Pierzynski's wallop knocks out Cubs

Pierzynski's wallop knocks out Cubs

CHICAGO -- A.J. Pierzynski already entered this weekend's three-game series at Wrigley Field as something less than a fan favorite on the North Side of Chicago.

After his ninth-inning heroics off Cubs beleaguered closer Ryan Dempster (1-5) on Saturday, Pierzynski has graduated from the object of jeers to the object of scorn among the Cubs faithful. The White Sox catcher punctuated a three-run rally with a three-run home run onto Sheffield Avenue, his fifth long ball of the season, giving Ozzie Guillen's crew an 8-6 victory before 41,027, and marking the White Sox 10th victory in their last at-bat this season.

The only question with Pierzynski's prodigious clout off a 1-1 hanging slider was whether it would stay fair. Pierzynski clearly knew the answer immediately, flipping his bat in the air near home plate after connecting.

This particular home run made a winner of reliever Neal Cotts (1-2), who threw exactly one pitch to end the eighth inning. Dempster's fifth blown save of the season gave the White Sox a 4-1 edge over the Cubs in 2006 and sent mounds of garbage cascading down onto the warning track, courtesy of the fans in the bleachers, following Pierzynski's blast.

"You never want to see fans throw stuff on the field," Pierzynski said. "It's dangerous for the players and the fans. I just hope I don't get fined again for inciting the crowd."

Of course, Pierzynski's sardonic dig was aimed at Major League Baseball, who fined him $2,000 for inciting the crowd during a May 20 contest with the Cubs at U.S. Cellular Field, after taking a right cross from Cubs catcher Michael Barrett following a hard collision at the plate. Pierzynski's return jab with his bat on Saturday seemed much more painful for the Cubs (29-51) and moved the White Sox (53-27) to a season-high 26 games over .500.

All of this ninth-inning theater would not have been remotely possible if not for two key at-bats leading up to Pierzynski. Dempster easily retired Scott Podsednik and Tadahito Iguchi to start the ninth and had a 1-2 count on pinch-hitter Ross Gload when he smacked a grounder back toward the mound. Dempster tried to make the play, but it glanced off his glove for an infield hit. Jermaine Dye followed with a five-pitch walk, setting the stage for Pierzynski.

"Man, this team, we feel like we can come back at any time," said White Sox starting pitcher Javier Vazquez, who allowed double-digit hits for the fourth time in his last six starts, but reached 1,500 career strikeouts with seven over six innings. "As a starting pitcher, even though you won't always throw the ball like you want, you just have to battle and give your team a chance."

"We have guys who are stepping up, and I think it's contagious when you are in those situations," added White Sox first baseman Jim Thome of his team. "It has been a lot of fun coming to the ballpark every day."

During Thome's postgame talk with the media, Guillen was teasing his slugger about Thome's American League-leading 26th home run. It was a towering drive off Greg Maddux in the fifth, which got up in the 19-mph jet stream and carried out, giving the White Sox a 3-2 lead. It was Thome's 51st Interleague home run, putting him at the top of baseball's charts in that particular category.

Joe Crede and Paul Konerko also hit home runs Saturday, with Crede's 15th cutting the Cubs' lead to 5-4 in the sixth, and Konerko's 20th tying the game in the seventh against reliever Scott Eyre. Konerko's blast was his second career pinch-hit homer and marked the seventh season in which he has hit at least 20 home runs.

Aramis Ramirez, who finished a single short of hitting for the cycle, put the Cubs ahead in the fifth with a three-run blast off Vazquez, and Jacque Jones gave the Cubs the lead with his 14th home run off David Riske with two outs in the seventh. The six home runs, in total, were a bit of a surprise for Guillen.

"I thought there was going to be more home runs, to tell you the truth," Guillen said. "The way the wind was blowing, it could have been an uglier game. But I think a couple balls they hit and a couple balls we hit, they go out in any park."

A ninth-inning comeback could have been avoided if the White Sox showed better execution earlier in the game. Maddux induced two inning-ending double plays with a runner on third and less than two outs, and both Iguchi and Brian Anderson were unable to convert on late-inning bunt attempts with runners in scoring position.

But the White Sox are a team first, with one player picking up another who doesn't get the job done. On Saturday, the honors belonged to Pierzynski, who helped produce the franchise's 100th Interleague victory.

"I love it," Guillen said. "When [A.J.] goes to the plate, the guy they hate the most for no reason ... he hit the home run. It showed me what kind of team we have. The guys play together, they lose and win together."

Meanwhile, Pierzynski has become Public Enemy No. 1 among Cubs fans. It was a genuine surprise for Pierzynski to hear, but also puts him in elite company.

"I thought that was the goat," said Pierzynski with a smile. "Am I going to be Bartman from now on? I don't know what I did. I don't remember doing anything quite that bad. I don't remember costing them a World Series or anything else, but that's the way it is.

"Fans have to have a hero and an enemy. Right now, I'm the enemy."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.