The controversial play involving Yasmani Grandal in the bottom of the fourth of inning of Game 3 of the American League Division Series Sunday night at Guaranteed Rate Field evoked memories of another pivotal moment in White Sox playoff history involving another Sox catcher.
With Luis Robert on third and Jose Abreu on first, nobody out, and the Sox leading 7-6, Grandal hit a ground ball toward first base Sunday.
Houston first baseman Yuli Gurriel fielded the ball and fired toward home plate.
His throw glanced off the left shoulder of Grandal, who was running toward first with both feet on the infield grass.
Robert dived safely into home plate, bowling over umpire Tom Hallion.
Houston manager Dusty Baker argued interference, but the play was ruled a fielder’s choice, with an error on Gurriel. The Sox ended the inning with a 9-6 lead en route to a 12-6 win, perhaps turning the series momentum in their favor.
It had eerie echoes of a similarly game-changing playoff moment in Game 2 of the 2005 American League Championship Series against the Angels, when Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski ran to first on a “dropped” third strike. The moment turned the tide in a series that seemed to be going the Angels’ way.
The synchronicity of the events was accented by the fact that Pierzynski was part of Sunday’s FS1 broadcast team.
After the game, Hallion said he explained to Baker, “The batter-runner was in fair territory, but that doesn’t matter on that play. As long as he is not doing something, the whole key is that he has to do something intentional.”
Hallion said Grandal established his base path when he started running.
“He didn’t veer off. He didn’t throw up his shoulder. He did nothing intentional to get hit with that ball.”
In the postgame news conference, Baker said, “The umpire said once the ball is in play, unless he does something intentional to interfere with the ball. But clearly he was running inside. I mean, that’s interference in itself. That was a big play.”
Baker added, “I was arguing the fact that especially him being a catcher, you know, he knows what he was doing.”
Baker said he used an example from his time as manager with the Washington Nationals, in Game 5 of the 2017 National League Division Series against the Cubs.
“I think it was Javier Baez got in the way of — touched (Matt) Wieters, our catcher, on the third strike, and Wieters threw the ball away, and everybody scored, and that was very — that’s what I told the umpire. That was very, very similar to that play that we had in Washington that we came up on the short end as well.”
Houston catcher Martin Maldonado offered some insight on the rule. “I think the rule is different when, you know, you are throwing to first instead of first to home,” But, he said, “I think it was clear that he was on the grass.”
Manager Tony La Russa said Hallion made the right call.
“You create your baseline. It’s in the rule.”
La Russa defended his player, saying, “I guarantee you that there was no intent to interfere with that play. I can guarantee it.”
Grandal said, “I wish I could tell you it was a heads-up play. I just saw the replay and I didn’t even know that I was running that far inside the line. I was actually just trying to get to first. It takes me a long time to get there.”
On the broadcast, Pierzynski said, “He’s crazy-inside the baseline right here. He’s in the grass. Doesn’t get out of the way of the ball.
“I’m not going to say he did that on purpose, but he did that on purpose. He stuck his shoulder right into that ball.”
Commentator Adam Wainwright said, “I just got a text that said, ‘That is a very A.J. Pierzynski play.'”