White Sox

Matt Albers plays unlikely extra-inning hero in White Sox win

Matt Albers plays unlikely extra-inning hero in White Sox win

NEW YORK — Matt Albers got his groove back.

So too did the White Sox bullpen.

Forced to hit for himself, Albers doubled, advanced on a wild pitch and scored the winning run as the White Sox beat the New York Mets, 2-1, in 13 innings in front of 34,160 at Citi Field.

Two innings from Albers — part of eight scoreless by the bullpen — Jose Abreu’s go-ahead sac fly and five double plays turned pushed the White Sox to their first series victory since May 8. The White Sox had lost six consecutive series, a stretch in which the previously unhittable Albers went 0-4 with an 11.57 ERA in 10 games.

Todd Frazier provided the team's only other offense with a game-tying solo homer, his 17th, in the seventh inning off Jacob deGrom.

“I don’t have words to describe that,” Abreu said of Albers through an interpreter.

Making his first plate appearance since 2009, Albers — who hits from the left side — smoked a 2-2 fastball from Logan Verrett over Mets outfielders in left center. After he didn’t slide into second base, Albers advanced on a wild pitch and easily scored when he tagged up on Abreu’s sac fly to center. Prior to the sac fly, Abreu went 0-for-4 with a walk and had stranded four base runners.

Albers then composed himself and worked around a two-out walk — the 13th issued by a White Sox pitcher — to preserve the victory.

“I almost ran (Mets second baseman Neil) Walker over,” Albers said. “I was like, ‘Sorry, man, I don’t know how to slide.’

“That was awesome to get the win and be a part of it. A hit means nothing if I don’t go out and get those next three outs. After I caught my breath, I went back out there and finished it off.”

The White Sox had to catch their collective breath after Albers’ trip around the bases.

Though it was his third career hit, including one off current teammate Zach Duke in 2007, Albers hadn’t batted in seven years. Closer David Robertson — who pitched two scoreless innings ahead of Albers and nearly batted in the top of the 12th — said he has seen Albers take healthy hacks in spring training. That combined with several nice defensive plays had Robertson convinced his teammate might be able to produce.

“He’s an athlete, he really is,” Robertson said.

Albers immediately knew he’d hit after he retired James Loney on a groundout to end the 12th. Pitcher Mat Latos handed him a bat, but it was too heavy. Albers then turned to Dioner Navarro for a piece of lumber — 32 1/ 2 inches, 32 ounces — and a helmet.

But nobody knew what to expect, especially as the right-handed pitcher stepped to the plate on the left side.

“Navarro was like, ‘You have the wrong helmet,’ and I was like, ‘I’m allegedly left-handed,’” Albers said.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura said Albers didn’t flinch when he learned he’d bat.

“He didn’t even hesitate,” Ventura said. “He wanted an elbow guard, and he was ready to go.”

Ditto for the bottom of the inning, even though Albers had already thrown 18 pitches.

Albers, who saw a franchise-record streak of 30 straight scoreless appearances end on April 16, quickly recorded the first two outs. He walked Rene Rivera but retired pinch-hitter Kevin Plawecki on his 37th pitch to end the game.

It was a Herculean effort by the White Sox bullpen, which bounced back nicely in New York after a horrifying weekend in Kansas City. As bad as the relievers were in Kansas City, they were nearly as good in the Big Apple. White Sox relievers posted four scoreless in Tuesday night’s comeback victory and another in a one-run loss on Monday, giving them 13 in the series. The group allowed 14 earned runs in 6 1/3 innings against the Kansas City Royals.

On Wednesday they picked up the slack after Miguel Gonzalez lasted only five innings. Gonzalez kept the White Sox within striking distance, allowing just a run. But he also walked five batters.

