(Above: Post-game studio preparations for AJ Pierzynski)
Down by one run in the ninth inning, looking squarely at the ugly specter of being swept at home by Tampa Bay, the White Sox faced a stark choice between right and wrong.
Wrong did pretty good.
A Ken Griffey Jr. one-out double in the ninth set up the morality play. Ozzie pinch-ran Brian Anderson for Junior and Paul Konerko came up to bat. With Anderson’s speed against Tampa’s characteristically shallow-set outfield, it would take a long fly in left to justify sending the tying run home from third.
So when after a 3-2 battle, pinch-hitting Paulie sent a clutch two-hopper single off of Wheeler to Ben Zobrist in short left, all eyes moved to 3B coach Jeff Cox to be the voice of reason and hold Anderson in the face of the well-handled grounder.
But Cox had other ideas.
When an older family member exhibits degenerate gambling tendencies, tragedy usually follows. Concerned about familial assets ending up in a riverboat’s coffers, sons and daughters often stage awkward interventions to stave off disaster. The sellout US Cellular crowd was no exception, blurting a desperate chord of panic at Cox’s posture as Zobrist set up. With all the terrifying certainty of a tipsy uncle doubling down on twelve, the windmilling Cox sent Anderson home in a dazzling display of pure, unadulterated Wrong.
That Crawford’s throw beat Anderson home by twenty feet was certain. It was also certain that Tampa Catcher Shawn Riggans needed at least ten more to herd in the rolling cowhide. Riggans lost the ball so badly and whiffed so completely he made no tag attempt, allowing Anderson to tie the game at 5. Thus did Wrong become Right, and not for the last time that hour.
In the tenth, after reaching first and capitalizing on an undermotivated BJ Upton’s center-field gaffe, AJ Pierzynski stood on second. Upton had made an overhead catch of a Carlos Quentin deep fly ball, but dogged it for four steps before his throw, giving AJ the space to advance.
Possibly distracted by his good fortune, AJ then made a rare basepath mistake, jumping off of second on a Jermaine Dye grounder to short to find himself in a rundown.
Incredibly, on his third double-back, Pierzynski managed to: touch Ayala with an outstreched forearm, tumble to the ground, appeal for an interference call, and get it. That umpire Doug Eddings, he of the famous dropped-third strike non-call in the ’05 Angels ALCS was on duty at second — and had again sided with AJ was the backbreaker for the Rays. Tampa skipper Joe Maddon’s vigorous protest held no sway and Pierzynski was awarded third base along with a daytime Emmy in a brief ceremony.
After that it was mere procedural anticlimax when Alexei Ramirez sent a fly ball to empty right over a five-man infield to score AJ, rob the Rays of an away sweep and get the Pale Hose back into first place.
All of which means: if the Twins can play that far over their head, then surely these local offenses against the universe can be tolerated.