This was in character for a player who seems to annoy. It's the little things, the way he steps on an opponent's bat or brushes up against a batter as he sprints toward first base. A.J. Pierzynski is always the one who claps as he runs across the field after laying down a sacrifice bunt or runs to first base after striking out . . . just in case an umpire might think the catcher dropped the ball.
So this was nothing unusual for Pierzynski. In the ninth inning of Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, the Chicago White Sox catcher who can grate on an entire dugout was doing what he does best -- trying to make something out of nothing.
Los Angeles Angels pitcher Kelvim Escobar threw a 3-2, two-out pitch that either skipped in the dirt or landed in the bottom of catcher Josh Paul's glove. Pierzynski swung, missed, looked around at the Los Angeles players jogging toward the dugout, saw the ball rolling back to the pitcher's mound, paused for a moment and then did what he always seems to do. He tried to steal a base.
"I figured the worst that could happen was that they'd call me out and the inning would be over," he said.
Ninety-nine percent of the time that is exactly what happens. The Angels were already heading into the dugout, preparing for the top of the 10th in a 1-1 game. Even if the umpires are unsure, they tend not to attract attention by ruling that the third strike had been dropped.
But just in case, Pierzynski ran. And in the most important moment of his career, the umpires didn't send him back.
After the Angels had screamed and then slumped back onto the field and Joe Crede had hammered an Escobar pitch off the left field fence, scoring pinch runner named Pablo Ozuna, Paul was asked if Pierzynski had stolen one from the Angels.
"No," he said curtly.
Then he added: "Pierzynski didn't do anything other than hustle on a ball that was caught."
In reality, Pierzynski didn't do anything that he hasn't done hundreds of times before. He ran because it just might matter.
Later, long after the crowd had spilled back into the parking lots and the last fireworks had boomed in the air, he stood in an empty White Sox clubhouse holding the handle of a tan overnight bag packed for the flight to Orange County. He didn't smile because Pierzynski doesn't usually smile. Instead he shrugged and seemed surprised to be the center of attention.
"Joe [Crede] still has to get a hit," he said.
He said he never heard the umpire say "you're out," and as a catcher his ear is trained for that noise. This is not an option for umpires, he said. They always say strike three if the batter is indeed out. So after taking a small step toward the dugout, he changed his mind and ran. What else do you do when nothing else seems to be working for your team?
He paused. There was a text message on his cell phone. It was Doug Mientkiewicz, his teammate when both were with the Minnesota Twins, who famously caught the last out of the Boston Red Sox' World Series sweep, then kept the ball.
"Even when you strike out u cause problems," came the message.
Pierzynski chuckled. Then came another: "Go keep the base, you'll make bank off that photo."
And for the first time on the night he stole Game 2 of the ALCS, Pierzynski smiled.