MILWAUKEE — Much like the Chicago White Sox didn't lose Friday night's game against the Milwaukee Brewers due to a fluctuating strike zone, they didn't lose Saturday night's game because of the confusion over a fifth-inning challenge.
But without a doubt, it was confusing as hell.
At the end of the night, the story was the same as it was the night before: The White Sox scored just one run, kept at bay by an uber talented Brewers pitching staff. Against a fellow World Series contender, another Central Division leader, two runs in two nights is rarely, if ever, going to get the job done. When that first-place lineup blasts four home runs, forget it. It's a 6-1 loss.
But few onlookers were able to move on from what happened in the fifth inning, when Yoán Moncada's run came off the board and what should've been a White Sox rally in a four-run game never got off the ground.
Moncada reached on the first of three straight singles to start the fifth. The bases were loaded, no one was out, and the White Sox looked mighty capable of closing what was at the time a 4-0 gap. It was hard to say Brewers starting pitcher Corbin Burnes was on the ropes, but he was in a jam, and it seemed to be on the verge of snowballing when Leury García's swinging bunt brought Moncada home for the White Sox first run.
It was 4-1.
Well, looking live from right behind home plate, it sure looked like Moncada whiffed. He was called safe, but after the Brewers appealed, throwing the ball home and having the catcher touch the plate, they challenged the play and indeed Moncada didn't touch home. The run came off the board.
"I thought I was safe," Moncada said through team interpreter Billy Russo. "I didn't realize that I had missed home plate. And it was my fault."
But the conversations between manager Tony La Russa and the umpires kept on happening, La Russa curious as to why the Brewers were able to challenge a play that was more than 20 seconds old. The Brewers issuing their challenge after their pitching coach went out for a mound visit also seemed to be of interest to the South Side skipper.
The umpires went to the headsets a second time, this time as a rule check to make sure the Brewers were allowed to challenge a play after a mound visit. They determined the challenge was legal, as the Brewers didn't make a pitching change, and the game spun on without a run on the board for the White Sox.
"The curious part was that it showed that he missed the plate, right? Normally you have 20 seconds with the guy in there with replay saying, 'Hey, he missed the plate,' you come out and make the call," La Russa said after the game. "But when you have that much time, which includes a trip to the mound by the pitching coach, it's very unusual.
"I remember when we worked on the replay myself, I was working on it (when working in the Major League Baseball office). We were always looking at things that teams would do to increase the number or seconds or minutes they had to make the call. One of them was a trip to the mound. That's what I said. Something isn't right here.
"I thought we had put in a rule. I thought we did. Maybe it's not there anymore, that you couldn't make a trip to the mound and afterward make a challenge. They said that's not true.
"But it is unusual that they would have had him missing the plate and they didn't just come out right away. I don't know why the delay."
So what about that whole 20-second thing? While the explanations were not exactly complete, it seemed that the appeal play — which of course predates video replay and baseball fans have seen countless times when a runner touching base is in question, the pitcher throwing to the base prior to the start of the next at-bat — might have had something to do with it, the Brewers challenging within 20 seconds of the appeal, or the official completion of the play.
But that's as best as this writer can understand it. It was unique to the "appealing a runner touching a base" situation.
That's not likely to ease the frustrations of White Sox Twitter, of course, but again, the South Siders didn't lose because of this confusing bit of back and forth.
The offense has been generally absent the first two days of this potential October preview, and getting outscored 13-2 is not a function of any umpiring decisions. Carlos Rodón was unusually touched up for a pair of homers Saturday night, and his defense didn't help him much, making a couple misplays in a two-run fourth for the Brewers. While the White Sox had six hits, same as the Brewers, three of those came in that fifth inning as less-than-picture-perfect singles.
For anyone suggesting the confusion halted a White Sox rally, they still had the bases loaded and one out after all that. Moncada didn't score, remember, and that the Brewers were allowed to prevent the White Sox from stealing a run is not a strong case that the game should have flipped in outcome.
Zack Collins drew a bases-loaded walk to force in a run and keep Burnes in the heat of a jam. But pinch hitter Jake Burger struck out and Tim Anderson flew out to end the inning, wasting a prime chance and stranding runners in scoring position.
"They have a good pitching staff, and they've shown it," Moncada said. "We have to keep grinding and keep finding ways to score runs."
This is no great analytical suggestion, of course, but the White Sox, if this is to be a true October preview, best figure out how to play better against these Brewers. The umpires might have found their way into the headlines in each of the first two games of this series. The White Sox bats haven't found their way much of anywhere.
"We've had such outstanding support from fans that drove from Chicago," La Russa said, "that we're disappointed that we haven't played better and they've seen two losses."