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If you're planning on going to The Cell this week to see the resurgent White Sox tangle with the Indians and Twins, plan on sticking around for awhile. Work, school and appointments the next day will have to wait. Don't leave early.
Scoring late and often, the South Siders sent that message to the Milwaukee Brewers and Oakland A's - along with heretofore frustrated fans - last week as the Sox won five of six on the road to square their record at 17. Two weeks ago, after losing four in a row to the Twins, the team's stock was about as low as Chicago's bond rating. But four straight series victories and nine wins in the last 12 games have signaled that just maybe this team still could live up to the preseason hype.
More than half of the 33 runs the Sox scored in six games last week (17) came in the last three innings. Good teams will do that. In the only game they lost - a 10-7 decision last Monday in Milwaukee - the Sox were trailing 6-0 after four innings, and 7-2 after six. Three runs in the seventh and two more in the eighth tied the game before Zach Duke gave up a couple of homers to sink Robin Ventura's crew.
The last-place A's may have thought they were headed for one of their few victories on Friday, holding a 6-2 lead after six innings. Helped by an error, the Sox put together five runs after two outs in the seventh inning capped by back-to-back two-run doubles off the bats of Adam LaRoche and Avisail Garcia.
Scoring late and often will win a lot of games, and the Sox are becoming efficient two-out, two-strike hitters. With two outs, the Sox scored 18 times last week. No matter what you call it - situational hitting, a good approach - getting big hits with two outs does more than simply score runs. It picks up the spirit and resolve of athletes and fans alike. It says the team is resilient. The boys have focus. Comebacks, walkoffs and late scoring are so unexpected. Watching the Sox becomes a joyful experience. What fun!
Not only that, the White Sox are putting the ball in play. Remember last season when only four teams fanned more than the Sox? As of this morning, only the Braves and Royals had fewer strikeouts than the South Siders.
The White Sox' inability to catch the ball has been more than generous in providing aid to the opposition. However, that is beginning to reverse. The Brewers and A's helped out not only with errors but also wild pitches and even a catcher's interference call on Tuesday as the Sox won 4-2 behind Chris Sale.
The A's made six errors over the weekend, while the Sox had just one miscue. Former Sox prospect Marcus Semien, who went to Oakland as part of the Jeff Samardzija trade, is the A's shortstop, hitting .314 with six homers. Offensively he's as productive as any shortstop in baseball this young season. But the poor guy committed two more errors on Sunday, giving him 13 for the season, more than anyone in either league.
Meanwhile, general manager Rick Hahn made a gutsy move before the Oakland series exchanging second baseman Micah Johnson and his .270 average for Carlos Sanchez, who was summoned from Charlotte. Johnson never looked comfortable in the field or on the bases, not a good combination for a team that was playing poor defense as well as running the bases like, well, the departed Alejandro De Aza. The team still remains dead last in baseball with seven stolen bases in 18 attempts.
Sanchez went just 2-for-12 in Oakland, but he was in the middle of three double plays, looking completely at home alongside shortstop Alexei Ramirez. He will get his share of hits, but with this lineup, his contribution will be with the glove.
Making a big difference during the streak has been centerfielder and leadoff man Adam Eaton. If he's not the straw that stirs the drink - Jose Abreu has earned that title - Eaton clearly qualifies as the spoon that mixes the cream in the coffee. Hitting a paltry .192 at the start of this month, Eaton now is up to .232 after going 11-for-28 on the road trip.
Eaton coaxed a 12-pitch walk to lead off Wednesday's 4-2 win in Milwaukee in a classic at bat for a No. 1 hitter. He later scored on Garcia's home run. LaRoche followed with another round-tripper, which was all the help Jose Quintana needed as he pitched seven innings of one-run ball.
Quintana was joined by Sale, John Danks, and Samardzija with big-time starting performances during the road trip. Samardzija bounced back Sunday to beat Oakland 7-3 after being pummeled on Monday by the Brewers. Aside from Monday and Carlos Rodon's walk-plagued start on Friday, Sox starters posted a 2.40 ERA during the streak.
Perhaps the one play that best exemplified the change in this bunch closed out Friday night's 7-6 comeback win against Oakland. The Sox needed a flawless play in the bottom of the ninth, and they got it.
Protecting a one-run lead, Duke retired this first two hitters before walking Stephen Vogt. Coco Crisp followed with a line shot off the left centerfield wall. Eaton skillfully played the carom and hit Ramirez chest-high with his relay in short left field. Sanchez correctly positioned himself about 20 feet behind Alexei in case the relay was wild.
Meanwhile, Abreu sprinted across the diamond getting into position as the cutoff man to home as Vogt - why didn't Oakland manager Bob Melvin pinch run for him? - scampered around third where coach Mike Gallego waved him on and then, too late, held him up.
Abreu made a great play just to get into the right spot, and Ramirez made an equally outstanding throw since Abreu was still moving toward the third base line when he caught Alexei's fireball. Jay Cutler should throw such a pass.
Gordon Beckham was right where he was supposed to be covering third base, and Abreu made another perfect throw to Beckham as Vogt was caught in a rundown. Beckham's missile home to catcher Geovany Soto was in plenty of time to nail Vogt, who actually already had been called out for interference as he flailed his left arm in an attempt to block Beckham's throw. Game over.
Duke has had a rough time recently. In his last five appearances, his ERA has ballooned from 1.54 to 3.18. Chances are he will regain his earlier form, but it was a curious move by Ventura on Friday not to bring in closer David Robertson to protect the lead. Ventura later explained that he doesn't want to burn out Robertson, even though the Sox had an off day Thursday. Sounds like we have the anti-Thibodeau on the South Side.
Robertson returned on Saturday, getting the third out in the eighth inning and retiring the side in order in the ninth. He didn't strike out anyone, which is somewhat surprising since in 16 1/3 innings this season he has 27 strikeouts while walking only two.
All of which indicates that these are not your White Sox of the past two seasons. They're not even your White Sox of a fortnight ago. They're doing things they haven't done in a long, long time. Why? Who cares? As long as it continues.
Roger Wallenstein is our man on the Sox. He welcomes your comments.
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