CHICAGO – He tried not to second-guess himself. Jermaine Dye believed he made the right decision, and manager Ozzie Guillen backed him up, and that was good enough for the Chicago White Sox, even though the truth wasn't nearly that easy.
Every September, there are seminal moments that define a team, decisions that determine if a team spends October in a ballpark or on a couch. Whether Dye's choice – to catch Garret Anderson's fly ball in foul territory and allow the go-ahead run to score on a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning instead of letting the ball drop and keep alive the chance of escaping the inning tied – will be such a moment was the lingering question following the White Sox's 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday.
The White Sox came into the game with a chance to finish a sweep against the powerhouse Angels, who had their division won at the beginning of August. And they left it forlorn, a loss by second-place Minnesota no solace.
The situation played out exactly how the White Sox hoped it wouldn't. With the bases loaded in the eighth, Anderson's fly ball down the right-field line was curling foul. Dye was a good four steps across the right-field foul line when he saw the ball into his glove, spun and two-hopped a throw that didn't come close to nabbing Gary Matthews Jr. at the plate. Jose Arredondo and Francisco Rodriguez took care of the eighth and ninth innings, per their custom, and Dye played the situation again with his mental TiVo, trying to explain his rationale for catching the ball.
"That whole way running there, I was thinking, 'Should I drop it or not?' " Dye said. "It was too close to the line to make a decision. If I let it go and it ends up fair, two runs score. If not, it's a chance to get a double play. You never know."
He's right. The slow-footed Anderson could have hit into an inning-ending double play. Or he could have driven in career runs Nos. 1,283 through 1,286 with a home run.
"I think he did the right thing," Guillen said.
Perhaps another time Guillen would have let criticism fly. Not now, with the White Sox minus star outfielder Carlos Quentin and third baseman Joe Crede following injuries. He's handling his team with the sort of touch only he can, encouraging the daily pregame banter among reliever Octavio Dotel, infielder Juan Uribe and clubhouse manager Vinny Fresso. And that consists of Dotel and Uribe bellyaching about something new – and ludicrous – and roping poor Fresso into their repartee.
Hey, it hasn't gotten old, and such looseness helped turn the White Sox from afterthought into frontrunner. Dye, in particular, is having a monster season, and with Quentin's injury likely to sideline him the remainder of the year, the 33-year-old Dye – with 32 home runs and a .558 slugging percentage – can leap into the MVP race.
That presumes the White Sox hold on in the Central. Which, too, presumes Sunday's decision will somehow be rendered moot.
"I've let it go before," Dye said. "We knew what to do in that situation. The ball was too close to the line for me to make a for-sure decision."
Dye's argument holds water until that final sentence. He wasn't too close to the line. The ball was nearly in the stands. Anyway, Dye should know right field at U.S. Cellular Field like his bedroom. Just because foul territory is limited doesn't hinder him from making spur-of-the-moment fair-foul calls.
"I don't think it was obviously foul off the bat," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "With Garret up there, I'm sure he's trying to make an out. I thought Jermaine made a nice play on it.
"Certainly, outs are precious in this game, and for the most part, you're going to try to get as many as you can when you can."
True enough, and there are plenty of arguments for Dye's decision. Six outs remained, and Chicago's offense and stadium are a potent enough combination that a one-run disadvantage isn't egregious, even with a looming K-Rod, who Sunday saved his 55th game after blowing one Saturday night. If the White Sox were on the road, with only one at-bat left, catching the ball would have been less egregious.
"It's not tough," Dye said. "You already know the situation. Once it's hit, you try to figure out whether it's fair or foul. I was too close."
To catch the ball … for comfort. Either works.
Because Dye did what he thought was right. He caught the ball, consequences and all, hoping his important moment that day doesn't graduate to his team's most crucial for the whole season.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Might as well get this in now, since they are bound to rip off a 10-game losing streak. The Dodgers are on a particularly Jekyllian streak now, having won eight straight and retaking first place in the National League West. They're doing it with an unrelenting offense that, in the past week, leads the majors with a .412 on-base percentage, ranks second with a .534 slugging percentage and features Andre Ethier (13 for 22 with three homers, nine RBIs, 10 runs, six walks and two strikeouts) and Manny Ramirez (eight walks and slugging .786 when they do pitch to him). When Angel Berroa, impatient as a four-year-old loaded on Pop Rocks, draws four walks in a week, you know someone from above is smiling. And with the struggles of other NL powers, the Dodgers – presumed dead a couple weeks back – look formidable.
Justin Morneau, Minnesota: He's doing his best to keep the faltering Twins afloat, though his triple and four RBIs Sunday weren't enough. The 2006 AL MVP hit a grand slam Friday to snap a three-game losing streak, and his candidacy for this year's award only grows with such big hits. Among players with at least 75 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, Morneau's 1.118 on-base-plus-slugging ranks third in baseball behind Albert Pujols and David Ortiz. At the same time, Morneau will challenge for the award again only if the Twins make the postseason, and after debilitating losses – see the next section for the reason – that's looking less likely.