Dan Jennings loaded the bases with a single and two walks in the sixth, but Zach Putnam struck out Rivera to end the threat. Duke struck out three batters in the seventh, and Nate Jones worked around a walk and stranded a runner in the eighth with a double play — the fourth turned by the White Sox. Jones returned in the ninth and retired the side in order, including a strike out of pinch hitter Yoenis Cespedes. Robertson followed a 42-pitch effort to provide two scoreless innings.

That set the stage for Albers, who didn’t allow an earned run until May 5, his 13th appearance. The man who loaned him his bat thinks the performance can help Albers rediscover some of his early season form, which would in turn help the bullpen.

The eight scoreless innings are the most by a White Sox bullpen since Aug. 20, 1995.

“Great boost,” Navarro said. “Everybody has trouble throughout the season, it’s such a long season and people go through hot and cold stretches. We’ve just got to minimize the damage. We knew we didn’t perform the way we normally performed in Kansas City. But if there’s a time where you’ve gotta go through a funk like that it’s right now because you’ve got to find out what you’re made of. We did a pretty good job this series and we’ve just got to keep going hard every day.”

Let's compare birthday boy Dan Pasqua to Daniel Palka

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GOOGLE IMAGES

Let's compare birthday boy Dan Pasqua to Daniel Palka

Daniel Palka was a phenomenon in 2018. But before there was Daniel Palka, there was Dan Pasqua. You might have heard the Palka/Pasqua comparisons on White Sox game broadcasts or within White Sox fan circles. Both are lefty sluggers with a similar build: Palka listed at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Pasqua at 6-foot-0 and 203 ppounds. Both led the White Sox in home runs in their age-26 seasons: Pasqua with 20 in 1988, Palka with 27 in 2018. And hey, they have the same first name and last initial!

Pasqua, nicknamed “The Hammer,” turned 57 years old Wednesday. Let’s learn a few more things about him.

— He was a teammate of John Elway (for four games with Oneonta of the New York-Pennsylvania League in 1982), Bo Jackson (with the White Sox from 1991 to 1993) and Michael Jordan (for four games with Birmingham of the Southern League in 1994).

— He was the 1985 International League MVP with the Columbus Clippers.

— He homered in his MLB debut on May 30, 1985, with the Yankees

— He was Sports Illustrated’s 1987 preseason pick to lead the American League in home runs. He finished with 17, only 32 behind Mark McGwire.

— He hit a Comiskey Park roof shot on May 30, 1989.

— He hit the last triple (and had the last RBI) in Comiskey Park history on Sept. 30, 1990.

— He hit a 484-foot home run, the third-longest by a White Sox player in Guaranteed Rate Field history, on April 27, 1991.

— He finished his MLB career with 117 home runs, tied with all-time great outfielders Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Ichiro Suzuki.

And finally, let’s compare Pasqua to Palka statistically. Since Palka had 449 career plate appearances through the end of the 2018 season, here's the duo's numbers through their first 449 career MLB plate appearances.

Could Manny Machado's NLCS shenanigans impact White Sox potential free-agent pursuit?

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USA TODAY

Could Manny Machado's NLCS shenanigans impact White Sox potential free-agent pursuit?

"It's a dirty play by a dirty player."

That was Christian Yelich, the all-but-sure-to-be NL MVP, describing Manny Machado, who's about to become one of the best-paid players in baseball history, after Game 4 of the NLCS, a game in which Machado once again grabbed headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Machado's Los Angeles Dodgers and Yelich's Milwaukee Brewers have played four games in this NLCS, and after three of them, the focus has been on Machado. Not because of his bat or his glove but because of lack of hustle and certain methods on the base paths that weren't exactly on the up and up.

After Game 2, he was criticized for not hustling on a ground ball to shortstop. In something straight out of a public-relations person's nightmare, he defended himself by saying that hustling really isn't his cup of tea. During Game 3, he twice attempted to break up double plays by interfering at second base and was, upon review, busted for it the second time. In extra innings in Game 4, he appeared to intentionally drag his leg across Jesus Aguilar's at first base. That play cleared the benches, got Machado called "dirty" in the Brewers' clubhouse and earned him the reputation of postseason villain.

