Still, this chapter of their rivalry could be one of the most intense to date.
With these teams meeting Friday for the first time since a series featuring an ugly altercation, Michael Barrett returns from suspension just in time to see former combatant A.J. Pierzynski as the Cubs and White Sox kick off a three-game set at Wrigley Field.
“Obviously it’s a big deal in the city to the fans and to the media,” said Pierzynski, the White Sox catcher. “We look at it as another series but with all the other outside stuff going on, it’s going to be a circus this weekend. Hopefully, we can go in there and win some games and get out and move on.”
The White Sox won two of three games when the Cubs visited U.S. Cellular Field in late May, but the series is best remembered for a bench-clearing brawl triggered by Barrett punching Pierzynski. On a play at the plate, Pierzynski knocked over Barrett to score and slapped home plate before moving in Barrett’s direction. The Cubs catcher punched him in the face.
While White Sox outfielder Brian Anderson was suspended five games and third base coach Joey Cora two after the melee, Barrett was handed a 10-game ban that did not go into effect until last week. It ended Thursday, meaning he should be behind the plate Friday while Pierzynski serves in the same role for the White Sox.
“I think we’re both mature enough and we’re both professional enough at this point to put it behind us and just play the game,” Barrett said.
“I think there will be a time when things sort of settle down for both of us to sit down and talk about it and just hang out. But that’s down the road from now. I think the last thing on their mind and their plate right now is that incident. … I think they will be more concerned about the Cubs, not Michael Barrett.”
While Barrett said he hopes no warnings are issued before the game, Pierzynski also wants to put the incident behind him. However, he expects a particularly rude welcome from the crowd at Wrigley, not that Cubs fans are ever too kind to the White Sox when they travel up from the south side of Chicago.
“As long as they come up with something original, besides the old tired line, `You stink.’ Come up with something good, something that’ll make me laugh,” Pierzynski said. “Come with something original. Don’t say I got punched in the face, I’ve heard that a thousand times, a million times.”
The White Sox (51-27) enter the series with the second-best record in the majors, but are 2 1/2 games behind first-place Detroit in the AL Central.
The Cubs (29-49) own the third-worst record in baseball, three games ahead of last-place Pittsburgh in the NL Central after falling 5-4 to Milwaukee on Thursday.
Since June 5, the White Sox have gone 17-5 while the Cubs are 6-16.
Slugger Derrek Lee wasn’t around for the first series with the White Sox due to a broken wrist that kept him sidelined for 59 games. He’s been unable to provide a spark since coming off the disabled list, with the Cubs losing four of five since his return. The lone win came in the only game in which he homered.
Lee is hitless in six career at-bats against Jon Garland (6-3, 5.76 ERA), who starts the opener for the White Sox.
Garland is looking to bounce back from a bad outing Saturday, having allowed five runs, eight hits and five walks in five innings of a 6-5, 10-inning loss to Houston. The right-hander had won his previous two starts, allowing three runs in 13 1-3 innings.
Garland, 2-4 with a 5.18 ERA in nine games—five starts—against the Cubs, did not pitch in the May series between the teams.
Sean Marshall (4-6, 5.13), meanwhile, will be facing the White Sox for the first time. The rookie left-hander has struggled over his last three starts, failing to pitch more than five innings in any of them while posting a 9.26 ERA.
Marshall will be facing a red-hot White Sox lineup.
Leadoff hitter Scott Podsednik is batting .417 (10-for-24) in the last two series, driving in seven runs and scoring seven. Jermaine Dye went 7-for-13 in the three-game set against Pittsburgh, and Jim Thome hit his AL-leading 25th homer in his only at-bat of Thursday’s 7-6 loss.
“I don’t expect anything on the field; off the field it’s going to be fun,” White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said of being at Wrigley.
“It’s always fun to go there, even though I don’t like to go there.”