The Mets just signed Kelvim Escobar to a one-year deal. At least in the National League he won’t have to deal with A.J. Pierzynski.
The following is an excerpt from the “Tag Appropriately” chapter of The Baseball Codes that didn’t make the final cut. (All told, 250,000 words from the initial manuscript were trimmed to about 100,000 for the final edition.) This tale involves as its primary characters Escobar, Pierzynski and Pierzynski’s infuriating personality.
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In the deciding contest of the 2005 American League Championship Series it seemed as if Angels pitcher Kelvim Escobar disliked White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski more than he liked winning playoff games. In the eighth inning, with the game tied 3-3, two outs and a runner on first, Pierzynski hit a comebacker to Escobar, which ricocheted off the pitcher and toward the first-base line. The reliever pounced on the ball and tagged the runner . . . with an empty glove. The baseball, still in his throwing hand, never touched Pierzynski, who looked back at the pitcher as he ran past, as if to indicate that very point.
Escobar then threw to first in a futile attempt to make a play. After initially calling Pierzynski out, the umpiring crew deliberated, and decided he was safe after all. Joe Crede followed with a run-scoring single to give the White Sox the lead and, an inning later, the game and the series.
It was more than just a bone-headed move by Escobar, however. It was borne of equal parts anger and frustration with Chicago’s catcher.
“It had to be me in that situation,” said Pierzynski after the game in an Agence France Presse report, “because I’m the only person it would happen to.”
Pierzynski was the only person it would happen to at least in part because of his propensity for ending up in the middle of controversial plays that went the White Sox’s way.
During Game 2, in a 1-1 tie with two outs in the ninth inning, Escobar struck Pierzynski out, but umpires ruled that the ball hit the ground before Anaheim catcher Josh Paul caught it. Paul rolled the ball back to the mound and Pierzynski raced safely to first base as a stunned Angels defense looked on. Crede followed with a game-winning double that enabled Chicago to tie the series.
In Game 4, a second-inning Angels rally was killed when outfielder Steve Finley grounded into an inning-ending double play with runners on first and third. Pierzynski later admitted that his mitt tapped Finley’s bat, which should have been ruled catcher’s interference, sending Finley to first base and loading the bases for Adam Kennedy. It should have, but it involved Pierzynksi, and it wasn’t.
All of this might have been a bit more palatable for Escobar and the rest of the Angels had it been anyone but Pierzynski, whose frat-boy attitude and incessant chirping behind the plate made the catcher one of the least popular players in the league. (“If you play against him, you hate him,” said Pierzynski’s manager, Ozzie Guillen in ESPN the Magazine. “If you play with him, you hate him a little less.”)
Escobar was so angry that he tried to inflict a little physical pain in return for the collective emotional misery Pierzynski doled out to his team.
“Escobar wanted to hit him so hard that he forgot the ball was in the wrong hand,” said Guillen in Playboy. “If you look at the replay, you see he went after Pierzynski to hit him hard. If it were another player, it would have been different. He would have been tagged easy. But they want to beat the shit out of Pierzynski.”