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Today in White Sox History: January 6

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A.J. Pierzynski, future South Side hero, signs with the Sox

Chicago Cubs’ Michael Barrett, right, punches Chicago White Phil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

2005

Needing catching help, White Sox GM Ken Williams took a gamble and inked catcher A.J. Pierzynski to a free agent contract. A.J., who had a reputation as a “clubhouse cancer,” turned out to be a model teammate, and his contributions to the 2005 World Series champs would be incalculable. Sox announcer Ken “Hawk” Harrelson pitched A.J. to the front office, having known him for a number of years.

Two of the most memorable A.J. moments with the White Sox took place in 2005.

The first came on June 18, when he hit an opposite-field home run to cap a four-run ninth inning as the Sox beat the Dodgers, 5-3. The White Sox were wearing 1959 replica uniforms for the game.

The second and far more important moment came on October 12, the second game of the ALCS. With the White Sox down a game to the Angels and tied in the ninth inning, Pierzynski struck out — then started running to first base as former Sox player and current Angels catcher Josh Paul rolled the ball back towards the mound thinking the inning was over. A.J. thought the ball hit the dirt and was trapped, which required a putout at first base. Umpire Doug Eddings agreed, and Pierzynski was safe at first base. The play led to the eventual winning run, evening a best-of-seven series the Sox went on to win in five games and leading to their first World Series since 1959.

Another “classic” A.J. moment came on May 20, 2006, during a Crosstown game at U.S. Cellular Field. Plowing over Cubs catcher Michael Barrett to score the first run in an eventual 7-0 Sox win, A.J. extracted himself from Barrett after toppling him and went back to touch home plate. As he was doing so, he bumped Barrett, which resulted in the Cubs player losing it and sucker-punching him. Four players wound up being ejected after the ensuing melee.