Adds Sox pitching coach Don Cooper, "When a pitching staff is doing as well as we are this year, there are two things you have to look at: the defense behind them and the person in front of them calling the game. [Pierzynski] remembers the game plan and follows it."
entering the World Series the Sox will have played only eight games (seven of them wins) in 20 days, a restful stretch that seems to agree with their starting pitchers. A robust Garland, for instance, working on 13 days' rest in Game 3, smothered the Angels 5--2 on four hits, with darting 94-mph four-seam fastballs instead of his usual steady supply of 90-mph sinkers.
"He looked like it was Opening Day," Cooper said.
The Sox have a timeless pitching philosophy: attack the strike zone early in the count and work quickly. They rarely stray from the rubber between pitches, and because Pierzynski calls the game himself, they don't need to wait for signals to be relayed from the dugout. Cooper shoots for an almost unheard-of 70% first-pitch strikes (the Sox had 64% against Los Angeles), innings of 13 or fewer pitches ( Chicago averaged 12.4 in the ALCS) and at bats that are dictated by the first three pitches. (The Angels had only four walks and only 11 other plate appearances with even three balls.)
Ozzie Guillen, the manager who oversees the staff, is old school--if your idea of old school is as much Jackie Mason (with whom Williams compares Guillen for his blunt humor) as John McGraw. As a coach with the Expos, Guillen once handed in only five names on his end-of-season team evaluation. "They're the only ones here who can play," he reasoned.
His 2003 managerial interview began with Williams explaining that Cito Gaston was the front-runner for the job, and then telling Guillen that he had a lot of convincing to do if he wanted to land the post. Guillen's response: "Go to hell." He largely ignores scouting reports and computers, uses a glass desk only slightly larger than a TV snack tray to underscore his lack of interest in paperwork, and limits his inventory of in-game information to two laminated two-by-three cards.
"If a pitcher's going good, we leave him in," Cooper says. "And if he's not, we get him out. How revolutionary."
Pierzynski says he quickly grew comfortable playing for Guillen and with Chicago's other castoffs, such as Contreras (traded by the Yankees), closer Bobby Jenks (waived by the Angels), outfielder Jermaine Dye (let go as a free agent by the A's) and DH Carl Everett (traded by the Expos). Before being dealt to the Giants in November 2003, Pierzynski played 10 seasons in the Minnesota Twins' organization, developing a reputation as a pest who might step on a hitter's bat after he leaves the batter's box or elbow a fielder while running to first base.
"He's the classic guy you hate as an opponent but love as a teammate," says Konerko, the ALCS MVP with two home runs and seven RBIs.
With San Francisco, however, Pierzynski irritated teammates, too. One of them anonymously called him "a cancer" and said he once played cards for 20 minutes rather than attend a meeting to review opposing hitters.