CHICAGO — Saturday’s midday game at Wrigley not only featured Shelby Miller’s return to starting, but the return of a familiar face to the Windy City.
A.J. Pierzynski was signed Friday night by the Cardinals and joined his team Saturday in Chicago.
“We had also been talking to other teams to see what happened but in the end this felt like the right place and right decision,” the 17-year vet said before the game. “At the end of the day this seemed like the right fit.”
Piezynski talked to manager Mike Matheny Friday, going over his role with the club and the expectations on both sides.
“I said whatever you need me to do. You need me to catch once a week seven days a week, whatever you need me to do,” he said. “Need me to come off the bench, need me to play the outfield, need me to pitch- whatever you need me to do I’ll do it.”
From Matheny’s end, he wanted to get a feel for where his new catcher was both physically and mentally after a long career.
“There’s certain guys that are kind of on that bubble. Do I still want to keep doing this? They’ve got different challenges whether it’s family or physically. Those are all things I wanted to hear first hand,” the skipper said.
Pierzynski’s answers must have satisfied the manager, since he’ll start behind the plate and hit sixth on his first day as a Cardinal.
“He needs to get out there, we need to take off,” Matheny said. “I talked to him about that too. Did he see himself needing a little more time and wanting to get his legs under him a little bit, but he was ready to go.”
The 37-year-old said St. Louis held appeal not only because of their history, but their ability to contend for a pennant.
“You want to find a team that will win. You don’t want to go to a team that’s in last place and kind of play out the string,” he said. “I always want to win and I’ve won before so you kind of like that feeling.”
Pierzynski won a World Series in 2005 with the White Sox, and watched the Cardinals take on the Red Sox in the Fall Classic from an announcer’s desk in 2013.
“They have a good team, they always want to win and they always seem to be there in the end,” he said. “People always say ‘everyone I know that’s played in St. Louis says it’s amazing.’ It’s an awesome town so I also look forward to that. It’s the St. Louis Cardinals. How can you beat the St. Louis Cardinals? It’s a pretty awesome organization.”
Pierzynski is a polarizing figure in clubhouses. While some teammates have praised him, he carries a reputation that doesn’t always paint him favorably. With his signing, Matheny said he talked to the team, and everyone in the locker room was ready to welcome the new backstop. He also said an edge might be something the club could use.
“We have a great collective group of personalities, and bringing someone in who isn’t exactly like the rest of them might not necessarily be a bad thing,” he said.
Piezynski was in Cooperstown, New York Friday night, a guest of Frank Thomas who is being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Shortly after arriving, he was back at the airport, and ended up passing several former teammates in the terminal who were on their way to visit Thomas.
After hours of travel, the newest Cardinal will make his debut in front of an audience that has no lost love.
“Hopefully Wrigley’s loud, and I’m sure I’ll get a nice ovation today from the crowd,” he smiled.
“He talked about that already,” Matheny laughed. “Yesterday there was a good portion of red in the stands. So It’ll be interesting to see how the fans react in a positive way in red, and in blue- I know he’s had a couple run-ins here- so one way or another, there’s going to be some noise.”
Pierzinsky will catch Shelby Miller in his first start since July 10. It’s a tough draw for both players, having only met hours before the game.
“I’ve faced him before,” the catcher said, explaining he talked to Tony Cruz, Matheny, and pitching coaches to get an idea of Miller’s game.
“It’ll be a learning experience. I’m going to lean on those guys heavily and when I see Yadi I’m going to lean on him too. It’s going to be a total team process to get me sped up as fast as possible.”