White Sox

White Sox: Matt Albers' moment immortalized on baseball card

White Sox: Matt Albers' moment immortalized on baseball card

Matt Albers' game-winning trek around the bases has been immortalized on a baseball card — at least temporarily.

Topps Baseball is selling a card online through Friday of Albers' moment, one that rallied the White Sox to a 2-1 victory in 13 innings over the New York Mets and had them fired up afterward. 

Albers' first hit since 2007 in his first plate appearance since 2009 was no cheapie, either. On the sixth pitch against Logan Verrett, Albers ripped a fastball that two-hopped to the wall in left-center field. With no slide, Albers barely beat the strong throw of Mets center fielder Juan Lagares to second. He also somehow managed to defy physics and keep his foot glued to the bag when second baseman Neil Walker applied the tag. 

"He almost joined the cadaver club on the ankle," manager Robin Ventura said. "It wasn’t very good getting into second, but it was good enough. Just the contact is amazing. He hit it hard. You never know with pitchers."

The fact that it was a pitcher who provided the magic in a 1-all contest in the 13th inning had Albers' teammates going mad in the dugout. From selecting a bat that worked to the moment his teammates learned he hits on the opposite side from which he throws — "allegedly, I'm left handed," he told Dioner Navarro — to Albers' trip around the bases, the White Sox dugout was in hysterics.

"They were laughing," Albers said. "They didn’t think I could do that. It was pretty funny. But I did that, wild pitch and scored on a sac fly. Luckily, I was a starter for a while. It’s been a while since I started. I kind of had done that before, didn’t feel too uncomfortable at the plate or on the bases. I’m not very good, but didn’t feel too uncomfortable."

Ventura, who cameras caught smiling when Albers skidded into second, described the atmosphere in his dugout as straight out of Little League. Navarro yelled from the top step when Albers reached second and then apologized to Walker for not sliding. And Mat Latos, who originally gave Albers his heavier bat only to have it rejected, pounded on the railing as Albers scored on a Jose Abreu sacrifice fly while teammates hooted and hollered in the background.

"Any time you’re in extra innings, it gets a little weird," Ventura said. "But when a pitcher gets a hit and gets on base, it gets fun. That’s part of the game that I think guys enjoy. They’re like kids. It can be like Little League, guys jumping around. When he got to third it was even more so, and then the fact he can score. It’s like Little League. It really is. I think they enjoy it just as much. People don’t see that part of it. They’re professional and everything, but they were like kids."

Albers has proven to be one of the team's most youthful players all season. His celebrations got more snd more spirited with each instance when he extended his franchise-record scoreless games streak early in the season. Later on, Albers' celebration in the dugout in Toronto after making a spectacular play on a bunt, one in which he mentioned his cat-like skills, was captured on camera for all to see. 

While he temporarily shelved any emotions Wednesday in order to record the final three outs of the game — "he composed himself," Ventura said. "He didn't get all crazy" — Albers let loose afterward in the handshake line. 

It was a moment Albers hadn't experienced much in May. During their 4-15 stretch, Albers went 0-4 with a 11.57 ERA in 10 games. But during a 23-10 run to open the season, Albers was 1-0 with a 0.57 ERA and seven holds in 15 games. 

He has been one of many catalysts for the team's success this season. Navarro said Wednesday's experience was significant for everyone given all that Albers and his teammates have gone through the past three weeks.

"Really super happy for Albers," Navarro said. "Sometimes stuff like that has to happen to bring the team even closer. We’re really happy."

Lucas Giolito relieved to be able to shed No. 1 pitching prospect label

Lucas Giolito relieved to be able to shed No. 1 pitching prospect label

GLENDALE, AZ — You don’t need a scale to see that Lucas Giolito lost some weight in the offseason. As he walks around Camelback Ranch, he just seems lighter. These pounds were shedded thanks to a certain label that has been detached from his name and his being.

“Lucas Giolito, number-one pitching prospect in baseball” is no more.

