A.J. Pierzynski, Addison Reed, Retaliation

Pierzynski Drilled, Indignant and Just Maybe Scheming for Future Benefit

AJP (1)It didn’t take long—one at-bat, as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning Wednesday—for the A.J. Pierzynski roadshow, Texas Rangers edition, to roar to life.

After eight seasons with the White Sox, Pierzynski signed with Texas during the off-season, and in facing his old team for the first time was plunked on the right elbow by ex-teammate Addison Reed. Pierzynski didn’t much try to avoid it (indeed, he threw his elbow into it), and was saved from significant discomfort by the pad he was wearing. Reed appeared upset with himself from the moment it became apparent that pitch would connect with batter.

None of it mattered. The catcher started barking toward the mound as he trotted to first, clearly upset with the development. (Watch it here.)

“I was mad,” Piezynski said in a Chicago Tribune account. “(Reed) threw it up and in and shoulder high. It’s fine if you’re going to pitch me in, but don’t come up and in, shoulder high.” (Reed, White Sox manager Robin Ventura and catcher Tyler Flowers all offered standard denials of intent.)

Ultimately it made no difference, coming as it did with two outs in the ninth. Pierzynski did not score, and Chicago won, 5-2. The real reason any of this is of interest is that it’s A.J. Pierzynski, the man about whom his former White Sox manager, Ozzie Guillen, famously said, “If you play against him, you hate him. If you play with him, you hate him a little less.”

In honor of A.J. being A.J., I offer a selection from the original draft of The Baseball Codes, which did not make it into the final edit. It involves Pierzynski, some of the reasons why opposing players hate him, and another pitcher named Reed.

When Pierzynski was catching for San Francisco in 2004, the Giants built a 9-2 lead in the eighth inning of a game at Colorado. With the bases loaded and two out, Pierzynski poked his elbow pad into the path of a Steve Reed fastball, taking a dubious hit-by-pitch and driving in what would be the first of six runs in the inning that turned a Giants romp into a full-fledged blowout. Reed was incensed, saying later that the pitch would have been a strike had the Giants catcher not gotten in its way. There was even some debate as to whether it hit Pierzynski at all, with Reed and Rockies catcher Charles Johnson denying there was contact, and Pierzynski himself going so far as to say he never felt it hit him.

But the only opinion that mattered was that of plate umpire Bruce Dreckman, and when Dreckman sent Pierzynski to first, Reed exploded. He was thrown out of the game during the ensuing argument.

Pierzynski knew he had done wrong—willingly getting hit by a pitch that should not have hit him, in a game in which an extra run did not matter—and that Reed had been ejected as a result. He also knew that there would be a price to pay down the road.

With the game well in hand, Giants manager Felipe Alou offered to pull Pierzynski and save him from imminent retaliatory damage. The catcher, however, understood that if he didn’t get it that day, he’d be waiting—uncomfortably—until the time that the Rockies had a chance to even the score. So he demurred, opting get it over with quickly.

Trouble was, when Pierzynski came to bat in the ninth inning, it was against right-hander Allan Simpson, pitching in just his eighth major league game. With a 7.36 ERA, Simpson was far less worried about sticking up for his teammates than he was about simply getting out of the inning with a minimum of damage. (With Reed in the clubhouse, Simpson  may not even have been briefed about Pierzynski’s lack of propriety, or the appropriate response.)

Seeing a pitch to hit, Pierzynski doubled in the Giants’ 16th and final run of the game.

The catcher didn’t start the next day, the final game of the series, and by the time he made a ninth-inning appearance as a pinch-hitter, the 7-5 score was too close for Rockies pitcher Marc Kroon to take any action. (Also, because Pierzynski hadn’t been scheduled to hit, Rockies management may not have given advance notice to Kroon about what they’d like him to do.)

When the teams faced each other a month later, however, Rockies starter Aaron Cook wasted no time. When Pierzynski stepped to the plate for his first at bat, Colorado already held a 6-0 lead, and with little potential downside to allowing an extra baserunner, Cook hit Pierzynski in the leg with his second pitch.

Pierzynski may be insufferable, but he is also among the game’s wiliest players. He knew what was happening and why in 1992, and he likely knew it again on Wednesday. He may also be the only man in baseball to feign annoyance at an incidental action on the chance that such a precedent could help him or his team in the future.

