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"You know who he is? He's that Little League catcher who you have to remind, 'You don't make fun of the other batters when they strike out. Just let them strike out.'"
Pierzynski hit .257 during the regular season 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 most memorable plays without the benefit of a hit. With two outs in the top of the ninth inning of a tied Game 2, Pierzynski whiffed on a low pitch by righthander Kelvim Escobar. Third-string catcher Josh Paul, assuming he had caught the pitch without it having touched the ground, rolled the ball to the mound. 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 this was his mechanic for calling a strike--and then ruled Pierzynski safe at first base. Three pitches later, after pinch runner Pablo Ozuna stole second base and scored on a double by third baseman Joe Crede, the game was over and the momentum of the series was altered.
"My dad told me it was a smart move to run like that," said Pierzynski. "I also got a lot of text messages from people saying, 'That could only happen with you.' It's very true."
Such is Pierzynski's reputation that even when he made such an alert play--especially as compared to Paul's error in judgment--that he did not escape criticism. Wrote Bill Plaschke in the Los Angeles Times, "Would any of this have happened if Pierzynski wasn't one of the game's biggest irritants? A guy who probably ran to first base not just to win a game, but because it involved the added bonus of ticking somebody off?"
The controversy overshadowed a remarkably efficient outing by Buehrle, who allowed five hits and no walks and was so sharp "he was going back out for the 10th," Cooper said, if the game had remained tied. Buehrle threw first-pitch strikes to 25 of the 32 batters he faced.
Garland took the baton in the Sox' 4�9 relay with his own gem in Game 3, allowing just four hits and, after a two-run homer by Angels shortstop Orlando Cabrera in the sixth, mowing down the final 10 batters without a hint of trouble.
"It became almost a competition among these guys," Cooper said of his starters. "One guy would pitch a great game, and the next one wanted to match him, or do even better."
Garcia kept the streak going in Game 4 with a six-hitter as the White Sox erupted for an 8-2 win. For the second straight game Konerko blasted a first-inning homer that put Chicago ahead, this time 3-0. The White Sox also made good use of a hit batter and six walks by Angels pitchers; they would enjoy a 20-5 advantage in the series in such free base runners.
Of course, the deciding fifth game turned on yet another purely Pierzynski moment--and again, as in Game 1, with Escobar pitching in a tie game, this night with two out in the eighth inning. With centerfielder Aaron Rowand at first base, Pierzynski, apropos of his reputation, made a literal pain in the butt of himself by smacking a bouncer off Escobar's backside. The ball caromed near the first base line, where Escobar grabbed it with his bare hand, lunged at Pierzynski and, according to first base umpire Randy Marsh, tagged him out.
After Guillen argued, the umpires convened and overturned Marsh's out call, ruling (correctly, as replays showed) that Escobar had tagged Pierzynski with an empty glove while holding the ball in his right hand. Escobar was charged with an error. Captain Chaos took his helmet off at first base and gave a devilish grin. As the Angels replaced Escobar with Frankie Rodriguez, the White Sox teased Pierzynski for his knack for being disruptive.