The circumstances were slightly different, but the principals were the same. AJ Pierzynski, who seems to invent new ways to be reviled by opposing fans, found himself in the middle of yet another bizarre late-inning controversy with his good buddy Doug Eddings, once again culminating in a White Sox victory.
With the game tied in extras, Pierzynski started the Sox half of the 10th with a routine single. It was the last routine play of the game. On the very next play, Pierzynski caught BJ Upton giving a lackadaisical effort--what are the chances?--on Carlos Quentin's deep fly ball to center field, and was able to take second base on the speedy, strong-armed, though not always game-aware, young center fielder, setting up the controversial play.
Jermaine Dye hit a routine groundball to short, the type of ball that should cause a runner on second base to retreat back towards second. Needless to say, Pierzynski did not retreat. He charged towards third on contact, and didn't reverse course until he saw Jason Bartlett fielded the ball cleanly in front of him. He tried to stay in the ensuing rundown for as long as possible to allow Jermaine Dye to get himself into scoring position, but Dye is slow, and Pierzynski saw an opportunity. That opportunity was named Willy Aybar, Tampa's 3B, who continued to run alongside and eventually passed Pierzynski after he got rid of the ball. Watching over his shoulder Pierzynski saw Aybar release the ball and continue towards second. As soon as he sensed Aybar about to pass him, he stuck out his elbow, gave a little fake turn, and stumbled to the ground as he tried to change directions.
Pierzynski fell to the ground pointing at Aybar, now nearly at second base, and Doug Eddings, who initially called him out, joined in the pointing soon after. Eddings had called interference. Pierzynski was awarded 3rd, Dye 1st, and the Sox still had just one out. On one play the Sox went from what appeared to be a 2-out, runner on first situation, to a soon-to-be (after an intentional walk to Jim Thome) 1-out bases loaded situation, all because Pierzynski had his head in the game.
Although it didn't seem like the right call at first--I know I thought AJ got away with another one--crew chief Ted Barrett defended Eddings call after the game.
"What Doug ruled at second base was, even though A.J. did kind of stick his arm out to make contact, Aybar was still in his way, so A.J., if he would have turned, he wouldn't have been able to continue on to third," said third-base umpire Ted Barrett, who addressed the situation after the game. "So after making the throw, Aybar is no longer in the act of fielding and he can't obstruct the runner, which is what Doug ruled happened.
"In a rundown, even though A.J. was going back to second, the rule of obstruction during a rundown is he gets his next advanced base and that's why he was rewarded third base."
As for the game itself, let's just say it was another game with the Rays. Even though the Rays own the best record in the AL, these two clubs are very evenly matched. Heck even their injuries are similar; while the Rays were missing their 3B, LF, and closer this series, the Sox nearly matched them with their 3B and primary set-up man on the shelf. In 10 games this season (Sox are 4-6), the Sox have scored 37 runs to the Rays 35, with 3 games ending with walk-off hits. Sox starters have out-pitched Rays starter, but not by a huge margin, while Rays relievers have out-pitched their Sox counterparts, though again, not by a huge margin. The main difference between the two clubs has been the Sox complete inability to hit with 2 outs, especially with Runners In Scoring Position.
It looked like that trend would continue Sunday, but at the last possible moment, with 2-outs and a 3-2 in the bottom of the 9th, Paul Konerko would change everything. His pinch-hit single, which plated Brian Anderson from second thanks to a gutsy send by Jeff Cox and an assist from Shawn Riggans, was the first 2-out RISP RBI of the year against the Rays. Let me repeat that, because I don't know if it's clear how futile the Sox have been against the Rays with 2 outs and a runner 180 feet or less from home (.036/.069/.036 entering Sunday's finale). In the first 90 innings against the Rays this season, the Sox had exactly one 2-out hit with RISP, and that hit didn't even plate a run.
So yeah, it was a damn fine wave home by the sure to be wrongfully maligned Jeff Cox. The Sox had an opportunity to tie the game, and he took it. It didn't look pretty, and he needed a poor play by Tampa's catcher to come out smelling like roses. But, hoping for back-to-back 2-out hits with RISP didn't seem like a winning proposition for a team who managed just two such hits in 10 games against the best the AL East has to offer.
Alexei Ramirez had the game-winning hit, which was overshadowed by AJ's play and the unlikely end to the season long 2-out drought against the Rays.