Unless Pierzynski or somebody on the White Sox cares to discuss Wednesday’s events, of course, we’ll never know. The next time he faces Addison Reed, however, it seems likely that Wednesday’s events will be somewhere in the pitcher’s mind.

A.J. Pierzynski, Ben Zobrist, Retaliation

Tit-for-Tat . . . for Tit Makes for Interesting Headline, Describes That Which Shouldn’t Have Upset Ken Harrelson Quite so Much as it Did

Robin Ventura and Mark Wegner discuss current events at the Trop.

What’s being talked about is the spectacle. What the spectacle entails is raw, flashing emotion, unconstrained by things like logic or reason. The emotion’s place of origin was the mouth of Ken Harrelson, White Sox broadcaster. Yesterday, it absolutely captivated the baseball-viewing public.

What are you doing? He threw him out of the ballgame? You’ve got to be bleeping me. What in the hell are you doing? What are you doing, Wegner?

Yes, he actually said, “bleeping.” Hear the Hawk rock the rant, everyone. Good times for all.

The money shot involves Harrelson’s homer-centric howls, directed at plate ump Mark Wegner in response to White Sox starter Jose Quintana’s fourth-inning ejection, after the left-hander threw a pitch behind Tampa Bay’s Ben Zobrist. Like many money shots, of course, it feels kind of empty without some relevant prelude to bring it alive.

Why, for instance was Hawk so riled up?

The answer is somewhat involved, and begins in the sixth inning of Tuesday’s game, also between the White Sox and Rays. A.J. Pierzynski, at first base with one out, was forced at second on a ground ball by Dayan Viciedo. It’s standard procedure for runners in that situation to go in hard at second, trying to prevent a double play. Pierzynski, however, went in late and spikes high, spearing second baseman Zobrist well behind the bag.

“There was no chance for a throw to first base, and he came way over the bag to try and get me,” said Zobrist. “I don’t know what his motivation was in doing that.”

The two shared some choice sentiments after the play, but each eventually went peaceably on his way, and the issue appeared to die there. Pierzynski batted three more times in the game, once with nobody on and two out, another time as the leadoff hitter while his team held a 6-2 lead, and wasn’t so much as brushed back.

You gotta be kiddin’ me. That is so bad. That is absolutely brutal. That is unbelievable. I’ll tell you what—they have got to start making guys be accountable.

Given an evening to think it over, however, the Rays apparently decided that they wanted a piece of Pierzynski after all. In the third inning Wednesday, with one out and first base open, Rays starter Alex Cobb drilled the catcher in the right shoulder blade. According to the Code, Pierzynski offered cause, Cobb retorted with effect, and things should have ended right there.

Except that they didn’t. The next time Zobrist came to the plate—six batters after Pierzynski was hit—Quintana threw his first pitch so far behind him that Zobrist didn’t even have to move his feet to avoid it. This is where Wegner delivered ejections—one each for Quintana and manager Robin Ventura—and Harrelson temporarily lost control of his senses. (Watch it here.)

That is totally absurd! That just tells you—here’s an umpire in the American League that knows nothing about the game of baseball. That’s unbelievable.

When it comes to bloviation such as Harrelson’s, details matter. And in this case, the details validate Wegner. Quintana was making just his second career start, and by appearances had been coached in his actions. Prior to the pitch, Pierzynski set up almost mindlessly over the middle of the plate, and as the fastball sailed wildly inside, the catcher didn’t so much as make a stab at it—almost as if he knew in advance where it was headed. Pitchers usually miss by inches; Quintana’s shot was close to four feet from Pierzynski’s target. Zobrist called it “painfully obvious” in a Tampa Bay Times account.

Ventura expressed shock at the ejection, less for the causality than the lack of warning from Wegner. Quintana offered some odd detail about Pierzynski having changed signs on him and not wanting to mix things up. Pierzynski said he had set up away, but Quintana threw it in. Difficult as it is to believe them, at least it’s the type of thing they’re supposed to say.

Ultimately, the White Sox had taken an extra, unnecessary shot, and a warning from Wegner at that point would have validated their strategy, giving them a freebie by stifling the Rays.

They have got to do something about this, I’ll tell you. They have got some guys in this league who have no business umpiring. They have no business umpiring because they don’t know what the baseball is about. And he is one of them. . . . He ought to be suspended and if they want to keep him as an umpire, send him back to school and teach him what this game is about.