Boston Red Sox: That's more like it. Winning. First place in the AL East in their grasp. And, best of all, Josh Beckett back. All season the Red Sox have survived with a less-than-his-best Beckett. If he comes back with a swagger in his return from elbow problems, the Red Sox are a dangerous team, the sort that won the World Series, remember, last season.
Three down (plus bonus one)
Tampa Bay Rays: The witching hour is upon them. The Rays went through one of these swoons before, heading into the All-Star break, and they came back as the strongest team in baseball. Until now. They're not hitting. Not pitching. Nothing is happening for Tampa Bay, which understands with Boston nipping, it can't rest on the first 140 games of the season and treat the final three weeks as an extended postseason tryout. Because the Rays are going to be there. Which version of them even they don't know.
Minnesota bullpen: Oh, the poor Twins. First they get booted from their home for two weeks so Sarah Palin can take from Joe Mauer the title of Most Beloved Figure to Step Foot in the City of Lakes. Then their sturdy bullpen goes in the toilet. Before Sunday's loss to Detroit, the Twins bullpen had been 0-7 with a 6.49 ERA in its last 14 games. With four straight blown saves and six of its last eight for naught, the Twins have made up no ground even with the White Sox losing Carlos Quentin.
Syracuse football: Fine. Pretty please fire Greg Robinson.
Since Aug. 1, Manny Ramirez has been the best hitter in baseball. The race isn't close, really, Albert Pujols the only one close to Ramirez. The title of worst belongs to Kosuke Fukudome, though a handful of others are on the prowl.
Here are the dozen best and worst players since the trade deadline, with pitchers to come next week:
Skeptical Hometown Columnist of the Week
When in need of some old-fashioned – and well-reasoned – skepticism in Chicago, there is no better source than the Sun-Times' Greg Couch, whose mid-week broadside only foreshadowed the problems to come for the Cubs:
Just keep smiling. Stand there, admire the beautiful ivy, the green grass, the blue sky. Keep smiling, Cubs, and maybe we won't notice that Carlos Zambrano is hurt. Maybe we'll think that Rich Harden is taking a midseason vacation, not nursing an injury.
Keep smiling, and Cubdom stays a beautiful place into September and the pennant run.
'Believe me,'' Cubs manager Lou Piniella said with a smile Wednesday before his team extended its losing streak to a season-high five games with a 4-0 loss to the Astros. ''We sent him (Zambrano) out there (to pitch) yesterday thinking that he was perfectly fine to go out there. If not, we wouldn't have sent him out there. Believe me.''
That's two believe me's.
I don't believe. The Cubs have a serious problem here, and it shows just how fragile the dream season is.
Matchup of the Week
Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox, Monday through Wednesday
Since Gordon Edes covered the implications from the Rays' perspective quite thoroughly, perhaps it's best to see Boston's point of view. Which would best be described with a big, smiley emoticon. Life's good for the defending champions, who are 1½ games out of first with three to play against the team that occupies it. The Red Sox are hot, and their rotation lines up so that their three best pitchers, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Josh Beckett, face Tampa Bay. Certainly it's got to sting to see Manny Ramirez play Joe DiMaggio in Los Angeles, but that can't be of their concern anymore. A sweep puts them in first. A Rays shellacking relegates Boston to the wild card. Fenway Park vs. anywhere else? The choice is easy.
Playoff odds report
No surprise, the White Sox and Dodgers are now favored to win their divisions in 10,000 rest-of-the-season simulations by AccuScore.
Their surges this week provided the most movement in the predictions, which confirmed that in spite of terrible weeks, the Rays and Cubs would need to choke worse than the Mets last season to fritter away their advantages. Same goes for the Brewers and Red Sox, who are atop the wild-card standings.
Last week's percentages are in parentheses.
American League Los Angeles Angels 100 percent (100 percent)
Tampa Bay Rays 97.6 percent (98.2 percent)
Boston Red Sox* 92.1 percent (87.0 percent)
Chicago White Sox 59.7 percent (44.2 percent)
Minnesota Twins 45.5 percent (67.4 percent)
National League Chicago Cubs 97.9 percent (99.4 percent)
Milwaukee Brewers* 93.4 percent (94.6 percent)
New York Mets 64.9 percent (61.8 percent)
Los Angeles Dodgers 64.1 percent (44.3 percent)
Arizona Diamondbacks 35.4 percent (55.4 percent)
Philadelphia Phillies 34.8 percent (38.4 percent)
* – Wild-card leader
"We actually Googled the trip, and we were Googled to East Liverpool, Pa. Who in the heck knows? On the sheet we had, it was Cincinnati to Liverpool. I was thinking, I was in Cincinnati three years, and I didn't remember a Liverpool around the area." – Cubs manager Lou Piniella, who got lost driving from Chicago to Cincinnati and, once and for all, confirmed that when in doubt, just use Yahoo! Maps.