Mark Grace was dead in the dirt at Comiskey Park, a fitting symbol of the way things have gone this year for the beleaguered Cubs.
With two outs in the eighth inning Saturday and the White Sox clinging to a one-run lead in another crosstown classic, Sean Lowe picked Grace off first with Sammy Sosa at the plate and the tying run on third.
American League Central.
After Keith Foulke pitched a perfect ninth to record his 14th save, the great debate began: Did Lowe really pick off Grace or did the Sox right-hander commit a balk that should have scored the game-tying run?
Grace accepted full responsibility for the blunder, but also offered the opinion that Lowe had balked by stepping toward home on a fake-to-third, throw-to-first pickoff play.
"That's the first time I ever got 'got' by it," Grace said. "It's either a heck of a move, or they got away with it ... You're not going to get a tying-run balk at Comiskey Park. As a veteran ballplayer, I know that."
Lowe, who had Sosa down 0-2 in the count and had just tried a similar pickoff move, said it was the first time he could recall having it work on a major-league baserunner.
Bench coach Joe Nossek called for the move a second time. He had a gut feeling the Cubs were going to attempt a delayed steal.
When informed that Grace insisted the Sox got a hometown decision from the umpires who didn't call a balk, Lowe raised his eyebrows.
"Now it's like that?" he said. "When have we ever had [umpires] come out and [say], 'Oh, we're in Comiskey, we're going to make a call'? When has that happened? The way I look at it, if it's a balk, it's a balk. I didn't think I balked.
"I was just trying to pick my leg up, do it quick. I wasn't even really trying to get him. It was just a matter of 'maybe you can.' It happens sometimes. Maybe he should have been paying attention more."
Sox manager Jerry Manuel said he didn't plan to look at the replay to see if it really was a balk.
"I was obviously surprised that [Grace] was caught off guard, such as he was," Manuel said. "I'm not an umpire. Sometimes things work your way."
Thing have been working the White Sox's way for quite a while now. They've won nine of 10 and five straight series in the prelude to their two-week stretch of games against the Indians and Yankees.
Mike Sirotka evened his record at 5-5, allowing three runs on six hits in seven innings. He struck out Sosa three times, leaving Sosa with eight strikeouts in 10 at-bats in the first two games of the series.
"He's a great hitter but he's having trouble getting to fastballs," Sirotka said. "If they're good down and out or they're good up and in, he's really having trouble getting to it."
After Grace homered in the sixth to tie the game 2-2, the Sox scored twice off Kerry Wood (2-4) in the bottom of the inning on an RBI single by Carlos Lee and a sacrifice fly by Herbert Perry. Wood allowed only three hits in his six innings of work, but walked seven and watched two of them score, one on a first-inning two-run homer to right by Magglio Ordonez.
The Sox will go for their second sweep over the Cubs in two years Sunday, with ace James Baldwin facing Ismael Valdes.
"Sometimes when you win the first two games [of a series] you kind of ease off the third day because you know you've got the series," Paul Konerko said. "But I wouldn't expect that with us. We know two out of three is good, but this place will go crazy with a sweep."
Lowe's 'Pick' clicks
Third-to-first move catches Grace off guard, off base.
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