Even as Harrelson ranted, Zobrist simply stood in the batter’s box, a slight smile tracing his lips. It could have been relief at avoiding what might otherwise have been a painful message. Or perhaps he was delighting in the fact that Chicago would be going to its bullpen earlier than expected. Maybe it was simply that justice had been served, and he knew it.

It’s certainly more than one could say for the Hawk at that moment.

This article also appeared, in slightly different form and with an actual photo of Pierzynski’s questionable slide, at Sports Illustrated.com.

A.J. Pierzynski, Felipe Lopez, Joe Maddon, Ozzie Guillen, Retaliation

Lopez Bat Toss Sparks Quick Confrontation, String of Ludicrous Denials and, Ultimately, an Apology

A.J. Pierzynski is less than appreciative of Felipe Lopez's bat toss Saturday.

Most baseball retaliation looks the same: a pitcher throwing a ball as hard as he can at the backside, legs or ribs of an opposing batter.

Sometimes, though, batters get theirs, too. Unfortunately for them, their actions rarely hold the same weight; whereas a vengeance-minded pitcher can be seen as sticking up for his teammates, his counterpart at the plate is often looking out only for himself. Such displays frequently resemble hot-headed reaction far more than they do retaliation.

Case in point: Felipe Lopez. On Saturday, the Rays’ third baseman took an inside pitch in the ninth inning from White Sox reliever Chris Sale that apparently didn’t meet his liking.

Lopez hit the next pitch out of the park, and as part of his follow-through whipped his bat toward the mound. (Watch it here.)

Needless to say, this was not taken well by pretty much anybody on the field. Chicago catcher A.J. Pierzynski was waiting for him when he crossed the plate, delivering a sternly worded message while gesturing toward the mound. Lopez’s body language looked as if he was trying to deny intent; had he been aggressive, it’s not difficult to picture a fight breaking out.

The Sox weren’t the only ones upset.

“That’s not who we are. That’s not how we play,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said Sunday in the St. Petersburg Times . “I’m not into the end zone demonstration that much. I think we’ve really morphed into this, I believe, very classy group over the last several years and I want to maintain that kind of thought about us. I don’t even want to say image—you think about the Rays, you think these guys handle themselves in a certain way. So we don’t do that here.”

It’s a point that Maddon had to make. Forget the image he’s trying to maintain—outbursts like Lopez’s can lead not just to his own potential peril, but can put his teammates in danger, as well.

It’s difficult to believe that Lopez, who’s in his 11th season, didn’t understand the potential repercussions of his actions. Then again he’s with his eighth team (not counting two stints with St. Louis), and was cut by the Cardinals last year after ongoing bouts of unprofessionalism. With that in mind, selfish behavior shouldn’t come as too much of a shock. (He couldn’t have had much of an issue with Sale, who’s in just his second season and who has now faced Lopez all of twice.)

Such is the power of Joe Maddon that Lopez took the surest available path to absolution, calling Ozzie Guillen after the game to apologize. (Maddon even went also recalled that Roy Halladay once called him to apologize after some inflammatory comments he inadvertently made, and that the gesture was appreciated.)

If any part of this affair went according to the Code, it was the entire array of responses. As in, outside of Maddon decrying the general spectacle of it all, everybody denied pretty much everything.

“It was unfortunate, but I wasn’t trying to do that,” Lopez said in the St. Petersburg Times. “I wasn’t mad at anything. The bat, it slipped, and it went over there. I think if I tried to do that, it wouldn’t happen.”

Pierzynski denied there was a confrontation at the plate, saying, “I don’t know what you are talking about. I just said hi. He lives down the street from me in Orlando, and I was asking how his house was.”

Guillen, after receiving Lopez’s call: “I don’t think he meant to throw (the bat) to the pitcher.”

Still, in order to give heads some time to cool, Maddon held Lopez out of yesterday’s game. It only buys about a week; the Rays visit Chicago on April 18.

– Jason

Thanks to reader Russ Buker in St. Petersburg for the heads up.

A.J. Pierzynski, Carlos Quentin, Delmon Young, Delmon Young, Glen Perkins, J.J. Hardy, Juan Nieves, Retaliation, Sergio Santos

Twins-Sox Go Tit for Tat, then Start All Over Again

The thing about retaliation is that its genesis can occasionally be difficult to pinpoint. In an attempt to score against the White Sox on Tuesday, Minnesota’s Delmon Young ran into White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Instead of sliding or attempting to bowl Pierzynski over, however, Young—who was out by several steps—went out of the baseline to throw his hands hard into the catcher’s face. (Watch it here.)

