Says Pierzynski, "I finished my hand--it took two minutes--and attended the meeting. I've never missed a meeting."
The Giants had enough of him after one year. Rather than pay Pierzynski the $4.5 million or so he was likely to earn through arbitration, they signed free agent Mike Matheny, 34, and cut the 27-year-old lefthanded-hitting catcher who was coming off a career-best 77-RBI season. Pierzynski signed with Chicago for $2.25 million--only after Harrelson told him the Sox needed his grit and Williams urged him to shed his reputation as an unlikeable agitator.
"I probably made more phone calls on A.J. than I have for any other player," Williams says. "I must have talked to him for 10 hours or more. They were very candid conversations. I told him, 'Even if we don't sign you, you need to know this, for yourself and your family.'
"You know who he is? He's that Little League catcher who you have to remind, 'Don't make fun of the other batters when they strike out. Just let them strike out.'"
pierzynski hit .257 with a career-high 18 homers, the most by a Sox catcher in 12 years. He batted .167 in the ALCS but contributed a home run in Game 4 and two of the series' most memorable plays without the benefit of a hit. With the score tied and two outs in the ninth inning of Game 2, Pierzynski whiffed on a low pitch by righthander Kelvim Escobar. Third-string catcher Josh Paul, assuming he had caught the pitch cleanly, rolled the ball to the mound and ran to the dugout. Pierzynski took one step toward his dugout but wheeled and dashed to first base on the chance that the ball had nicked the ground before Paul caught it. (Replays were inconclusive.) Home plate umpire Doug Eddings gave no audible call but motioned with his right fist as if to signal an out--he later said that this was his "mechanic" for calling a strike--and then ruled Pierzynski safe at first base. Three pitches later, after pinch runner Pablo Ozuna had stolen second and scored on a double by Joe Crede, the game was over and the momentum of the series permanently altered.
"My dad told me it was a smart move to run like that," Pierzynski says. "I also got a lot of text messages from people saying, 'That could only happen with you.' It's very true."
The series was decided in the eighth inning of Game 5 on another only-Pierzynski moment, again with Escobar pitching and two outs in a tie game. Aaron Rowand was at first, and Pierzynski chopped a ball that hit Escobar in the butt and caromed near the first base line. The pitcher picked it up and, according to first base umpire Randy Marsh, tagged out Pierzynski. But after Guillen argued, the umpires ruled (correctly, as replays showed) that Escobar had tagged Pierzynski with his empty glove while holding the ball in his right hand. Escobar was charged with an error. As the Angels brought in closer Frankie Rodriguez, the Sox teased Pierzynski about his knack for being disruptive.
"I get blamed for everything," Pierzynski said afterward. "That's O.K. I'm used to it."
Crede again knocked in the tiebreaking run, this time on an infield single, as Chicago went on to win 6--3. Contreras, continuing another trend, retired the last 15 batters. In the hands of Captain Chaos, Sox pitchers allowed only six hits and no runs after the sixth inning of each ALCS game.
"It's timeless," Konerko says of the White Sox way. "You watch the Little League World Series, and the team with the best pitching wins. It's no different on the big league level. We scratch out just enough runs and rely on our pitching. Now we just need to do it for one more week."