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He's A Believer

Had the White Sox been in a pennant race, the closing play of Friday night's 7-6 victory over Kansas City would have assumed a prominent place in the team's annals.

As it was, turning a struggle that easily could have gone into extra innings into a game-ending shocker illustrated the uniqueness and unpredictability of the game of baseball. And I missed it.

Sitting in Row 11 of Section 148 down the left field line, I asked my wife Judy if she thought that the Sox, holding the slimmest of one-run leads, would have to bat in the bottom of the ninth. A reasonable question, in my view, since presumptive closer Juan Minaya - who spent seven-plus lackluster seasons in the Astros' farm system before the Sox claimed him off waivers 15 months ago - was summoned by manager Ricky Renteria to silence the Royals before the 18,041 observers on Hispanic Heritage Night could enjoy the fireworks show.

Judy indicated that she would need to use the ladies' room before we departed, so after Minaya struck out Alex Gordon to lead off the ninth, I suggested that she visit the comfort station and meet me at the top of the aisle after Minaya recorded his sixth save.

There I sat, alone, thinking that this truly could happen until Whit Merrifield rifled a line drive single to left. Doubts crept in. With Lorenzo Cain batting, Merrifield stole second.

"This could last all night," I thought, noting that the time was approaching 10:30. "No way I'm sitting here for extra innings."

This negativity, this mistrust, is not unfounded. It has developed over decades in which late-inning failures have taken precedence over last-minute heroics.

Merrifield swiped second on the seventh pitch and a 2-2 count on the crafty Cain. He then fouled off the next two offerings from Minaya. I was cocksure and absolutely certain what would transpire and, sure enough, Cain sent the 10th pitch of the at-bat on a line to right field.

As soon as the ball made contact with the grass, I turned into the aisle, my back to the field, and started up the stairs. After three or four steps, the crowd was stirring, alive, cheering. What possibly could be happening? I turned in time to see catcher Omar Narvaez throw a perfect strike to Yoan Moncada, who threw to shortstop Tim Anderson at second base. Anderson deftly caught the ball on a bounce in time to tag out the sliding Cain.
I remained unconvinced. Surely Merrifield had already scored the tying run. I continued up the steps. But wait. The Sox were merrily walking off the field.

By now the paltry band of Sox faithful knows that Avisail Garcia, even though he stumbled slightly, came up throwing in time to nail Merrifield at the plate before Cain was eliminated on the bases. How did I discover these facts? I've watched the replay at least a dozen times.

We never are too old to learn, and I am finding out that this edition of the White Sox are young, capable, athletic and energetic. Forget that they're 29 games below .500. In September the ledger reads 11-12, which might not be noteworthy until you consider that in the previous four months the team posted a 39-70 mark.

With seven games remaining and 92 losses, these Sox can't lose 100 games. They've vaulted past Detroit into fourth place in the Central Division. They run out every ground ball. Garcia will finish with the second-highest batting average in all of baseball. His 12 assists - he threw out two runners at home on Friday - are two more than any right fielder in the game. Jose Abreu has joined Joe DiMaggio and Albert Pujols as the only players in history with at least 25 home runs (he has 31) and 100 RBI (he got his 100th on Saturday) their first four seasons.

Moncada lined a shot over the centerfield wall Friday night with a man on, which turned out to be the game-winner. He still strikes out too often, but this kid is everything he's cracked up to be. Stretching this season's numbers over 162 games, Moncada would have 23 home runs and 67 RBI with a .235 average. He going to be way better than that. Keep in mind he's just 22-years-old.

Anderson has a 15-game hitting streak in which he's batting .415. He still leads everyone with 26 errors, but he's made just one in September. Yolmer Sanchez has driven in 56 runs. Prior to the season, he wasn't even guaranteed a spot on the roster. Matt Davidson is hitting only .223, but he's slugged 26 homers and driven in 67. The catching duo of Narvaez and Kevan Smith are hitting a combined .278 and have shown improvement defensively. Narvaez has thrown out 24 percent of would-be base stealers, which is about the MLB average of 26 percent.

Reynaldo Lopez pitched into the seventh inning Friday, his fifth straight start of at least six innings. The Royals roughed him up for 10 hits and scored six times (two runs earned) in the third inning. However, the key to Lopez's third win was that he didn't walk anyone. The kid throws strikes.

Lucas Giolito kept up his eye-opening, late-season showing on Sunday by limiting the Royals to a lone run on Cain's solo homer in seven innings of work. He yielded just five hits and, like Lopez, didn't issue a base on balls. Young pitchers simply aren't supposed to do that.

Please be assured that I didn't trip on those stairs Friday, hitting my head and turning into an imbecile. This team remains one of the worst in baseball as far as won-loss records are concerned.

However, consider that 16 players from the Opening Day roster are disabled or have been traded. Only James Shields and Dylan Covey - a duo that doesn't exactly strike fear into the hearts of opposing hitters - remain from the pitching staff of 12 back on April 4.

Four games at home against the Angels before a trio of contests in Cleveland will close out this campaign, one of the more interesting in recent years. This ballclub is a far cry from Robin Ventura's White Sox.

And I won't be turning my back to the field and heading for the exit any time soon until I'm sure of the outcome.

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Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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1. From Lynn Tsuma:

You should never turn your back on this team. They have surprised me at every turn since the break. I love watching them! They have a spark in them that has been missing since the WS. They have fielding lapses sometimes but they make so many heads-up plays that their lapses are quickly forgiven. All they need is pitching and we might see another trophy in our life - that is if Trump doesn't get us killed first.

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