MESA, Ariz. – It takes a lot to get Joe Maddon riled when he’s around a baseball field.
But if you ever want to see what grinds his gears, just mention A.J. Pierzynski.
Somebody made that mistake during Maddon’s daily media conference Sunday, and before the question – on an entirely different subject – could get asked, the Cubs’ manager was off and running about the famous play 10 years ago that led to a White Sox playoff victory against Maddon’s Angels team.
“That was a bad call,” Maddon said. “To this day, it was awful. I know who the umpire was, and I’d still tell him if he walked in the room right now. That was so fabricated. There were a couple times with [Pierzynski] up there. And it would always occur in the playoffs.
“I give him credit. The gamesmanship with A.J., whatever. But really we got gamed a couple times.”
The play came with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning, the score tied 1-1, in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. Pierzynski struck out swinging at a pitch at or near the dirt and started to head back to the dugout as the game appeared to head to the 10th – until catcher Josh Paul rolled the ball back toward the mound and turned away.
Pierzynski then altered his path and ran to first, successfully making the case that the ball had bounced in the dirt, making it a live ball. Joe Crede then hit a game-winning double to tie the series, and the White Sox didn’t lose again that fall.
“The ball never bounced,” Maddon, then the Angels’ bench coach, still insists. “It was caught. If the ball actually bounced, the umpires would have called `safe’ immediately from the bases. Nobody said anything. … And then all of a sudden the play’s been changed.
“To overturn it like that almost requires replay to do that, which was not available then. And that play still is not reviewable.
“From the side I thought for sure he had caught it. And so did Josh. So did A.J.
“Yeah, I was kind of upset.”
Major League Baseball addressed it after the season with a rule change that makes that play an out, regardless of where the pitch is, once the batter surrenders the dirt area around the plate before running toward first.
Maddon still wonders how that series might have changed if the Angels had survived extra-innings and taken a 2-0 lead back to Anaheim, especially after the way they’d just come back to beat the Yankees in the division series.
“That was a big moment,” he said. “Of course, they may still have pitched that well. Their pitching was unbelievable. Who knows?”