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Running Bases

We called it Running Bases. Other kids might have known the game as Hot Box. Whatever its name, as few as three kids could play, and the game could go on for hours.

Two bases, maybe 60 or 70 feet apart, could be anything from squares drawn with a stick in the dirt or a couple of those orange floppy rubber bases common to our PE classes. Two basemen and one runner. The object was to get caught off base as the fielders tossed the ball back and forth and then to reach either base safely. If you were tagged out, you traded places with a defender. Advancing to the base where you didn't start would earn you a point.

This could be exhausting because the runner's stops and starts, feints and dodging required stamina, creativity and dexterity. The game frequently was interrupted when one or more participants wound up writhing on the ground, gasping for air, and laughing uncontrollably.

Which was similar to my reaction Friday evening as the White Sox botched a game-tying rundown in the ninth inning against the Royals.

In case you missed it, the Sox led 5-4 with closer Alex Colomé seeking a four-out save. After a one-out walk, Maikel Franco hit a ball to left-center, figuring he had a certain double. But, then, he's not so familiar with Luis Robert, who raced over to cut off the ball. An overconfident Franco bounded past first base as the relay came from Robert to Tim Anderson and then to second baseman Danny Mendick, who had a clear shot at Franco now caught between first and second.

Hence the game of Running Bases ensued. Let's freeze right there and do some simple math. As we all know, the distance from home plate to first base is 90 feet. However, Mendick, standing at second, was 127 feet, 3-⅜ inches from home plate with the tying run now ensconced at third. Therefore, every step toward first base, assuming Mendick would run Franco back from whence he came, would bring Mendick and the ball closer to the plate in the event that pinch runner Bubba Starling had any intention of scoring the tying run.

There was, however, a problem. Mendick immediately threw a bullet to José Abreu who had no choice but to start running Franco toward second, which is exactly where Franco thought he was going in the first place. And, of course, with each step, Abreu was moving farther away from home plate.

Let's pause again simply to say that quirky plays like this one are what makes the game so interesting, unpredictable, breathtaking and pleasing. It's one reason why we keep watching. You never know what's going to happen.

Nearing second base, Franco almost simultaneously dove at the bag while Abreu lunged to tag him, and the umpire ruled Franco safe. In this video age of replays and challenges, catcher Yasmani Grandal looked to the dugout to see if Sox manager Rickey Renteria was going to appeal the play at second. Problem Number 2: No one had called time out. So while Grandal's attention went elsewhere, Abreu, realizing that he was on the seat of his pants in the middle of the infield, threw the ball home from a prone position even though Starling remained motionless at third base.

José made a lovely throw, a one-hopper right on the money. Problem Number 3: Grandal wasn't looking. His attention was on the Sox dugout. The ball rolled right between his legs, and since Colomé's participation in this circus was strictly as a spectator, the sphere rolled to the backstop as Starling sped home with the tying run.



Fortunately for the Sox and Grandal, all was forgotten and forgiven moments later in the bottom of the ninth when Yasmani deposited an Ian Kennedy pitch far up into the right-field seats for a 6-5 White Sox walkoff victory.

Then, Robert connected in the 10th inning on Sunday for a three-run shot to complete two weekend exhilarating victories over the hapless Royals.

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With a team that's posted 11 wins in its last 13 games and finds itself tied for first place with Cleveland, why focus on the one play that made them look downright silly on Friday night? Like I said, the game's goofiness, even when the victim is your hometown club, creates memories, stories, and head-shaking moments. Like Gordon Beckham's knockdown of his third baseman on a routine infield popup a few years ago. Man, that was something!

And it doesn't just happen to the White Sox. Look no further than Saturday afternoon in St. Louis where Cleveland eked out a 2-1 win over the Cardinals. In the bottom of the 10th with one out, Yadier Molina was on third base representing the tying run. Yes, the same Yadier Molina who is a 17-year veteran catcher no doubt headed for the Hall of Fame.

Matt Carpenter hit a bouncer toward first that hugged the line. Carlos Santana easily fielded it and stepped on the base for the second out. But wait. Santana got so enthused that he juggled the ball upon seeing Molina calmly standing stone-still halfway between third and home. Santana secured the ball and did exactly what he's supposed to do - run across the diamond directly at Molina, who apparently thought the ball was foul. He was tagged out to end the game.

The Cleveland-St. Louis game was getting plenty of attention in the White Sox TV booth as Jason Benetti not only was describing the Sox game but also telling us what was going on in St. Louis as well as in Detroit where the Tigers were beating the Twins in a doubleheader.

There used to be a saying in baseball, "Act like you've been there." Some of the greatest players - Joe DiMaggio comes to mind - rarely showed any emotion regardless of their memorable heroics. Hit a game-ending homer? Maybe a smile, but the modus operandi was, "What did you expect? This is what I do."

However, even with a month left in the season, Benetti isn't only scoreboard watching, he's giving us a play-by-play of the teams the Sox have to beat. If this were the final weekend of the season and the Sox were in the race, I could understand that. But now? By far the most important result is what the Sox do. If the boys keep winning, the Twins and Indians matter not at all.

But, in fact, the Sox haven't "been there before." At least not for a long time. And this is a very different era for all kinds of reasons. Not only are the Sox winning with a delightful mixture of youth and experience, but they're doing so with a theatrical potion of guys like Eloy Jimenez, Tim Anderson and Lucas Giolito.

After his majestic no-hitter last Tuesday against the Pirates, in which only one batter reached base on a walk, Giolito certainly gave shoutouts to catcher James McCann and his mates' defense, but he also said, "After the seventh I was like, I got six outs left. I'm gonna make this happen. I knew it was in there. I knew it was possible that I'd be able to pull one off."

You didn't hear "I was just fortunate out there today," or "I have to thank the good Lord above," or "I'm just lucky to be here." Vocalizing confidence and exuding belief in oneself are acceptable behaviors today. Guys like Giolito might have had these thoughts, but they didn't disclose them in years gone by. One cliché after another is becoming enshrined in the past along with hard slides at second base and brushback pitches. We even have seven-inning games. As long as the White Sox keep winning, who cares?

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

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