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Saturday, October 15, 2005
Pesty Pierzynski making his presence felt

By Jim Caple
ESPN.com

ANAHEIM -- The only way A.J. Pierzynski could be more annoying to the Angels is if he phoned them at home during dinner and tried to sell them all life insurance.

Sure, you're making a lot of money now. But what happens when you get old and can't get around on the fastball anymore? And trust me, based on the way you're swinging, that day is not too far off. Who will take care of your children then if you should die in a terrible bus crash while you're trying to keep your sad career going with the Albuquerque Isotopes?

A.J. Pierzynski
A.J. Pierzynski played a key role for the White Sox in their run to winning the World Series last October.

For a guy who's hitting .200 in the postseason, he's sure been the center of the action this series. But as his former teammate, Doug Mientkiewicz, noted in a text message after Game 1, it's always something with A.J.

In Game 2, Pierzynski frustrated the Angels by running to first base on what may or may not have been a dropped third strike with two outs in the ninth inning. Saturday, he helped push Anaheim to the brink of elimination with a home run and another odd play at the plate. This time his glove caught Steve Finley's bat during a swing with one out and runners at the corners in the third inning. Finley hit a grounder to second base and he turned to protest as he ran down the first base line. That glance back cost the Angels at least a run because had he not turned to look, the White Sox would not have been able to turn the inning-ending double play they did.

"I've never been in a situation like that before,'' Finley said. "I just know I felt the bat hit the glove -- it was like someone reached out and grabbed it. It was weird. I probably should have just took off running. If I had, I probably would have beat the throw.''

Or if the umpire had noticed, it would have been catcher's interference and loaded the bases.

"It didn't really hit me that hard, it was kind of a glancing blow,'' Pierzynski said. "It was so loud that the umpire couldn't hear it. And I sure wasn't going to say anything.'' Asked whether he had ever been called for catcher's interference before, he replied, "No. And I still haven't.''

The Angels never threatened again in the 8-2 loss. But then, they've barely threatened any time this series. With White Sox pitchers pumping in strike after strike and the Angels showing little patience when they aren't, Anaheim is batting just .177 with just two walks. They've yet to score more than three runs in a game. And the White Sox have thrown three consecutive complete games against them. Three consecutive complete games? That's the sort of thing unseen in the postseason practically since the days there were guys named Rube and Lefty toeing the slab.

The only times the Angels show any sign of life is when they're bitching about something A.J. did.

"You can see it in all the guys' faces -- they're frustrated,'' Angels batting coach Mickey Hatcher said. "We just have to back off a bit and bring the game back to us. We need to get relaxed and then we can really turn it around.''

Leadoff hitter Chone Figgins is 1-for-14, so the Angels aren't getting things started. And Vladimir Guerrero is 1-for-16 so they aren't finishing things up, either.

Guerrero hit 32 home runs and drove in 108 runs during the regular season, but has hit just two balls out of the infield this series and has no extra-base hits this postseason. He grounded out four times Saturday. He has one RBI in the postseason.

That's just me -- what do you expect? I can't change anything. No matter where I go, no matter what I do, it will be around me.
A.J. Pierzynski on being in the middle
of controversy

Sheesh, A.J. has produced as many runs as Guerrero just by striking out.

"Vlad's a big part of why we're here,'' second baseman Adam Kennedy said. "We probably can't move one without him doing something.''

Guerrero doesn't look good at all. He swings so hard that he's always slow to get out of the box, but lately he's been running to first base so slow it's as if the baseline is made of mud. Guerrero maintains he's healthy -- or at least that his sore back, knees and left shoulder are no worse than they've been all season. "I'm just not swinging good,'' he says.

"Our guys are just trying to keep their pitches down as much as they can and throw him a lot of sinkers and try to make him hit it on the ground,'' Pierzynski said. "He's going to get his hits. You just hope he comes up without anybody on base.''

So, after taking the first game of the series, the Angels are down 3-1 heading into Game 7. Or as Finley put it, "Every game is Game 7 now.''

With Cy Young candidate Bartolo Colon off the roster, Anaheim will send Game 1 winner Paul Byrd and his old-fashioned windup to the mound on Sunday against Jose Contreras.

And, of course, also against whatever A.J. has planned for them this time.

The old hidden ball trick, maybe. Or prank phone calls to the bullpen ("Do you have Bartolo Colon in the can?''). Or perhaps the ever popular burning sack of dog manure left on the dugout step.

"That's just me -- what do you expect?'' Pierzynski said of always being in the middle of controversy. "I can't change anything. No matter where I go, no matter what I do, it will be around me.''

Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," was published by Plume. It can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com.