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Rays keeping an eye on Pierzynski

Rays keeping an eye on Pierzynski

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CHICAGO -- Rays manager Joe Maddon knows all too well that White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski tries to create his own turning points. Maddon witnessed it as a bench coach with the Angels three years ago, and he's seen it again this season with Tampa Bay.

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During Game 3 of the American League Division Series on Sunday, there Pierzynski was again, standing in the batter's box in the third inning and trying to disrupt the Rays with the slightest dip of his bat. It was barely noticeable, but Chicago's veteran catcher made a subtle attempt at rerouting a throw from Tampa Bay catcher Dioner Navarro.

"You have to know where he is all the time," Maddon said. "You've always got to know where Pierzynski is at when you are playing the White Sox."

With two outs in the third inning, Pierzynski was at the plate when White Sox left fielder Dewayne Wise bolted for second base on a steal attempt. While Navarro came out of his crouch to fire the ball across the diamond, Pierzynski moved his bat from over his shoulder and lowered it over the plate -- possibly to block the throw.

Navarro didn't take exception to the play, because he didn't see it.

"It was funny," Navarro said Monday. "The first time I saw that was last night, on Baseball Tonight, I didn't even realize he did it. I didn't even see it. That's the way he plays, you know. We play our way -- he plays his way.

"Last night, after I saw it, I was just more surprised. Me and him have a good relationship. I'm pretty sure he didn't mean to do nothing bad or nothing. That's just him. That's it. Bottom line, that's him."

Maddon did see the play and wasn't particularly pleased.

"That's not right -- that's pretty weak right there," Maddon said. "He tapped the bat like he was going to hit Navvy's hand when he was throwing the ball.

"You shouldn't do that. That's inappropriate."

Chalk it up as another case of A.J. being A.J.

"He nurtures his reputation," Maddon said.

Earlier this season, Pierzynski was involved in another controversal play against the Rays. On Aug. 24, the sly catcher got caught in a rundown between second and third base in the 10th inning of a game in Chicago. During the play, Pierzynski dropped to the dirt and appeared to be tagged out.

Instead, Rays third baseman Willy Aybar, who was hustling to get out of the way after throwing the ball on the play, was called for obstruction. Replays showed no contact being made between Aybar and Pierzynski, but the catcher yelled "Obstruction" after falling to the ground.

Chicago went on to win the game, 6-5, robbing the Rays of a three-game sweep in the series.

"He does come up big in big moments," Maddon said. "And that's more power to him. When he plays, he's got a brashness about him, and he's ultra calm. That works to his credit."

Maddon -- a bench coach with the Angels before joining the Rays -- saw similar cunning on Pierzynski's part during Game 2 of the AL Championship Series in 2005. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth during that game in Chicago, Pierzynski swung and missed for an apparent strikeout.

Angels catcher Josh Paul rolled the ball back to the mound and jogged off the field, but Pierzynski -- realizing he hadn't been called out -- sprinted for first base. It was ruled that Paul had not legally caught the ball and Pierzynski was called safe. The White Sox went on to win the game, and later the World Series.

"He's been very clutch for them in the past," Maddon said. "I've seen it up front."

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

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