ST. LOUIS — A.J. Pierzynski was what one Red Sox player described as a “dark cloud” over the whole team. He used to look at his cellphone. The catcher dropped too many balls. He didn’t participate with the rest of the team in remembering 2013, mostly because he wasn’t there.
Pierzynski preferred to play with his kids rather than make small talk with his teammates. He preferred to read a book on the team flights rather than participate in jocularity. He didn’t work hard enough pregame, or on preparation. He didn’t seem into it. He was aloof.
The way it was described when Pierzynski was released July 16 was that he was a malcontent.
So the scene looked kind of strange Tuesday when the Cardinals, Pierzynski’s new team, were taking batting practice before their game against the Red Sox, and there were a few of his former Sox teammates, including Dustin Pedroia and Clay Buchholz, exchanging pleasantries with him.
It was strange to see Pierzynski, the human bull’s-eye, surrounded by ex-teammates, who supposedly couldn’t stand him.
The Sox won eight out of nine around the time he was released. Must have been A.J.’s fault. But then they lost eight of nine. Oops, maybe that wasn’t it.
Suffice to say, Pierzynski didn’t hit like the Red Sox thought he would (a .254 average). He didn’t block balls behind the plate, and certainly dropped his share of balls.
It didn’t work out, but the “hated teammate” thing was simply an excuse. He was scape-goated for a lousy season that not only he was having but the entire lineup, too.
Pierzynski found it strange that nobody ever said anything to his face, yet once he left his character was attacked. According to a team source, a departed Red Sox led the charge early on and Pierzynski never recovered.
Pierzynski had no comment on any of what was said about him. For a guy who always has a lot to say, refraining from comment must have been hard.
But Pierzynski has recovered pretty nicely. Maybe he will get the last laugh. Pierzynski went 2 for 3 and scored the winning run in the eighth inning of the Cardinals’ 3-2 victory over the Sox Tuesday. After he scored, he pumped his fist and looked toward the Red Sox’ dugout.
He left Boston saying he had a few options, and chose St. Louis after Yadier Molina went down with an injury. Now he’s the starting catcher until Molina returns in September.
Pierzynski is catching ex-Red Sox John Lackey again.
Lackey wasn’t one of the complainers about Pierzynski, who caught his starts in Boston. Lackey had a good start with Pierzynski Sunday when he made his Cardinals debut, allowing two runs in seven innings of a win over the Brewers.
“John was one of the first people who texted me when I got released,” Pierzynski said. “I got a lot of texts from the players after I got released.”
Why St. Louis?
“St. Louis seemed like the right place, better fit,” Pierzynski said. “Just came in and trying to not get in the way and just play and have fun.”
Reuniting with Lackey was also a plus.
“I know he’s a winner,” Pierzynski said. “Happy that he was coming over because I knew he wanted to win. I was happy to see him pitch well on Sunday.”
To go from last place to a playoff contender couldn’t have worked out better for Pierzynski. He will definitely get the last laugh if the Cardinals get to the World Series.
“Absolutely,” Pierzynski said. “Things didn’t work out in Boston. To end up here was pretty cool. We have a long way to go but we have a good team here. These guys know how to win. They’ve been through it.”
Pierzynski said he wasn’t shocked by the release, but added, “I don’t know if I saw it coming. You know how this game works. It’s a business. I didn’t ask for a reason and they didn’t give me one. I thanked them for my time there and I left.”
“I loved Boston,” he said. “I loved the city. I enjoyed my time there. Boston was great. I have no hard feelings. I know everybody expects me to be bitter and mad, but I’m not. I got to go home and have a nice two-week vacation with my family, and when you get a call to join an organization like the Cardinals it’s hard to turn down.
Nor he said, was he surprised by the things that were said as he went out the door.
“I didn’t expect nothing less,” he said. “I’m a Cardinal now, so whatever people are gonna say in Boston they’re gonna say. There’s nothing I can do to defend it. Nobody said anything to me when I was there. I saw a little bit what was written but I tried not to pay too much attention to it.
“It seems like every time someone is let go by a team something is said. It’s just the way it is in sports and in life. It doesn’t bother me because it’s easy to say things when people are gone.”
Pierzynski said it wouldn’t feel strange facing the Sox.
“It’s not that I was there years and years,” he said. “I was there for three months. I played against the Red Sox plenty of times. They’re on the other side and we’re going to try and beat them.”
He said he’s received a crash course in the Cardinals pitchers from pitching coach Derek Lilliquist and backup catcher Tony Cruz.
The word in St. Louis is that Pierzynski has not been dropping balls at the same rate as he did in Boston. The winning atmosphere has perked him up.
Ozzie Guillen, now an ESPN analyst and Pierzynski’s former White Sox manager, said, “A.J. loves to play baseball. When things are good he’s got a lot of energy and he’s great for a team. He just hates to lose. There’s nothing wrong with that. I enjoyed him and I think the Cardinals will enjoy him.”
Pierzynski, a .282 career hitter entering Tuesday night, is the American League record-holder for errorless chances by a catcher (962). Just last season he led all AL catchers with a .998 fielding percentage.
The Red Sox were 39-50 after he played his last game with them July 7 and they have gone 10-12 since. The Cardinals are 5-3 since his first game with them, July 26.
The company line is that the Red Sox wanted to give Christian Vazquez a shot at being a major leaguer.
Bringing Pierzynski in just didn’t work. Pierzynski is the first to admit it. He was an open book when the Sox acquired him. He never hid anything. He had had problems with teammates in the past and everyone knew it. He didn’t mince words, and said what he meant, with no filter. So the Red Sox should not have been surprised.
And so Pierzynski, wearing No. 35, will hold the fort while Molina recovers from the tear in his right thumb ligament.
“I came here because I didn’t want to end it the way it ended in Boston,” Pierzynski said. “I want to end it upbeat, with a chance to win another championship.”
Red Sox players wished him well, patted him on the back, exchanged pleasantries.
Wonder what they all said afterward.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.