Pierzynski powers Sox past Tigers
Veteran catcher knocks in five runs in series opener
DETROIT -- There's a bit of irony inherently attached to A.J. Pierzynski's three-run, game-winning home run coming in the seventh inning of Friday's 8-5 victory for the White Sox in Detroit.
Pierzynski has jumped out to a sizzling start with the bat through the first four games of the 2008 season, already posting one two-hit effort and two three-hit showings, including Friday's three-hit, five-RBI performance at Comerica Park. His success is due in large part to a thought process of shooting the ball up the middle, or hitting from left field to right field, which is something he has worked on with hitting coach Greg Walker since Spring Training.
So, in what direction did Pierzynski's 390-foot blast travel in the fateful seventh? Right field, of course, as the left-handed-hitting catcher pulled a blast into the right-center field stands.
The home run came on the first pitch from one-time White Sox hurler Jason Grilli (0-1), and came just two pitches after the inning started. Paul Konerko, who reached base four times with two hits and two walks, doubled to left-center on Grilli's first pitch. Jermaine Dye, whose three-hit effort has his average sitting at .471 through four games, singled to right on the next pitch, and that set the proverbial table for Pierzynski.
"As soon as Grilli comes in, we know he's going to try and go after you and throw strikes," said Pierzynski. "He made a couple mistakes that guys hit. It was one of those weird innings where he threw three pitches and gave up three runs. You don't see that very often."
"Sometimes it just works out," Konerko added. "We could have popped up three balls and that would have been the inning. We went up ready to hit."
Carrying a three-run lead, the White Sox bullpen once again worked out exactly as planned in the team's second straight victory after two consecutive losses in Cleveland to start the season. Octavio Dotel pitched a scoreless seventh, Scott Linebrink did the same in the eighth, and Bobby Jenks needed a diving catch by Dye on Edgar Renteria's line drive to strand two runners on base in the ninth.
Boone Logan picked up the victory. He replaced starter Jose Contreras following Brandon Inge's leadoff single in the sixth. Contreras said his pitches were working great in the bullpen before the game, but he seemed to lose his rhythm once he got to the mound.
The White Sox jumped to a 2-1 lead in the second on Carlos Quentin's first American League home run, only to have Contreras give the lead back in the second. The White Sox scored three more in the third, but Detroit answered back with three in the bottom of the inning.
To Contreras' credit, he never gave away the lead. And the offense behind him hardly slowed down against Tigers starter Nate Robertson and four relievers.
"He didn't throw the ball that bad. He just fell behind a lot of guys," said Pierzynski of Contreras, who gave up four runs on 10 hits in five-plus innings, but also walked four and threw only 56 of his 92 pitches for strikes. "But the bullpen did great."
"I understand this year, this team can come back," added Contreras, through translator Omer Munoz. "I'm very disappointed because my offense kept giving me the lead, and I couldn't hold it."
Quentin and Joe Crede joined Konerko, Dye and Pierzynski in Friday's multi-hit club, as the Tigers (0-4) remain baseball's only winless team. Leading the way was Pierzynski, with his first five-RBI game since Aug. 13, 2004 at Philadelphia.
Although he doesn't walk a great deal, Pierzynski is an outstanding contact hitter and an adept handler of the bat. These skills, combined with his extra work this spring, and a focus on improving the group's on-base percentage throughout the lineup, could make this season a big one for Pierzynski in regard to run productivity.
"As good as a contact hitter as he is, he should drive in a lot of runs," said Konerko. "He should get a lot of chances if Jim [Thome] and I and Jermaine are doing our jobs. He could be the key to the team. When you have a guy in the sixth hole doing what he's doing, that's a pretty tough sixth spot."
"There's no doubt, we're a lot better," added White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen on the effect of Pierzynski's strong hitting. "Most of the time, A.J.'s going to come with a big at-bat because Konerko, Thome, Dye, they're going to have a good opportunity to be on base."
That collective chip sitting on the shoulders of the White Sox this season, which has manifested itself in a high energy level through the start of 2008, also has made its way to Pierzynski. He certainly won't hit over .500 this year or contend for the Triple Crown, as he finds himself doing after four games. But he will produce a fair share of hits to right field, as well as hit back up the middle or to left with particular pitches.
But Pierzynski ultimately will play a major role in the offense hitting on all cylinders such as Friday, eventually leading to a bump in the win column.
"Let's be honest. We stunk last year, myself included, I wasn't very good," Pierzynski said. "We have a lot of professional guys that want to win and expect to win, and that's what we want to do this year. Come out and play as hard as we can and win games."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.