Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Posted: 9:09 p.m. Updated: 1:12 a.m.
By Brett Ballatini
NEW YORKIvan Nova, having vanquished the Chicago White Sox for 6 13 innings, sat in the Yankees dugout, spitting sunflower seeds and bobbing his head to Sweet Home Alabama.
As incongruous as a Dominican grooving to southern men seemed, even more so was the White Soxs comeback in the eighth inning, erasing Novas win and propelling the Pale Hose to a second straight win in the Bronx.
Paul Konerkos two-run homer in the eight off of flailing reliever Rafael Soriano instead handed a 3-2 win to Gavin Floyd, who authored a brilliant outing of 10 strikeouts against one walk and just three hits.
Gavin, man, he threw the ball good, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. Today is the best Ive seen him throw the ball in a little while.
Floyd upped his record to 3-1 on the season and trimmed some 40 points off his ERA, which now stands at a taut 3.60.
Sergio Santos came on for his second straight save, escaping a jam created by Floyd and Matt Thornton and further cementing his place as the clubs closer. He did it with amazing help from sub right fielder Brent Lillibridge, who ended the game with two straight spectacular catches.
With runners on first and second with one out, cleanup hitter Alex Rodriguez slapped a screaming line drive toward the wall, over the substitute right fielders head.
It came off hard, but I saw the slice and tried to get to the wall as fast as I could, Lillibridge said. It started moving on me a little bit, and I kind of ran out of space hitting the wall. Working in that confined space, with the right-field foul pole at 314 feet is a little different than most ballparks. I reached out there and concentrated on it and made the catch to get the first one. But I didnt know the next one would be harder.
Lillibridge robbed Rodriguez but was unable to double off either Derek Jeter at second base or Mark Teixeira at first, giving Robinson Cano a chance to be a hero. The second sacker stroked a line drive down the right-field line that Lillibridge made an even more incredible catch on, a full-extension diving grab to save the game.
I got a good read on it, but the biggest thing in my head was if there was a close ball I have a chance to catch, Im going for it, he said. We have to have that attitude. Its been rough for us, so I said, All or nothing. I could have been the goat. In this instance, I was able to win the game.
The loquacious manager had his punch line all set up, from the beginning of his postgame remarks, and as usual, he was dead on.
Well, first of all, finally I found my closer: Lillibridge, Guillen said, laughing uproariously. Hes the one thats going to be closing games from now on. All Chicago fans, they can sleep very well, because I found my closer.
Sleep tight, Chicago. Life in the White Sox world is starting to look up.
Its been a wild ride for Lillibridge, who just a month ago was fighting for his White Sox life and now finds himself in some waysGuillens joking asideas the offensive and special-teams closer for the club. As a pinch-runner, bunter, and especially as a player able to man six positions on the field, Lillibridge has proven invaluable.
One of the big reasons Lillibridge made the ballclub is because we know he can play the outfield very well, Guillen said. He got three wins for us. He steals second just yesterday and we come up with the run. Every time we put him in the game, he scores some runs. On defense hes been great we know he can play the outfield.
His two catches to end the game can be burned onto the season highlight DVD already, no matter how far the White Sox play into October.
Ive never had anything like that in my career right now, Lillibridge said, shyly smiling with pride. Sometimes you dont know whats going on even as it happensyou react to the ball and take a chance. You cant practice diving in batting practice.
Usually, when the ball goes over my head off the bat, you have a pretty good impression of what the results going to be, Konerko said. I didnt think either of those was going to be caught. Both of them were completely different plays, but coming late in the game like that, making those two plays in those situations was awesome I dont think Ive ever seen a game end with two great plays like that by one guy.
The Lord was with Brent, making those two catches, Floyd said. He made some fantastic catches out there. They better be No. 1 and 2 TV web gems.
Somewhat humorously, Santos let out a yell upon the closing out that you could practically hear in the press box.
Gosh, amazing, said Santos, with his arm wrapped but still a bit dazed in the locker room minutes later. I havent felt that alive in a long time, just the adrenaline. For Lillibridge to make two huge plays back-to back, just, its nice that things are finally going our way, especially in the ninth inning because we had bad luck at home. So its nice to steal another win out here.
As a former fielder himself, Santos was more than interested in talking more about the incredible end to the game, courtesy of his pitching and Lillibridges defense.
I thought the first catch was tougher because I knew Lillibridge was playing deep, and it felt like it was up in the air for 10 minutes. After he made the catch, I was like, Great, Santos said. The one to Cano, once it left the infield and I saw it kind of hanging up in the air, I thought maybe hes got a chance to dive and catch it, because I knew he couldnt catch it on the run. I dont think Ive ever yelled as loud in my life. It was good.
Whats sweet about Lillibridges story is that hes no longer a player tormented by his role or shortcomings. Obviously, any major leaguer wants to move up the depth chart from No. 25 on the roster, but the superutilityman has turned a lack of playing time into an opportunity to impact the game with a single at-bat or run scored. The maturity hes put on display even dating back to last season makes him a guy the entire clubhouse roots for.
Typically, Lillibridge shrugs off most plaudits, with a bottom-line approach to playing, and winning.
Im just trying to get a games played recorded in the stat book, he said. Im just doing my job of going in there and playing defense. I try to steal a base and allowed Paulie to get a couple of fastballs Ive always felt a part of this team and have done what Im supposed to do. Making plays like tonight, even in a limited role, how can you not be excited?
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.coms White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information.