“Definitely. Big time relief. I carried that title for a while,” Giolito told NBC Sports Chicago. “It was kind of up and down. I was (ranked) 1 at one point. I dropped. I always paid attention to it a little bit moving through the minor leagues.”

Which for any young hurler is risky business. The “best pitching prospect” designation can mess with a pitcher’s psyche and derail a promising career. Giolito was walking a mental tightrope reading those rankings, but after making it back to the majors last season with the White Sox and succeeding, the moniker that seemed to follow him wherever he went has now vanished.

“Looking back on it, that stuff is pretty cool," Giolito said. "It can pump you up and make you feel good about yourself, but in the end the question is, what are you going to do at the big league level? Can you contribute to a team? I’m glad that I finally have the opportunity to do that and all that other stuff is in the rear view."

This wasn’t the case when the White Sox acquired Giolito from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton trade in December 2016. When he arrived at spring training last year, he was carrying around tons of extra baggage in his brain that was weighing him down. Questions about his ability and makeup weren’t helping as he tried living up to such high expectations.

“Yeah, I’d say especially with the trade coming off 2016 where I didn’t perform well at all that year," Giolito said. "I got traded over to a new organization, I still have this label on me of being a top pitching prospect while I’m going to a new place, I’m trying to impress people but at the same time I had a lot of things off mechanically I was trying to fix. Mentally, I was not in the best place as far as pitching went. It definitely added some extra pressure that I didn’t deal with well for a while."

How bad was it for Giolito? Here are some of the thoughts that were scrambling his brain during spring training and beyond last season.

“I saw I wasn’t throwing as hard. I was like, ’Where did my velocity go?’ Oh, it’s my mechanics. My mechanics are bad. I need to fix those,” Giolito said. “Then I’m trying to make adjustments. Why can’t I make this adjustment? It compounds. It just builds and builds and builds and can weigh on you a ton. I was 22 turning 23 later in the year. I didn’t handle it very well. I put a lot of pressure on myself to fix all these different things about my performance, my pitching and trying to do it all in one go instead of just relaxing and remembering, ‘Hey, what am I here for? Why do I play the game?’”

Still, pitching coach Don Cooper wanted to see what he had in his young prospect. So last February, he scheduled him to make his White Sox debut against the Cubs in front of a packed house in Mesa.

“It was kind of like a challenge," Giolito said. "They fill the stadium over there. I’m like, ‘Alright here we go."

Giolito gave up one run, three hits, walked one and struck out two in two innings against the Cubs that day.

“I pitched OK," he said. "I think I gave up a home run to Addison Russell. At the same time, I remember that game like I was forcing things. I might have pitched okay, but I was forcing the ball over the plate instead of relaxing, trusting and letting it happen which is kind of my mantra now. I’m saying that all the time, just having confidence in yourself and letting it go.”

A conversation in midseason with Charlotte Knights pitching coach Steve McCatty, suggested by Cooper, helped turn Giolito’s season around. The lesson for Giolito: whatever you have on the day you take the mound is what you have. Don’t force what isn’t there.

Fortunately for Giolito he has extra pitches in his arsenal, so if the curveball isn’t working (which it rarely did when he came up to the majors last season) he can go to his change-up, fastball, slider, etc.

It’s all part of the learning process, both on the mound and off it. Setbacks are coming. Giolito has already had his share. More will be on the way.

“You want to set expectations for yourself. You want to try and achieve great goals,” he said. “At the same time, it is a game of failure. There’s so much that you have to learn through experience whether that be success or failure. Especially going through the minor leagues. There’s so much that you have to learn and a lot of it is about development. It’s a crazy ride for sure.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

In this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Danny Parkins (670 The Score), Chris Bleck (ESPN 1000) and Scott King (WGN Radio) join David Kaplan on the panel.

Ryan Pace’s offseason begins. Josh Sitton and Jerrell Freeman are gone, but what will he do with Kyle Fuller?

Plus, Rick Hahn joins Kap from Glendale, Ariz., to discuss the state of the White Sox rebuild, how tough it is to keep their best prospects in the minors and why Jose Abreu is so important for his young team?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: