. They’ve outscored their opponents 59-29 in the postseason.

&8220;People are saying we are getting these great breaks. At the same time, they are not scoring us any runs,&8221; Pierzynski said. &8220;Guys still have to get big hits, and they’ve been doing it.&8221;