Longtime friends Hudson, Pierre square off in key AL Central series
CHICAGO — Orlando Hudson scanned the White Sox dugout, spotted Juan Pierre, and started launching the verbal fireworks.
"All day, I'm in your ear!" Hudson shouted. "All day!"
Pierre glared at Hudson, waiting for an opening to respond. This was during batting practice at Target Field in mid-July, the last time the White Sox faced the Twins.
The O-Dog kept barking from second base. Saying something about how he'd be ready to tag Pierre if he dared a stolen base attempt that night.
"I'll be there to help you up!" Hudson said. "I'll pick you up!"
Pierre smiled and shook his head. These two could be mistaken as enemies this year, the way they've jawed at each other on the field. Actually, they're longtime friends who spent last year as teammates with the Dodgers. Pierre helped counsel Hudson through a miserable postseason spent on Joe Torre's bench.
Now, they have crucial roles in the battle for the American League Central, with the Twins and White Sox set to meet again Tuesday night at U.S. Cellular Field.
Hudson and Pierre met in 1999, as opponents in the Class A South Atlantic League. Pierre was rising through the Rockies' system, and Hudson, a 43rd-round draft pick from South Carolina, was turning heads for the Blue Jays.
"When I first met him, I said, 'Who is this guy doing all this talking on the field?'" Pierre said. "He's been talking ever since. That's just his personality. He loves to play the game."
Pierre speaks in slow, soulful tones. Hudson's words come rapid-fire. Their friendship came easily.
"First of all, there ain't that many brothers in the game," Hudson said. "So every time brothers see each other, we're always happpy. He was a Southern boy, too, a Louisiana boy, so we stick together, through the minor leagues all the way to the big leagues. He's been a good friend of mine. We eat lunch together. I pick him up at the hotel, we drive to the ballpark together, it's a good bond."
Their careers took winding paths before Hudson joined Pierre with the Dodgers last year. A snapshot of their impact came when Manny Ramirez served his 50-game drug suspension. Pierre emerged from the bench and took over left field, with Hudson batting third during an All-Star season, and the Dodgers hardly missed a beat.
But when the playoffs started, Torre benched Hudson, suddenly turning to Rafael Belliard at second base.
"I was trying to help him out because it had happened to me the year before," Pierre said.
Added Hudson: "Both of us are so happy to be out of there, man."
Hudson, 32, signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Twins and has performed right near his career averages when healthy, batting .285 with a .355 on-base percentage. He returned from a second stint on the disabled list Sunday in Cleveland and hit a two-run, game-tying double.
Pierre got traded to the White Sox in December and found a new home as Chicago's leadoff hitter. He took a 15-game hitting streak into Monday night's game at Baltimore and led the majors with 42 stolen bases.
The White Sox have shed their lumbering ways under manager Ozzie Guillen, who was the Marlins' third base coach when Pierre and Luis Castillo helped lead them to the 2003 World Series title.
"The American League's going a different way right now," Guillen said. "You're not going to see guys hit 50, 60, 70 home runs anymore. Look at the teams who are in first place. Why? They're pitching and they play defense. Everybody in this league can hit."
The White Sox entered Monday with a half-game lead over the Twins. Pierre loves to make noise on the bases, and with enough prompting from Hudson, he dishes some verbal jabs, too. On July 15, in an 8-7 loss to the White Sox, Hudson fouled a ball off his foot and fell to the ground in pain.
"We already had a 4-hour game; you made it 4 hours, 15 minutes!" Pierre hollered the next day, from the dugout. "Man, get off the ground! Had the whole medical staff come out there for a little toe bruise!"
On and on they go. No matter who wins this division, Hudson and Pierre will have have something to say about it.