He stood on first base with that familiar bemused look, like the kid in the back of the classroom who has no idea--no idea!--whence that flying eraser came. A.J. Pierzynski's Chicago White Sox teammates razzed him from the dugout nearby, oblivious to the tension of an eighth-inning tie in the fifth game of the American League Championship Series on Sunday. "Why is it always you?" shouted infielder Geoff Blum.
"I would have gotten on him, too," first baseman Paul Konerko says, "but to get on A.J. you have to get in line."
Like ammonia, mace or Simon Cowell, Pierzynski is a chronic irritant. He has been called a jerk, a cancer, a provocateur, various unmentionable body parts and, most recently and affectionately, by his third set of teammates in three years, Captain Chaos. All it took to make him the White Sox catcher was getting run out of San Francisco (costing him about $2 million), spending 10 hours on the phone in candid conversations with wary Chicago general manager Kenny Williams and enduring a talking-to by White Sox announcer and family friend Ken (Hawk) Harrelson. In other words, for a salvage operation of a team that would lead the league in wins and baggage, Pierzynski was a perfect fit.
That Captain Chaos found a sweet home in Chicago was never more apparent than during the ALCS against the Los Angeles Angels. Pierzynski made possible both the series-changing run in Game 2 and the series-clinching run in Game 5 as only he can: by somehow reaching base twice on plays on which he was thought to be called out. You can look it up in your Polish-American dictionary: The Angels got Pierzynskied.
"Even when I don't do anything, I do something," Pierzynski said last Thursday.
He channeled the Zen master of catching, Yogi Berra, in more ways than just by uttering mind-bending aphorisms. Pierzynski became the first catcher since Berra in the 1956 World Series to catch four straight complete games in a postseason series.
Indeed, the 101st World Series will have a distinctly retro look. It's nostalgic enough to have the Series in Chicago, where on Saturday night it's scheduled to open for the first time since 1959 (when the Sox lost to the Dodgers in six games). The Sox haven't won the World Series since 1917, a drought exceeded only by the Cubs ('08). On top of that the Sox rotation is rendering moot closers, bullpen specialists, DHs, computers, maple-triple-dipped lacquered bats and most other conveniences of the modern game. They might as well show up on Saturday in wool uniforms and handlebar mustaches.
After Jose Contreras missed a complete game by two outs in a 3--2 Game 1 loss, Chicago's Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, Freddy Garcia and Contreras threw complete-game wins. Only once before--and not since there was a Mother's Day, commercial air travel, the Model T, Bibles in hotel rooms and Take Me Out to the Ball Game--has a team won four straight postseason games with four different starters and no relievers: the Cubs of Aught-Seven.
"That's something you're never going to see again," Pierzynski says.
Says Angels second baseman Adam Kennedy, "If they take that pitching staff into the World Series the way they've been throwing, nobody's going to beat them. They played perfect baseball. When they executed, with the stuff they have, we had no shot."