White Sox

Ten years later, A.J. Pierzynski recalls Michael Barrett encounter in Crosstown Classic

Ten years later, A.J. Pierzynski recalls Michael Barrett encounter in Crosstown Classic

Hard to believe, but it's been 10 years since the fist of Michael Barrett famously hit the face of A.J. Pierzynski, creating one of the most legendary moments in the Windy City Series between the White Sox and Cubs. 

The punch lasted only one second, but speaking with the man who was on the receiving end of that punch, Pierzynski knows he'll be hearing about it for the rest of his life.

"It's just one of those things that happens," Pierzynski said in an interview with Comcast SportsNet. "Hey, you got to be remembered for something."

Fans won't let him forget it, even if some have forgotten what actually happened that day—which might also include Pierzynski. More on that in a moment.

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First to the play that started it all. It occurred on May 20, 2006. While scoring a run on a sacrifice fly on a ball hit to shallow left field, Pierzynski knocked over Barrett at home plate. The White Sox catcher then moved towards the Cubs backstop to retrieve his helmet. 

If it was anybody else, nothing would have happened. This story you're reading would never have been written.

But this was Pierzynski, one of the most hated players in baseball, the notorious monkey in the middle of everything.

This Sox was about to get socked.

"I went up to get my helmet. He grabbed me and said, 'I didn't have the ball (bleep)," recalled Pierzynski. Barrett threw a right hook that hit Pierzynski square in the left cheek, producing an image that has been permanently burned into the minds of Cubs and White Sox fans.

Or so we thought.

A decade later, Pierzynski says he frequently comes across people who have somehow forgotten what actually occurred.

"What's happened now is most people don't remember what really happened. They just know Barrett and I got into a fight," Pierzynski said. "Most people actually think that I hit him. People (say to me) 'Remember that time you punched Barrett and knocked him down?' So, it's kind of funny how it's kind of changed over the years."

But still, many people do remember the punch quite well, especially Cubs fans who relish in heckling Pierzynski whenever he comes to town, like earlier this month when his Braves played the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

“They’ll say things like, ‘Michael Barrett's coming. Look out!’ And I'll be like, 'Yeah, whatever,'" Pierzynski said. “Or they’ll yell ‘Hey, you suck! Or I hate you!’ Then it’s like, ‘Okay, great. Welcome to the club.’” 

The White Sox won the game that day 7-0, but Cubs fans have had a victory of sorts ever since—the memory of Barrett pelting their White Sox nemesis, a guy who pestered them for years.

But even Pierzynski himself seems to remember the play differently than everyone else. His account of what occurred will probably get under the skin of Cubs fans.

What else would you expect from A.J.?

"He didn't really hit me though, that's the thing," said Pierzynski. "He kind of just pushed me. It was weird, because he grabbed me and we were so close. It wasn't like (Rougned) Odor when he hit (Jose) Bautista where he wound up. I mean, it was so close that he just kind of pushed me off balance. 

"And (third base coach Chris) Speier grabbed me right away and then like 10 guys from the White Sox jumped on top of him. And poor (Cubs outfielder John) Mabry who was my hitting coach in St. Louis. I know we were laughing about it when I was in St. Louis. I think he ended up in the hospital with broken ribs and he had nothing to do with it."

Call it a punch, call it a push, most athletes who take a hit like that would be so humiliated they’d never want to talk about it again.

Not Pierzynski.

“I literally laugh about it. It’s funny to me,” Pierzynski said. “Now my kids are of the age to use the internet, so now that’s like the first picture that always comes up, and they’re like, ‘Why did you get in the fight with the guy?’ I tell them the story and they have to explain it to their friends. It’s just one of those things that happens in your life. Hey, at least it happened on national TV and gives people something to talk about.”

Six weeks after the fight, Barrett sought out Pierzynski at Wrigley Field before the White Sox and Cubs resumed the Crosstown Series on the North Side. The two shook hands, made amends and the feud was over.

But the two have not spoken to each other since.

“I haven’t seen him,” Pierzynski said. “I mean, we played a little bit, but I haven’t seen him off the field.”

What would you say to him?

“I don’t know. ‘Hey, how you doing?’ I don’t even know what he does anymore.”

Barrett is currently the minor league catching coordinator for the Washington Nationals. Attempts to interview him for this story were unsuccessful.

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At 39, Pierzynski isn’t sure how much longer he’ll play. He already has enough baseball memories to fill multiple lifetimes. But his recollections of those classic White Sox-Cubs games will never fade.

“I played in Yankees-Red Sox, I played in Dodgers-Giants, Cardinals-Cubs, nothing matched the intensity," he said. "Maybe it was because I was on the White Sox and there was such a dislike for the other team, not only in the fan base, but also kind of the organization. It’s just kind of there. 

"It just brought out the best. It always seemed like it brought out the best in both teams. It was always the one game you circled, and it was like, ‘Okay, we’re playing the Cubs coming up in a week. Everyone be ready.’”

Pierzynski was always ready—maybe not for Barrett’s fist—but the face that took the beating that day gave us all a knockout Cubs-White Sox moment, one we will never forget.

