A.J. Pierzynski's greatest hits ... on the basepaths

A.J. Pierzynski returns to the dugout after scoring from first on a groundout. - Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE

When a catcher has no speed, no scruples and plenty of awareness, you get unusual plays like these nine.

Since A.J. Pierzynski signed with the Rangers while I was in Chicago and away from my GIF'ing machine, this post had to wait.

BUT WE HAVE A NEWS HOOK! Pierzynski took out a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune to thank White Sox fans -- a popular sentiment, based on responses on the SSS Facebook page. That's all I need!

Here are nine plays that inspired Hawk Harrelson to identify Pierzynski as the White Sox's best baserunner, and perhaps the smartest player in baseball, arranged in an order from my favorite to my most favorite:

July 31, 2012: Honest evaluation of Nick Blackburn

Pierzynski didn't need any tricks or exceptional effort to score on a game-tying single by Alexei Ramirez in the seventh inning. This one is more remarkable for what happens on his way back to the dugout. The Sox have a history of thinking Nick Blackburn isn't good enough to beat them even when he does, and Pierzynski continues that tradition with some helpful advice to Gordon Beckham.

Beckham didn't heed it, so Pierzynski had to take matters into his own hands with a two-run blast off Jeff Gray (who is now back in the White Sox organization, so, hooray journal jokes).

May 28, 2007: Literal heel act

He could feel free to rack up points against the Twins, because he had already earned their boos for years because of this one. Sadly, there's no video/GIF'able evidence -- or lack thereof -- that Pierzynski clipped Justin Morneau's heel on purpose while running on the inside of the baseline. We can only go by the accounts at the time:

Pierzynski took a step toward Justin Morneau's foot, which was properly located on the edge of the infield side of first base.

Morneau felt enough of a pinch from Pierzynski's cleats to glare at A.J. all the way into the White Sox dugout.

Then, Morneau and several other Twins -- located in their dugout -- yelled unpleasantries at Pierzynski as he took his place behind the plate.

This Minneapolis Star-Tribune account goes on to say that Pierzynski tried his best Bart Simpson/Eddie Haskell routine, telling Morneau during the game and reporters after that he didn't do it, or at least mean to do it.

From that point on, Pierzynski was solidly booed in Minnesota ... although they had seen that act many times before on the other side. That's what Sox fans have to keep in mind when Jerry Reinsdorf says, "U.S. Cellular Field will be one ballpark where A.J. Pierzynski will never be booed," because Pierzynski might accept that challenge.

May 29, 2012: Late slide on Zobrist

With one out in the second inning, Pierzynski is on first when Dayan Viciedo hits a tapper to the left. He digs hard to second, and then digs into Ben Zobrist's ankle when he slides late and over the bag to break up a potential double play.

Pierzynski_zobrist_medium

This one is important, because Pierzynski would be drilled the following game by Alex Cobb. When neither bench was warned for Cobb's HBP, Jose Quintana threw behind Ben Zobrist in order to square away the wayward pitches. Instead, home plate umpire Mark Wegner ejected Quintana, leading Hawk into the diatribe that would get him in trouble with Bud Selig.

Aug. 12, 2012: Scoring from first on a groundout

My favorite part of this play is when Oakland catcher Derek Norris passes Pierzynski going the other direction after Pierzynski rounded third.

It would rank a little higher, but Kevin Youkilis scored from first on a groundout a month before, which made it slightly less novel.

April 14, 2010: Fake HBP during a no-hit bid

Ricky Romero is carrying a no-hitter into the eighth inning when he starts him off with a breaking pitch that hits Pierzynski in the front foot. At least it was close enough to hitting his foot that he could hobble to first base -- stopping halfway to the bag to emphasize the perceived location of impact to Tim McClelland.

The next batter, Alex Rios, hit a two-run homer to spoil the no-hit bid and the shutout. That was Rios' return to Toronto, so there was back-to-back booing involved.

On July 7, 2012, Romero plunked Pierzynski for real:

Pierzynski_romero_medium

But it's hard to say it's intentional. There was a runner on third with two outs in a scoreless game, Romero had a lefty-lefty matchup, it was an 0-1 count, and Romero had already hit six batters on the season. With Pierzynski, though, it doesn't take much to establish a motive.

Sept. 20, 2005: Stepping on Aaron Boone

Aaron Rowand lifts a game-tying sac fly to right field to score Paul Konerko. Casey Blake's throw is cut off by first baseman Jose Hernandez, who then tries to reroute the throw to catch Pierzynski running to third. Hernandez's throw is terrible, and a sprawling Aaron Boone can't snag it. Pierzynski, who isn't much for sliding unless he had to, rounds third and steps on Boone's back before coming home to score the go-ahead run.

Pierzynski_boone_medium

Another angle:

Bobby Jenks ends up blowing the save, but only to set up JOE! CREDE!

Aug. 24, 2008: The great escape

Representing the game-winning run at second with one out, Pierzynski makes the cardinal baserunning sin of taking off for third on a grounder to his right. His decision disheartened Hawk Harrelson so that his call of the play ran out of gas nine words in: "Ground ball, they're gonna get him in a huuuuuuuhhhhh-muh-muh-muh-muh-muh-muh..."

So how did Pierzynski end up at third? Because Willy Aybar made one too many throws for a catcher who can't run, and he released the ball close enough that Pierzynski could wheel around, stick out an elbow, and fall the ground in order to draw an interference call from Doug Eddings.

Here's the link if that video doesn't play, because 2008 ones are iffy. As was the case with the HBP, Pierzynski slightly embellished the impact:

Pierzynski_aybar_medium

And to cap it off, Alexei Ramirez drove him home with a single to win it (with a much more thorough call from Hawk Harrelson).

May 20, 2006: Punch A.J.

Pierzynski decides to test Matt Murton's arm on a not-particularly-deep flyball to left. The decision is a smart one, because Pierzynski beats the throw to Michael Barrett. Pierzynski tags the plate emphatically, then goes to collect his helmet. Like the Boone play, he takes a direct route, even though Barrett's in the way. Barrett doesn't care for that.

Pierzynski_barrett1_medium

Of course, Pierzynski seemed to like taking the punch. It's also interesting that Barrett and Pierzynski are the same age, and Barrett's been out of baseball for two years.

Oct. 12, 2005: Stealing first base

This play was kind of important.

Pierzynski_paul_medium

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