And so Machado's impending free agency gets to be discussed in a brand new light. There's now more baggage attached to the 26-year-old superstar with a fantastic bat and a stellar glove.

The question is: Will the White Sox, one of many teams that could be mulling a contract offer worth hundreds of millions of dollars, care?

As much as it’s talked about building a perennial contender of the future by developing the on-field skills of their fleet of highly touted prospects, the White Sox brain trust has discussed developing a culture, a way of doing things, to go along with all that talent and all that skill. Unsurprisingly that conversation has focused on the oft-used phrase of “doing things the right way.”

Does what Machado has been doing count as “doing things the right way”? It seems easy to assess that it doesn't. It's far more difficult to determine whether it will end up making a difference or not.

Not hustling is one of Rick Renteria's biggest bugaboos. He sat down multiple players on multiple occasions throughout the 2018 season — starting with Avisail Garcia in a spring training game and including a veteran like Welington Castillo as well as a young star like Tim Anderson — for not running to first base on pop ups and line outs and ground outs. Would Renteria's tune suddenly change if Machado and his preference for not hustling arrived on the South Side in what would surely be the biggest free-agent deal in club history?

Renteria got fired up over the issue at the end of July, when he benched Anderson for not hustling on what the shortstop believed was a line out.

“We tell these guys, don’t assume anything. ... It’s as simple as that, and he understands it. He knows it. We’ve talked about it. He comes out of the box, he doesn’t stand there. But we just reiterated to make sure that you allow the umpires to make the calls and you allow the other clubs to go ahead and ask for reviews. We run.”

But asked about not running out his ground ball in Game 2, Machado shared pretty much the opposite philosophy.

"Obviously I'm not going to change, I'm not the type of player that's going to be 'Johnny Hustle,' and run down the line and slide to first base and … you know, whatever can happen," Machado told The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal. "That's just not my personality, that's not my cup of tea, that's not who I am."

What about Machado's interferences at second base? It was that exact play that sent Anderson into an on-field tiff with umpire Joe West during the second Crosstown series of the season just last month. Javy Baez slid into second base, and Anderson thought Baez did something he shouldn't have, raising his arm to interfere with a double-play turn, that sequence of events ending with Anderson screaming at West on the field. Would Anderson be cool with playing alongside — and potentially vacating his position at shortstop for — an infamous interferer?

And what about being a "dirty player," a villain? The White Sox always seemed fine — heck, they loved it — having one of baseball's greatest irritants in A.J. Pierzynski on the roster. Perhaps no player wore the "villain" title as a badge of honor more than the catcher on the 2005 World Series team. But remember that Pierzynski took the punch, he didn't throw it. Being baseball's version of a "villain" and being a guy who makes dangerous plays that could hurt somebody are two different things.

The point being: Do Machado's actions in this postseason series make him anathema to the "Ricky's boys don't quit" mantra? If the White Sox were to turn a blind eye to the events of this NLCS, would it qualify as a betrayal of their quest to establish a high-effort, high-character culture?

Or do they value that culture so much that they stay away from Machado this offseason?

Here's Rick Hahn from September of last year.

"It’s the culture that Ricky and his coaching staff have been able to create in that clubhouse. I cannot tell you how many various fans have stopped me, or emailed me or mentioned to me that they’ve never been this excited over a 60-win team. Or they’ve never been excited about a team that isn’t going to the playoffs. And I think so much of that is based on how Ricky and the coaches have them playing day in and day out. You see them fighting for 27 outs, you see them prepared every night. Sure, we’re going to get out-manned at portions during this process, but the fight and competitiveness and the style of play is the kind of thing that is going to endure year in and year out. And that is extremely important for us to establish at the big league level for all of us."

Machado's talent would make any team he's a part of more competitive. But for the White Sox, who talk an awful lot about hustling and refusing to quit, perhaps all these postseason shenanigans make it so Machado just isn't their cup of tea.