Reynaldo Lopez is changing his place in the White Sox rebuild: 'When I'm on the mound, I'm the best and I don't care about the rest'

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USA TODAY

Reynaldo Lopez is changing his place in the White Sox rebuild: 'When I'm on the mound, I'm the best and I don't care about the rest'

Rebuilds are full of surprises.

Fans can pencil in any names they want into their 2020 lineups, but there’s almost no one who’s going to have a 100-percent success rate when it comes to predicting exactly what the next contending White Sox team will look like.

Reynaldo Lopez carried plenty of hype when he was acquired from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton deal prior following the 2016 season. He had a high prospect ranking before he was called up last summer. He hasn’t materialized out of nowhere.

But with names like Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Carlos Rodon and others to compete with for one of those coveted rotation spots of the future, was anyone going to use the term “ace” to describe Lopez?

Well, in this rebuilding season’s most pleasant surprise for the White Sox and their fans, that’s exactly what Lopez has been. He’s been hands down the team’s best starting pitcher, and he’s making the case that he shouldn’t be considered an ancillary piece in this rebuilding process but a featured one.

He might not be getting the attention that others are. But he’s doing the most with his opportunity of being at the big league level right now. In the end, as long as you’re getting batters out, who cares how much attention you get?

“It’s not about what people say or what they are talking about,” Lopez said through a translator. “It’s about the confidence I have in myself, and I have plenty of confidence in myself. For me, I’m the best. I’m not saying the other guys are not. I’m just saying that’s the confidence I have. When I’m on the mound, I’m the best and I don’t care about the rest.”

Sunday marked the best start of Lopez’s young career, so said the pitcher himself. He was terrific in shutting down the visiting Texas Rangers, holding them to just two hits over eight scoreless innings.

It was one heck of a bounce-back performance considering what happened last time out, when he was roughed up for six runs in just two innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The difference? His attitude, his focus, his intensity, his conviction.

“I just changed my attitude in the game,” Lopez said. “I was more positive today than I was in my last outing and that was one of my biggest differences.”

“I do think he came out a little bit more focused, to be honest,” manager Rick Renteria said. “The intensity level was a little higher today. I think he threw the first couple pitches 97, 98 miles an hour, where his last outing they were at 93, 94. There wasn’t a whole lot of commitment or conviction to his pitches (against the Pirates). I think, as we talked after the last outing, (pitching coach Don Cooper) spoke to him a little about making sure he brought that intensity that he has the ability to do, to bring it from Pitch 1 and he did today.”

Renteria liked it all, and he saw something different in his pitcher when he went out to talk to him with two outs in the eighth. Lopez issued a two-out walk, and Renteria considered lifting Lopez from the game.

Lopez made sure his manager wouldn’t pull the plug on this outing.

“I hid the baseball in my glove because I didn’t want to leave the game,” Lopez said. “I asked me, ‘How are you? Are you good?’ And I told him, ‘Yes, I’m good.’ Then he asked me again, ‘Do you think you are able to get him out?’ And I said yes, ‘This is my game, and I’m going to finish it.’”

What did Lopez do with his extra life? He finished it all right, blowing Shin-Soo Choo away with a 96-mile-an-hour fastball. Then he showed as much emotion as he’s ever shown on a major league field. He earned that celebration.

“When you see your manager come out and you’ve already gone through most of your game in terms of what you might think you have in number of pitches available to you, and you reiterate that you want to finish a particular batter because you want to get out of that inning, and you do it, it's an accomplishment,” Renteria said. “It's a big accomplishment. For him, pretty good hitter. He battled him and he was able to get out of that inning and complete a very, very strong eight-inning outing.”

It’s the kind of exclamation point on a dominant afternoon that could stir some big plans in White Sox fans always dreaming of the future. What Lopez has done this season has been a strong case for a spot in that future rotation and a spot at the front of it, at that. Following Sunday’s gem, Lopez owns a 2.98 ERA with at least six strikeouts in four of his nine starts.

There’s a lot of development and a lot of time left before the White Sox contention window opens. But Lopez pitching like this offers a glimpse into the crystal ball, a look at what could be for an organization that’s acquired so much talent over the last two years.

You might not have seen it coming like this, but the future arriving in the form of Lopez is a sign that brighter days are ahead on the South Side.

Carlos Rodon's first rehab start went well, White Sox set date for next one

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USA TODAY

Carlos Rodon's first rehab start went well, White Sox set date for next one

Carlos Rodon's return to the South Side is coming soon.

The top-five draft pick recovering from last fall's shoulder surgery made his first rehab start Saturday with Class A Kannapolis and threw well. Rodon allowed just one run on three hits in his five innings of work, striking out six and walking none.

The White Sox announced Sunday that Rodon's second rehab start will come Thursday with Triple-A Charlotte.

As for the exact date Rodon returns to the big league roster, it's unknown at this point. General manager Rick Hahn said that Rodon will make multiple rehab starts. One might look to the pitcher's recovery from a spring injury last year as a guide. Rodon made four rehab starts in June before debuting with the White Sox on June 28.

This recovery is different, of course. Rodon is eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list on May 28.