As the baseball rolled toward the U.S. Cellular Field mound Wednesday night, A.J. Pierzynski was closing in on first base with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning.
On deck for the Chicago White Sox, Joe Crede was returning to the dugout to fetch his glove for the 10th inning.
Nine Angels were headed toward their dugout. Chicago Manager Ozzie Guillen was considering a pitching change. Robb Quinlan was thinking about leading off the 10th.
The inning was over, extra innings coming, for all but Pierzynski and plate umpire Doug Eddings, who had waved his right hand and then clenched it, two gestures, he said, for a swinging strike, no calls for the out.
Three pitches later, Crede doubled home pinch-runner Pablo Ozuna from second base and the White Sox won, 2-1, to even the best-of-seven American League championship series at one game apiece.
On a crucial and controversial call that brought screams of protest from the Angels and shrugs from the White Sox, Eddings ruled that Josh Paul had trapped Kelvim Escobar's split-fingered fastball, a swinging strike three to Pierzynski.
In that case, the out had to be recorded by tagging Pierzynski or throwing to first base. Paul, believing the inning was over, instead underhanded the ball toward the mound. Pierzynski, sensing Eddings' hesitance, dashed to first after taking a couple of steps toward his own dugout.
"I didn't hear him call me out, so I thought -- I thought for sure the ball hit the ground," Pierzynski said. "I watched the replay 50 times and I still don't know."
Angel Manager Mike Scioscia argued that Paul caught the ball before it hit the ground, that Eddings called Pierzynski out and then changed his mind.
Eddings said he called no such thing. He said he believed the ball was live, even after the two motions he made with his right arm.
Scioscia's on-field debate centered on Paul making the catch, and also on Eddings' gestures, which many interpreted as calling the third out. It was that call that caused the Angels to abandon their positions and Paul to relinquish the ball.
"My interpretation is that's my 'strike three' mechanic when it's a swinging strike," Eddings said. "If you watch, that's what I do the whole entire game."
While many Angels viewed the replay and concluded that Paul had wrapped the webbing of his mitt beneath the ball, Eddings, his crew, and umpire supervisor Rich Rieker agreed that Paul had trapped it.
Using what Rieker called, "some technology," the six-man umpiring crew viewed the replay and determined the ball had actually hit the dirt.
"We saw a couple different angles," Eddings said, "and if you watch it, the ball changes direction."
It is possible the ball ricocheted from the end of Paul's mitt into the pocket, but replays appeared to show a clean catch.
After his initial argument, Scioscia left the field, then returned after learning of the replay. He appealed the call to third-base umpire Ed Rapuano, who would have had the best view of the pitch to the left-handed Pierzynski. After a short consultation with Rapuano, Eddings pointed to the ground, meaning they agreed, the ball had been trapped.
As the Angels fumed in their clubhouse, Eddings sat beside Rieker and crew chief Jerry Crawford in an interview room across the hall.
"At this point," Rieker said, "I would say at best it's inconclusive. I wouldn't totally agree that the ball was caught, but there was a change in direction there that we saw and the replay is available to us."
Eddings said of his third-strike routine -- the sweep of his right hand, then the clenched fist: "It's never been an issue until now."