The first game-winning hit and RBI of the 2015 season belongs to J.B. Shuck.
Raise your hand if you had that prediction before the baseball season got going.
It hasn’t been an easy first week for the White Sox, what with four losses in their first four games. In those four defeats, they were outscored, 28-7.
And while Saturday afternoon’s turnaround from a 4-0 deficit had many key players — Adam LaRoche and Geovany Soto belted home runs, Jeff Samardzija settled down after a rough start to go seven innings and David Robertson struck out all three hitters he faced in the ninth — the biggest moment belonged to Shuck, who stepped in as a pinch hitter and delivered the biggest run of the White Sox young season in a 5-4 win over the Twins.
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“I made sure I was loose and ready to go, took some flips in the cage, and if it was going to happen I was ready to go,” Shuck said after the game.
“It’s something you get used to. It’s a battle. You’re going to get great pitchers almost every time you pinch hit, so you’ve just got to really focus on getting the job done and sticking to your gameplan.”
The White Sox made two quick outs to start the bottom of the eighth with the game tied at 4. But Alexei Ramirez kept things alive with an infield single (which was more the result of a bad throw from Twins shortstop Danny Santana), and Conor Gillaspie followed with a double down the right-field line.
It was Soto’s turn to hit, and he’d gone 2-for-3 with a home run and a deep fly out in his at-bats. But Robin Ventura picked Shuck, and he made his manager look good by dropping a base hit into left field that scored Ramirez as the go-ahead run. Gillaspie was thrown out at home trying to score on the hit, but it didn’t matter, the White Sox had the lead.
“We were really excited,” Soto said. “It was really an exiting time. ... Gave us the lead into the ninth. I’m not going to lie, it was an awesome feeling to get that run into the ninth and see our closer close a game and get a ‘W.’ That was pretty cool.”
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As for the decision to go with the pinch-hitter Shuck over the hot bat of Soto? Ventura said it just came down to the success Shuck had during spring training. He hit .339 with six doubles and five RBIs in Arizona, and that success seems to have translated to the regular season.
“Shuckie with the pinch hit, he's been having great at-bats all spring, and you want a guy in there just fighting for that, scratching and clawing trying to get him in,” Ventura said.
“I thought it was more (going up against a right-handed pitcher with a left-handed batter), but again you are looking at the at-bats J.B. has had all through spring and even in Kansas City. I just felt like it was the right time to have him go up there. Geo had a great game. I thought he did a great job with Jeff, of getting him to (the seventh inning). But I just felt it was a better matchup with J.B. in there.”
Performing in a pinch is Shuck’s role on this team, but with a lineup stacked with Jose Abreus, Adam LaRoches, Avisail Garcias and Melky Cabreras, it’s kind of surprising that it’s Shuck who came through with the first clutch moment of the season.
He’s just happy it meant the White Sox were winners for the first time in 2015.
“It’s a great feeling, but like I said, this was great win,” Shuck said. “This was a good team-building game right here, and I think we’re going to roll with this one.”