Pierzynski shrugs off 'hero' label
White Sox acknowledge dispute, look ahead to Game 3
ANAHEIM -- The 'H' word seemed almost as strange to A.J. Pierzynski as the play that actually had a hand in deciding the final outcome of the American League Championship Series' second game Wednesday night at U.S. Cellular Field.
Pierzynski was a hero, or at least that description was being thrown about by the media members who circled the White Sox catcher in the visitors' clubhouse Thursday prior to a team workout at Angel Stadium. Never at a loss for words, Pierzynski quipped that he felt a bit claustrophobic, but he certainly didn't feel as if he did anything special on Wednesday night.
In fact, Pierzynski struck out on a bad full-count offering from Kelvim Escobar, which would have resulted in a two-out walk, but instead appeared to extend the taut contest into extra innings. But just when it looked like every possible wild scenario had been played out in the game of baseball, Pierzynski's at-bat came along.
Home-plate umpire Doug Eddings ruled that third-string catcher Josh Paul had trapped Escobar's strikeout pitch, despite apparently signaling the third out with his right hand, meaning Paul needed to either tag Pierzynski or throw the ball to Darin Erstad at first. Instead, Paul rolled the ball back to the mound and Pierzynski reached first on the error.
Pablo Ozuna ran for Pierzynski and promptly swiped second base, scoring the game-winner on Joe Crede's walk-off double off Escobar's hanging splitter. It was Pierzynski's hustle and quick thinking that made the White Sox a national phenomena, and made their catcher the talk of the town.
It was nothing special, though, in Pierzynski's estimation.
"Crede or [Mark] Buehrle deserves to be the hero, because I didn't do anything," Pierzynski said. "Crede still had to get the hit, and Buehrle still had to pitch the way he pitched or else we would lose that game and nobody even thinks about it.
"They did all the work. I didn't do anything. Like I said last night, I struck out."
Truth be told, the White Sox begrudgingly talked Thursday about the disputed ending to the franchise's first ALCS home victory. As center fielder Aaron Rowand said, the conversation was "tired, over and done with, and we have another game tomorrow."
Yet, it was hard to work around a possible series-altering play during one of the highest levels of postseason competition. First baseman Paul Konerko compared the call, on face value, to the play involving then 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier during Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS between the Yankees and Orioles.
The question of whether Paul caught Pierzynski's third strike or trapped it was not quite as definitive.
"There was an instance where it showed the wrong call was made last night and there was another instance where it was shown to be the right call," said Konerko, who watched the replay on ESPN's "SportsCenter" when he reached the team hotel in Anaheim. "So, you can throw all of that out. Any time something happens like that, it's going to be the story for at least a day, if not the week."
"Every time I've seen it, it looks like it could go either way," added Buehrle, who emerged as the winning pitcher. "One time he looks out, and one time he looks safe. I'm glad I wasn't put in that situation to make the call."
Pierzynski's hustle to first base apparently was born out of past experiences. The same situation played out when he was catching for the Giants in 2004, and Pierzynski said he was talking to the pitcher on the mound when the hitter in question almost ran out of the dugout to first base.
Hitting coach Greg Walker mentioned another moment from a July 15 game at Jacobs Field, when the home-plate umpire almost made the same call. With runners on first and second and four runs already in against Cleveland starter C.C. Sabathia, Juan Uribe struck out swinging to end the 44-pitch inning. But the umpire later told Walker that if Rowand, perched on second, had run to third instead of into the dugout, the inning would have continued.
The key to Wednesday's decision, in Walker's mind, was Pierzynski's slight turn toward the White Sox dugout before racing to first base.
"It was almost brilliant that he waited until they flipped the ball back," Walker said. "If he had taken one quick step, then Josh would have tagged him or thrown to first. The fact that he waited. ... The kid is just street smart.
"We have played so many close games this year. We lost some on crazy things and won some on crazy things. I think the key to it is we've been in so many, that nothing surprises us anymore."
When asked about his planned deception before running to first, Pierzynski once again showed a look of amazement. He did what he always knew was right, play until he's officially called out, and made no apologies for the ruling falling toward the White Sox.
And the White Sox had no regrets as to how they evened up the ALCS.
"There was no faking," said Pierzynski with a smile, after being told the sequence of events was being referred to as the 'A.J. Playzynski.' "It's not like I took my helmet off, put my gear on and then ran to first.
"It happened, and I wish we could get over it. It's time to worry about the game tomorrow."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.