The least surprised people who witnessed A.J. Pierzynski’s latest controversy were his teammates, who have seen the White Sox catcher try every ploy to gain an advantage.
(Part’s of this, was quoted from the Chicago Tribune)
“A.J. is A.J.,” said designated hitter Carl Everett, no stranger to controversy. “People love to hate him. They don’t realize he plays hard. That’s what I admire about any teammate.”
Pierzynski’s head’s-up hustle Wednesday turned a ninth inning-ending strikeout into the start of a game-winning rally in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. It was a sampling of what the Sox admire about their catcher, who has found himself in the spotlight frequently since he arrived in spring training with allegedly heavy baggage from his one-season stop in San Francisco.
“There are a lot of people who give A.J. a bad rap for the way he goes about the game,” reliever Cliff Politte said. “But he plays hard, and he’s doing the little things right and always is thinking ahead.
“Like last night, I don’t know how many guys would think about running to first base. A.J. had his mind in the game, and as a hitter with the ball down on strike three, you’re assuming the ball is in the dirt and you have to run.”
There’s no gray area with Pierzynski, which might be the principal reason his teammates respect him.
“You heard things, and everyone has reputations and they might have rubbed some people the wrong way,” infielder Geoff Blum said. “Everyone has their own quirks, but you want to play with a guy who’s competitive and will do what it takes to win games. He’s definitely one of those guys.”
In the first inning of Game 1 of the AL Division Series, Pierzynski actually tried to bunt with runners at first and third with two outs in hopes of surprising Boston and third baseman Bill Mueller, who was playing deep.
After a failed attempt, Pierzynski hit a three-run homer to cap a five-run, first-inning rally.
In the eighth inning of a 5-0 loss to the New York Yankees on Aug. 20, Pierzynski saw pitcher Shawn Chacon trying to tag him high along the first-base line instead of tossing the ball to first base for the final out.
So Pierzynski raised his elbow in an attempt to jar the ball out of Chacon’s glove.
Chacon and Pierzynski had words, but Pierzynski wasn’t about to give Chacon an easy out.
“You don’t want to do it dirty, but you have to do it in a way to win games,” Politte said. “There are people who slide into second hard and break up a double play, which is dirty, but it’s the right play. You have to break up that play to get the guy on first.
“If you’re running and your elbow flies out, it’s part of it. It’s not like he’s taking a swing and knocking the ball out of the glove like [Alex Rodriguez did in the 2004 ALCS].”
Before Thursday’s workout at Angel Stadium, Pierzynski politely tried to downplay several questions about his role in Wednesday’s 2-1 victory that enabled the Sox to even this best-of-seven series at 1-1.
“I didn’t fake them out,” Pierzynski said of his play in which he struck out but broke toward first when he didn’t hear umpire Doug Eddings call him out. “I was off-balance. I took one step to the dugout and realized he didn’t tag me, so I ran. There’s no faking. It’s not like I took my helmet off and put my gear on and then ran to first. It just happened, and I always seem to be in the middle of it.”
Right fielder Jermaine Dye credited Pierzynski’s instincts as a catcher for making the comeback possible.
“It just so happens that he hears stuff from what umpires say on certain calls like that,” Dye said. He heard something that wasn’t familiar to him, so he ran. He knew the ball was a split-finger fastball in the dirt, and he took off running.”
Pierzynski’s body language usually is a tipoff. He usually flips the bat back after swinging at a poor pitch for a strikeout, pumps his fist after a teammate gets a key strikeout or spikes the ball after tagging a runner out at home plate.
Early this season, Pierzynski would fire the ball back to the mound if the pitcher had control problems or was working at a tedious pace. In Game 3 of the ALDS, he did it to Damaso Marte.
As Marte was in the midst of loading the bases in the sixth inning last Friday, Pierzynski was glaring into the Sox dugout after firing the ball back to Marte.
“You’re not going to please everybody,” backup catcher Chris Widger said. “And to be honest, A.J. really doesn’t care about anybody outside the guys in this clubhouse, and that’s why nobody here has had a problem with him. They know when he goes out there, he gives everything he has for this team.
“He’s always in the middle of any controversy, so it couldn’t happen to a better guy because A.J. is used to it. He can handle it better than everyone.”
Pierzynski’s motivation ran high as early as spring training, when he offered $100 to any teammate who hit a homer off San Francisco’s Brett Tomko, who had blasted him last season while with the Giants.
Pierzynski delivered on his promise. Joe Borchard found a $100 bill in his pants pocket after hitting a homer off Tomko.
“A.J. fits that whole line about judging a book by its cover,” Blum said. “You look on the outside and see some of the things he’s doing on the field that maybe you don’t think are appropriate. But once you get to know him, he’s a fierce competitor and, at times, maybe not your best qualities come out when you’re trying to win.”