ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Gold Glover Kevin Kiermaier was out, Alex Colome was in and Todd Frazier’s fly ball was in just the right spot where Jimmy Rollins knew he had to advance at all costs.
The veteran White Sox shortstop impacted yet another game in the ninth inning on Friday night when he set up Melky Cabrera’s game-winning hit by tagging up and moving into scoring position. Cabrera’s two-out single to right off Colome gave the White Sox their first lead, and Chris Sale closed out a 1-0 complete-game, shutout victory over the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
“That’s just playing winning baseball,” said Rollins, the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 2007. “They aren’t little things. Paying attention. Playing smart baseball. Knowing what to do in situations.
“You do those things to win. Neither pitcher deserved to lose, and Sale was able to go all nine to get the win.”
Rollins had a lot more on his mind than whether or not replay officials would overturn his leadoff single in the ninth, a ball that just skipped in front of a diving Desmond Jennings in left.
He knew he had to get into scoring position at all costs. He knew that Colome is quick to the plate and impossible to run on. And he knew that Kiermaier was no longer patrolling center field as he and Logan Forsythe both exited after a fourth-inning collision.
As soon as he saw that Todd Frazier’s one-out fly ball to right center would force Tampa Bay outfielders Corey Dickerson and Brandon Guyer to converge, Rollins headed back, tagged up and easily sped into scoring position.
“To have instincts of how far it is, and both of those guys were getting really close to each other,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “So it wasn’t like one of them could back up and get some momentum going on the throw. That’s really where Jimmy took advantage of it.”
Dickerson’s a good outfielder, but he doesn’t possess a cannon like Kiermaier. Rollins had it in his mind he would force the Rays to make a play.
“I know how important it is to get to second base,” Rollins said. “(Colome is) just too quick to home to take a shot right there. The clock says you just can’t do it. Both guys were converging on the ball and neither was giving up ground, so I knew that would give me at least a step and a half. If it was going to be clean, you are going to have to throw me out. I know how important it is to get to second base in scoring position for a single.”
Cabrera immediately perked up in the on-deck circle realizing he’d have a chance to put his team ahead. Two pitches later, Cabrera ripped a fastball to right, and Dickerson’s throw home wasn’t in time to throw out Rollins.
“That was a very good play (by Rollins),” Cabrera said through an interpreter. “He played aggressive and found an opportunity to get a base and he did it. In the end it gave us the victory.”