Sox surge late to reclaim Central lead
Pierzynski's rundown reward key to Chicago's 10th-inning win
CHICAGO -- Sunday's 6-5 White Sox win over the Rays at U.S. Cellular Field had a little bit of everything: extra innings, a controversial play, a milestone home run and a walk-off hit.
And, as if that weren't enough, the White Sox are back in first place.
A.J. Pierzynski was the center of it all with the score tied in the bottom of the 10th inning. After some heads-up baserunning that allowed him to tag up from first to second, Pierzynski got caught up in a rundown between second and third on Jermaine Dye's fielder's choice and looked to be tagged out by Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett.
But that wasn't the case, because second-base umpire Doug Eddings ruled that Rays third baseman Willy Aybar interfered with Pierzynski as he was turning for second base.
"As soon as A.J. tripped, he yelled 'Obstruction,'" Bartlett said. "I looked at the umpire, thinking he was going to say something like, 'Are you kidding me?' And [the ump] was like, 'Yep, yep, yep.'
"Right there, I lost it. I was like, 'What?' I don't know. Those are the breaks, I guess."
Rays manager Joe Maddon and the infielders argued with the umpire crew to no avail before Alexei Ramirez smacked a base hit into right to score Pierzynski from third and give the White Sox a walk-off win.
Eddings has given the White Sox this type of break before. He was the man behind the plate during the controversial dropped-third strike call -- also involving Pierzynski -- against the Angels in Game 2 of the 2005 American League Championship Series.
Third-base umpire Ted Barrett, speaking on behalf of the umpires, clarified Sunday's ruling.
"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," Barrett said. "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.
"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."
The irony of it all wasn't lost on Barrett.
"That was a flashback to '05," he said.
The victory prevented the White Sox from being swept at U.S. Cellular Field, something that has not happened this season. With the Twins' loss to the Angels, the White Sox now find themselves a half-game ahead in the AL Central standings as they head to Baltimore to begin a nine-game road trip.
The importance of the victory was not lost on the South Siders, who had lost their previous five games to the Rays in walk-off or come-from-behind fashion.
"Minnesota's been playing good ball, it doesn't seem like they lose very much," said Paul Konerko, who delivered the game-tying single in the bottom of the ninth. "So you want to get off the homestand with a win. All of these wins at this time of the year seem to really get magnified, so hopefully, that can kind of spur us on. We were kind of flat the last couple of days."
The White Sox were fortunate to have tied the game in the ninth. When Brian Anderson came around third to score on Konerko's single, the ball beat him to home plate by at least five steps. But Rays catcher Shawn Riggans wasn't able to hold onto the ball.
The comeback came after squandering the lead Chicago had accumulated with a four-run outburst in the fourth. Carlos Quentin hit his Major League-leading 36th home run with Pierzynski on base, and Jim Thome cranked a second home run two batters later.
It was Thome's 534th career home run and one that tied him with Jimmie Foxx for 15th on the all-time list.
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was relieved to salvage even a single victory in the series, and proud of Pierzynski for playing such instinctual baseball -- even if getting caught in the rundown was a silly mistake.
"[Pierzynski] went from a good baserunner -- when he tagged on the fly ball to center field -- to real bad, to real good," Guillen said. "He went from, 'What are you doing?' to 'Atta boy!' I think the biggest heads-up play was tagging from first base. That was huge."
Pierzynski knew he'd made a blunder by getting caught in the rundown, and he wasn't shy about looking for ways to stay on base.
"With my speed, I'm trying to do anything," Pierzynski said. "First of all, it was bad baserunning on my part. I shouldn't have went -- horrible baserunning. But I was just looking for somebody to get close enough and luckily he did.
"I didn't think about [Eddings] until you said it, but I guess it's ironic. It's just a funny coincidence, I guess. Him and I will be linked forever because of that one play and now there are two plays."
David Just is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.