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BOB RYAN

Angels paid price for no tag

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- I had a chance to sleep on it, fly cross-country and think about it, read and listen to what the principals had to say about it, and even talk to the guy whose quick thinking set the thing in motion.

So here's the deal: The way I see it, there were two heroes, two villains, one cheated hero, and one unsung hero in The Great Third Strike Controversy of 2005.

Heroes 1. A.J. Pierzynski

By running to first base, he did what a smart player should do, especially if he happens to be a catcher himself. And did you know that the Red Sox figured into his thinking? Figures.

According to Mark Whicker of the Orange County Register (and, I would think, many other scribes whose work I have not seen), Pierzynski thought back to the events of June 20, 2004, when the Red Sox played his former team, the Giants, in San Francisco. Bronson Arroyo missed a bunt attempt for strike three. Pierzynski did not field the ball cleanly. Arroyo headed to the dugout, but before he got there, Jason Varitek yelled at him to run to first base. Pierzynski did not throw, and Arroyo was safe.

''That sort of stuck in my mind," Whicker quoted Pierzynski as saying.

2. Mike Scioscia

The Angels' skipper may have vented in private. He was certainly entitled. But in public, his response was not merely taking the high road. It was scaling Mount Everest.

''There's a lot of focus on that play," Scioscia said. ''But we didn't play at a high enough level tonight to win the ballgame. That's the bottom line. If there's a call you don't get, or something happens -- bloop, whatever it might be -- you have to play at a high enough level that you should be able to absorb it.

''We didn't get it done offensively. Our guys pitched their hearts out, and in the end [Joe] Crede came up with the big hit."

It wouldn't be a bad idea to put that quote up in every high school, college, and professional locker room in America. That is a class act speaking.

What he did will resonate in his own profession for a long time. ''I have more respect for Mike Scioscia today than I did yesterday," declared White Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen at yesterday's press briefing. ''I say that from the bottom of my heart. When Mike went down and said, 'We should win the game; there's no excuse,' that's the way I like it because that's the way I talk to my players. 'Don't use it as an excuse, we'll get it tomorrow. We have a chance.' "

Villains

1. Doug Eddings

The home plate umpire had to make a very difficult call, but it would have been impossible for him to have bungled the situation worse than he did. Simply put, after Pierzynski swung and missed at a Kelvim Escobar 3-and-2 splitter, Eddings clearly signaled strike three/inning's over, no strings attached. He then appeared to change his mind once Pierzynski began to move toward first, where Eddings hastily constructed an explanation that was shamelessly backed up by no fewer than five umpires, including crew chief Jerry Crawford, in what could only be described as the umpire's version of a ''Blue Wall" response to the situation.

According to Eddings, his elaborate fist pump meant ''strike three," but not necessarily the third out. Sure.

Eddings can carry out his little charade till the day he dies, but he is forever caught on video declaring the end of that inning. He should have been suspended by his superior. No, all six of them should have been suspended for the rest of this series.

We all watched the replay over and over and we all know how very difficult a call it was. But that ceased to be the point once the umpires allowed Eddings to lie and then attempted to cover up for him.

2. Josh Paul

Paul is supposed to be a professional catcher. He should have acted like one.

How many superfluous post-strike-three tags at home plate do we all see catchers make a year? 50? 100? 500? Catchers routinely tag batters who have struck out on balls in the dirt all the time. Varitek sure does. If there is the slightest doubt (and in this case, there was plenty), tag the guy. If Paul had only done that, the game would have proceeded to the 10th and we would have had the pleasure of seeing Mark Buehrle go out for at least one more inning.

I was prepared to cut Paul some slack. People are human. They can err. He says he never heard anything emit from Eddings's lips about the ball being in the dirt, so he rolled it out to the mound. Then I picked up the local papers to read what this third-string catcher had to say.

''It's not my fault," he said. ''I take no responsibility for that, whatsoever."

That is not what we need to hear, and if I were Scioscia, I'd be taking this guy into the principal's office. How dare Josh Paul absolve himself of responsibility, when he could have avoided all the controversy by doing what catchers all over creation do each and every night?

A little, ''I wish I had that moment back," would be in order.

Cheated Hero

Crede

''If Joe Crede pops up," said White Sox backup catcher Chris Widger, ''we wouldn't still be talking about this." How true. Far from popping up, Crede ripped Escobar's hanging splitter into the left-field corner for the winning hit. Joe Crede has been reduced to a trivia answer.

Unsung Hero

Pablo Ozuna

Crede's shot into the corner would have created a second-and-third, two-out situation had pinch runner Ozuna not been on second. And why was he on second? Because he had stolen second base without a throw; that's why. So there are two trivia answers in this controversial tale.

Let us give the White Sox an A-plus for postseason opportunism. The Tony Graffanino error would have meant nothing if, instead of serving up a three-run homer, David Wells had retired Tadahito Iguchi on a grounder to short, fly to left, or a strikeout. But he didn't.

On Wednesday night, Pierzynski was still a long way from becoming the winning run, the situation being man on first, two away. The White Sox got him home.

I hate messy endings. I hate loose ends. I hate needless what-ifs? (''Tuck Rule," anybody?). The reality is that in all our games, these close-call situations will keep occurring, and when they do, it is the responsibility of the participants and officials to do their best to uncomplicate things. Doug Eddings and Josh Paul complicated things.

You want further confusion? It was said many times in the aftermath of Game 2 that umpires routinely alert both batter and catcher when a ball is in the dirt by saying, ''No catch." But Widger says that isn't so, and that the opposite is true. ''They'll tell you it's good by saying, 'That's a catch,' " Widger maintains. ''They do not say, 'Not a catch.' "

Whatever.

I would wager that from now on every catcher in the universe will be tagging everyone else in the universe on any borderline low, swinging strike threes. ''I think you'll see catchers tagging guys after they strike out on high fastballs," said Pierzynski.

Let's see if it holds true for the arrogant Josh Paul.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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