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White Sox Tue Sep 18 2012
It was pretty obvious that Monday's White Sox-Tigers make-up game was one of the most important games of the season. What was more surprising was that the season's most important play (so far) happened in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Yes, I said most important. The play itself didn't directly win the ballgame (though it did provide the margin of victory), nor was it highlight reel worthy. It was a nice microcosm of the 2012 White Sox, and it had a strong impact on the team for the rest of the game - and maybe, the rest of the season.
To set the stage: Sox trail 4-3, bases loaded, one out. Dayan Viciedo up. Though Jose Quintana wasn't great in the contest, Tigers' pitcher Doug Fister wasn't perfect, either. Yet the Sox couldn't really get to Fister. Other than Dewayne Wise's two-RBI single, the offense couldn't bring the runners in scoring position in.
As for the at-bat, Viciedo swung at a slider over the plate and hit a hopper to short. Jhonny Peralta flipped to second to get Alex Rios out, but Rios took out Omar Infante at the bag, and Infante's throw skipped into the Tigers' dugout. Two runs score, Sox lead 5-4. Three reasons why this play stands out:
1. Though everything worked out, the Sox again couldn't come up with a hit in a big spot. Earlier in the game, Kevin Youkilis and Adam Dunn struck out with the bases loaded, and Alexei Ramirez lined out with the bags full in a different frame. Getting guys on is easy; scoring them is much more difficult. It feels like this season has been full of that.
Viciedo got a good pitch to hit, but hit a routine chopper. Good baserunning bailed him out. About that...
2. Alex Rios again showed why he is so valuable. Rios has had a fine season, hitting for contact (.297 average) and power (23 home runs), while also playing some good right field. But his much-overlooked tool, baserunning, was on display in this situation. Rios did a fantastic job by getting a good jump and taking Infante out cleanly at second. Because of the situation and the speed of both Rios and Viciedo, Infante decided to turn the play like he would normally do. He didn't jump, spin or try to get out of the way; his only option was to fire to first as quickly as he could. Rios knew this, slid and took out Infante's left leg that was planted in the baseline in front of the bag. Infante couldn't get much on a throw that was extremely difficult. Rios made it difficult.
3. Rios's heady, aggressive play rubbed off on the rest of the team. The Sox were fired up over the last four innings. Sox pitchers screamed after getting inning-ending outs. Nate Jones hit 100mph on the gun. Donnie Veal worked Prince Fielder over for a K. The crowd roared after each out on defense and each hit on offense. The Sox were running off of adrenaline, and were on a different level than the Tigers the rest of the game.
That wasn't always a good thing. Chalk Dewayne Wise's screw-up to being over-amped. In the eighth, with Gordon Beckham on first, Wise ripped a double to left. After Youkilis was hit by a pitch, Dunn lofted a fly to left. Easy sac fly... except Wise also took off on the play and was nailed at third. Beckham's run didn't score in time.
A sense of dread seeped into Sox Park, and I was fully preparing to see the Sox bullpen blow the one-run lead in the ninth. Nope. Brett Myers, Matt Thornton and Addison Reed -- the shaky trio over the second half -- closed out the contest, recording one out each.
In a division race that gets deeper and tighter by the day, the White Sox got a hard-earned win and gained some separation from their chief rival. Chicago leads the AL Central by three games, heading into a series in Kansas City. This play, Rios hustling and breaking up a sure double play, provided a big spark in one game. That spark can really help the Sox overcome the Royals, who always play Chicago well.