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White Sox Mon Jul 02 2012

Sox Escape New York With Solid Split

To be the best, you have to beat the best. Or something like that.

The White Sox split a four-game series with the AL East-best New York Yankees this weekend. At times, it looked like the Sox were going to sweep. Other times, the Yankees looked like they were playing at a different level. Perhaps a split is tolerable in that regard.

The Sox took the first two games. Wasn't easy though: they needed comebacks in each of those two games. In Thursday night's game, the Sox trailed 3-1 in the ninth, and Dayan Viciedo did one of my favorite moves in sports: He hit a three-run homer to give his team a one-run lead in the final inning. That's a game changer right there.

Viciedo teed off on a high 90 mph fastball from David Robertson, getting all of it. What a moment seeing Viciedo absolutely beaming in the dugout afterwards, high fiving all of his teammates.

The home run was set up by a huge miscue. Just before Viciedo's at-bat, AJ Pierzynski came to the plate with Alex Rios on first. The catcher hit a dribbler back to the mound, only Yankees' pitcher Clay Rapada airmailed the throw into center field, ruining a sure-thing double play. Big stroke of luck for the Sox. People weren't happy with Rapada afterwards (Scroll down to the Yankees' section of his bio).

The Sox had to play from behind again on Friday, trailing 4-0 after the first inning. Fortunately for them, the bats came alive. The Sox pounded out 19 hits (with five doubles and four home runs) for a 14-7 victory. After the game, the Sox were in a zone, winning four straight with the top of their rotation due up to close the weekend.

New York pitchers Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes broke that up, though.

Those two were nothing short of awesome. Kuroda pitched seven strong shutout innings on Saturday, struck out 11, and only allowed four baserunners. Hughes gave up two runs off the bat on Sunday, but didn't allow a run the rest of the way (and only two baserunners after the third inning). Hughes pitched eight innings, striking out eight. The Yankees won both games, 4-0 in the first and 4-2 in the second.

Some scattered thoughts:

- During Sunday's game, Hawk Harrelson called Viciedo's home run the defining moment of the White Sox's season so far. I would put it in the top three, along with Philip Humber's perfect game and Chris Sale's 15 K game versus Tampa. Honorable mention: Paul Konerko's 400th home run. Darkhorse: Hawk's rant.

- I thought similar Viciedo magic was going to happen in the ninth inning of the fourth game. Down 4-2 with two outs, Viciedo was 2-2 to closer Rafael Soriano. Soriano then threw two pitches out of the zone, and Viciedo didn't swing at them, drawing a walk. Viciedo swings at everything! He only has 12 walks this year. I thought it was a sign. Nope - Alexei Ramirez struck out swinging in the next at-bat.

- About Viciedo: I like him and all, but is it too much to ask for a little consistency? He has stretches where he is crushing the ball, and he follows that up with stretches where he won't hit. I understand that this is his game, and potentially his ceiling. It's just frustrating, that's all.

A great example of this is nicely divided by the previous two months. In May, Viciedo batted .351 with eight home runs and 24 RBIs. In June he hit .179 with three home runs and nine RBI (with one HR and three RBIs coming on Thursday). Then, after his big game Thursday and a nice game Friday (2-for-4, three runs scored), he went 0-6 with six strikeouts on Saturday and Sunday.

- Kevin Youkilis has been all right for the Sox. So far, he is 6-for-26, with four RBIs. Not impressive, but it is better than what they had before. Youkilis has been batting second for the Sox, which has pushed Gordon Beckham into the ninth spot. Beckham has been slumping over the last few games (five 0-fors since Youkilis arrived). Obviously, everyone will adjust and things will be fine.

Defense, though, might remain an issue. Youk was formidable for the most part, but he had some lapses. He had problems catching pop-ups with the overhead sun in the Bronx on Saturday, losing a few balls despite wearing sunglasses and covering the sun with his glove. He also botched a fairly routine ground ball on Sunday. The Sox will sacrifice his defense for his bat, and late inning replacements (Orlando Hudson, Brent Morel) are always an option if he isn't the best fielder.

- Paul Konerko is back to hitting the ball. Phew! After having only one hit in his previous five games, he had a hit in each game, and went 3-for-5 Friday night.

- Hats off to Dylan Axelrod and Gavin Floyd for competing hard in their starts. Axelrod only allowed two runs on Friday (both with two outs in the fifth inning), picking up a no decision. Floyd allowed four runs on Sunday, yet continuously got out of jams and kept his team in the game. He threw 121 pitches in 100-degree heat, but got a loss.

- Jake Peavy did all he could do on Saturday. He went all eight innings and struck out eleven Yankees. The short porch in right field really did Peavy in. The three home runs he gave up were all of the same variety - a lefty came to the plate, took an uppercut swing, and just put enough bat on the ball to loft it out of the park. They didn't even look like home runs off of the bat. Yet no excuse - the Sox had the same short porch hitting advantage, and Kuroda simply outpitched Peavy that day.

- I wouldn't rush out to purchase a Leyson Septimo jersey just yet, but he has pitched about as well as one could over his first two MLB games. In his debut on Friday, Septimo K'd up both Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano for a 1-2-3 ninth, and on Sunday he went 2.1 innings, not allowing any hits or walks while striking out two. The lefty can hit the low 90s on the gun, and his big sweeping slider is tough to hit.

- Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn and Chris Sale all made the American League all-star team, and rightfully so. AJ Pierzynski was left off the team, and that's a tough snub. Jake Peavy was left off the team as well, though he is in the final voting for the last spot this week. More on that later in the week.

 
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