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He Catches All the Breaks

Pierzynski is in the middle of three pivotal plays that help Chicago reach the World Series.

October 17, 2005|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

Again the umpires came off as clueless.

Again the Angels came off as foolish.

Again A.J. Pierzynski came off as opportunistic, hustling and cunning.

Who would have believed it? Especially the Pierzynski part.

A catcher reviled in his two previous major league stops is revered today in Chicago. Any recollection of the White Sox's first trip to the World Series since 1959 will include breathless descriptions of three pivotal plays, all involving Pierzynski.

A year ago he was run out of San Francisco after Giant pitchers accused him of being ill-prepared, lazy and a clubhouse cancer. Two years ago he was traded by Minnesota for the same reasons despite putting up solid offensive numbers.

Apparently, there were no such problems in Chicago.

"Our relationship was good," White Sox starter Jon Garland said. "He knows me as a pitcher. I know him as a catcher. He knew his role and responded all year long."

Maybe Pierzynski learned that it's better to be a catalyst than an irritant.

There he was, running to first base on a phantom bounced third strike in Game 2, selling the play to umpire Doug Eddings and triggering the first White Sox victory.

There he was, his mitt a tad too close to home plate on a swing by Steve Finley in Game 4, getting nicked by Finley's bat on what should have been catcher's interference. Umpire Ron Kulpa missed it, despite Finley's protestations when he should have been running full speed to first base, and an Angel rally was thwarted.

And there Pierzynski was again in the eighth inning of Game 5, smacking a ball off the backside of reliever Kelvim Escobar and dashing to first base while Escobar tagged him with an empty glove, the ball in his other hand. He was called out, but after a conference, officials ruled him safe.

A tie score became a White Sox lead one batter later and the Angels seemed too struck by the sheer implausibility of it all to fight back.

"It's kind of amazing," Escobar said. "Everything that happens always involves [Pierzynski]."

After each play Pierzynski wore a look of bemusement, as if the realization of his unlikely role in White Sox lore was becoming increasingly apparent. He has made a lot of people mad over the years, but this was plain crazy.

"Right place, right time," he said, shrugging amid a clubhouse celebration. "For me, it's just great being part of something like this."

Not all of his contributions have bordered on the bizarre. In eight postseason games, he is batting .286 with three home runs and six runs batted in. And he was behind the plate for all four White Sox complete-game victories against the Angels.

A teammate squirted champagne on Pierzynski's face. He laughed and squirted back. The White Sox lit cigars. They posed for pictures with their arms around one another's shoulders.

A career outcast had found something special that had nothing to do with his involvement in a succession of oddball plays -- a sense of belonging.

"I thought I did a pretty good job this year staying out of trouble," he said. "Now I've been part of what has to be one of the best pitching series of all time. For the White Sox to take me in, not just the team but the fans and the city, it's incredible."

The look of bemusement returned. Maybe this was the strangest turn of all.

"I fit in," he said. "I really fit in."

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