There was little chance of success on the play—Young didn’t even try to dislodge the ball—but he might have earned a degree of satisfaction. Perhaps it was a grudge against Pierzynski (which would hardly be shocking, given the general frequency of grudges against Pierzynski), but  it more likely had to do with a preceding pitch from reliever Sergio Santos, which Twins shortstop J.J. Hardy had to duck to avoid.

Santos is one of the game’s harder throwers; the pitch in question was a 94 mph fastball. There were two outs and first base was open—a great situation in which to drill a hitter.

If that pitch was indeed intentional, it was itself serving as retaliation, stemming from last week’s series between the teams, during which Chicago’s Carlos Quentin was hit three times.

Two of those pitches were thrown by Glen Perkins on Wednesday. After the second (which following an earlier Quentin homer) warnings were issued to both benches, spurring White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen to launch into a post-game diatribe during which he suggested that Perkins meant what he did.

“Everybody knows when you’re hit on purpose,” he said in the Chicago Sun Times. “To me, in my opinion, did this kid throw at the guy [Wednesday]? I don’t know, but in that situation it was so obvious and everybody thinks about it that way. He’s the only one who knows. But being in this game so long, first base open, a lefty behind him, he got his ass kicked, go hit the guy.

“I told my players, if you have any problems about somebody hitting you and you don’t like it, go get it and we’re behind you. I’ll be the first one behind you and I will protect you. I said in the [spring training team] meeting, ‘Don’t hit any players because you stink. Because one of the players might get hit, Get people out. But if you see somebody and you want to take care of yourself, that’s up to the players.’ ”

Guillen’s opinions, reported the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, were issued “despite the fact that Quentin stands close to the plate, leads the league in being hit by pitches and that the umpire was calling inside pitches off the plate for strikes that night.”

(For his part, Santos issued an emphatic denial. “If I was trying to hit someone, I would aim for the leg or the butt,” he said in an MLB.com report. “I was a hitter for many years and taking a baseball to the head is nothing to fool around with. I’ve had my fair share of 96- or 97-mph pitches in the back and legs. It is what it is and you move on. The last thing I want to do is hit someone in the head. I wouldn’t do that to my worst enemies. It got away and luckily it didn’t hit him.”)

Chicago’s bullpen coach, Juan Nieves, fueled things further with a burst of verbal bluster on WSCR (670 AM) in Chicago, saying that the White Sox weren’t afraid of the Twins, despite having lost 19 of the last 25 meetings between the clubs.

“There’s nothing that would please me more than having a brawl with them and kicking their rear,” he said on the air. “I’ve even thought of telling guys, ‘Hey [Matt] Thornton, smoke [Joe] Mauer, see if you can start a fight.”

This cumulatively represents a lot of calories burned on the subject of retaliation—how it’s delivered, and how it’s accepted—but if the goal of Perkins, Santos, Young or Nieves was to start a fight, all parties came up short.

Guillen even went so far as to offer backhanded praise to Young’s baserunning efforts. After calling the play “unnecessary,” he told the Chicago Tribune that “I like when baseball is aggressive. If anyone has a problem with that, there’s still a way they can resolve their problems.”

The way in question, according to many prognosticators, should have involved putting a baseball into Young’s ribs or thigh during the following day’s game. (Young had come up two innings after his non-slide, to lead off the 10th, but with Thornton trying to protect a 6-5 lead, it was hardly the time to send a message.)

Wednesday rang no different, however. In five at-bats, Young collected three hits (including a home run), scored two runs and was hit by precisely zero pitches.

This brings up interesting discrepancies when examining Guillen’s earlier comments in the Sun Times.

“I will protect my hitters myself,” he said in that report. “If I see somebody throw at somebody and I think it was on purpose, they will get hit. I guarantee it. Then, I’ll take my responsibility with fines and whatever they want to do.”

Perhaps Young’s non-slide doesn’t fall into the same category as throwing at somebody. Perhaps there was enough doubt about Perkins’ drilling of Quentin to give Guillen pause. That this is the same manager who has been known to order retaliatory strikes—see Tracey, Sean (find the reference within this story about Vicente Padilla—makes his hesitance in this instance peculiar.

In the end, the White Sox’ position was best summed up by pitching coach Don Cooper, who had earlier denied any part in ordering retaliation, in an MLB.com report.

“Let’s just keep our focus about winning games,” he said. “That’s the only thing that really matters.”

– Jason