Avisail Garcia has produced more good signs in the past three days than he did in the previous two months.
Only in the lineup Wednesday because of recent progress at the plate, the White Sox outfielder forced in the winning run with a bases-loaded walk in the 10th inning of a 6-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays at U.S. Cellular Field. Garcia -- who also blasted a three-run homer during a five-run first -- followed two intentional walks with a five-pitch walk against All-Star reliever Brad Boxberger and then was forced to dodge a mob of happy teammates in pursuit.
“That's why we're here,” Garcia said. “We've been fighting, fighting, fighting. Take that at-bat, I was looking for a good pitch and trying to bring pressure. Relax and throw my hands through the ball.
"Don't try to do too much because it's one out, the bases loaded. I just tried to be focused and be patient."
During a two-month slump, Garcia earned a reputation as a free swinger with poor pitch selection. The young outfielder has always been aggressive, but in between June 8 and Tuesday’s loss, Garcia struck out 28.8 percent of the time, up five percent from 2014.
[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]
So with Adam Eaton on third base and one out and Jose Abreu and Melky Cabrera due up, Rays manager Kevin Cash called for two free passes. Garcia fouled off Boxberger’s second pitch to even the count at 1-1 before he took three straight balls, including several close pitches.
“He has to be patient,” said White Sox manager Robin Ventura, who started Garcia over rookie Trayce Thompson because he had begun to pull the ball in losses Monday and Tuesday. “You know (Boxberger) has a great split and throws 94 so it’s hard to lay off that.
“For (Garcia) to be able to do that and look comfortable doing it, not looking like he had a trigger finger going -- he needs to do that. That’s part of the rumor going around about him; he’s going to swing at everything. He’s got to be able to shorten up and be able to get it in the zone and do something with it.”
Losers in five of their previous six, the White Sox offense looked in the zone in the first inning against Tampa Rays starter Erasmo Ramirez.
Eaton walked and Saladino and Abreu singled, the latter bringing a run in when Kevin Kiermaier overran the ball in center. Cabrera’s ground-rule double made it 2-0 and Garcia pulled a three-run homer to give the White Sox a five-run lead. Garcia also homered on Tuesday, his first since June 8. Wednesday’s homer traveled 420 feet.
But Ramirez settled down and retired 16 of the last 18 he faced, which allowed Tampa Bay to rally from its 5-0 deficit. The Rays scored four off Carlos Rodon and got another in the eighth on a sloppy relay on Brandon Guyer’s two-out RBI double.
The White Sox didn’t rally again until the seventh inning when Geovany Soto and Carlos Sanchez started with consecutive singles. But Eaton struck out looking and Tyler Saladino grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Eaton led off the 10th inning with a single to center against Boxberger, stole second base and advanced to third when the throw glanced off Asdrubal Cabrera’s glove and hit him in the ear. Asdrubal Cabrera exited the game after the second intentional walk and was diagnosed with a bruise after he underwent tests for concussion-like symptoms.
Five pitches later, Garcia raced toward the middle of the diamond to escape the playful charge of Melky Cabrera and the rest of his teammates.
“Competitors -- especially Avisail -- kind of rally to that,” Eaton said. “When they pick the guy you want to face, you kind of take that as, ‘Hey, I need to do it here.’ You take a littlerival to that -- ‘Let’s hurt them here, make it hurt, right guy, right spot kind of mentality.’ And when he got down early, Avisail’s an aggressive hitter, but he stayed patient, which was great.”