White Sox

Zach Duke's 'El Duque'-esque great escape earns White Sox much-needed win

Zach Duke's 'El Duque'-esque great escape earns White Sox much-needed win

BOSTON — Instead of Jason Varitek, Tony Graffanino and Johnny Damon, it was Dustin Pedroia, Christian Vasquez and Ryan LaMarre. 

Zach Duke’s miraculous escape of a bases loaded, nobody-out jam — which was reminiscent of Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez’s landmark relief appearance here in Game 3 of the 2005 American League Division Series — set up Jose Abreu’s game-winning two-run double to earn the White Sox a 3-1 win over the Boston Red Sox Monday night at Fenway Park. 

When Duke entered the game — which came after Zach Putnam walked the bases loaded to begin the ninth — the Red Sox had a 93.8 percent chance of winning, according to FanGraphs’ win expectancy. 

“It was a little bit stressful,” Duke said. “But those are the moments we live for as players. To be able to be handed the ball in that situation and get the job done, that’s what we live for.”

Dustin Pedroia was the first challenger against Duke, with the former MVP being called upon to pinch hit for left-handed third baseman Travis Shaw. After getting strike one with a fastball out over the plate, Duke pounded Pedroia inside with his low-80s slider and mid-70s curveball. He missed with one, but Pedroia pulled three breaking balls foul — which was exactly the plan. 

With Pedroia having to protect a two-strike count against that barrage of inside breaking balls, Duke went back to his fastball. He missed low and away with his first one, then blew Pedroia away with No. 2 for the first out. 

“He made some really good pitches with his breaking ball in to him where if he was going to make solid contact it was going to go foul, like he did a couple of times,” catcher Alex Avila said. “Zach has those two different types of breaking balls where it can be a little harder and slower, and when you’re seeing as many as Pedroia did, the two fastballs you could tell he was late on protecting against the breaking ball as well. Good sequence on his part.”

Next up was light-hitting catcher Christian Vasquez, with the Red Sox win expectancy still at a healthy 83.6 percent. Duke didn’t throw a single pitch in the strike zone during this at-bat, with Vasquez letting two balls go but chasing two out of the zone for foul balls. The 2-2 offering was a 77 mile per hour curveball low and away, which Vasquez softly chopped up the middle. 

Tyler Saladino — who was brought on as a fifth infielder after Putnam loaded the bases — was standing right there to field it, but the usually sure-handed infielder fired low toward home plate. Avila made an outstanding play, keeping his right foot on the base while successfully cradling the ball in his glove. If he had bobbled it or not fielded it cleanly, it would’ve been game over. 

“That was an unreal play,” Duke said. “I don’t know how he caught that ball. I had a perfect view of it. As soon as it left Sally’s hand, I was going, ‘Nooooo,’ but then he came up with it. 

“And I said from that point on I’m going to get this next guy.”

The next guy was pinch hitter Ryan LaMarre, and Duke followed through on his personal prediction (the Red Sox win expectancy dropped to 66 percent after Vasquez’s groundout). This was a dominant at-bat from Duke — LaMarre fouled off a first-pitch fastball, then swung at two of three breaking balls low and inside for an inning-ending strikeout. 

Duke let out two primal screams as he strutted off the mound. 

“You bring him in that situation and you’re hoping for the best,” manager Robin Ventura said. 

What Duke did was exactly that best-case scenario, however unlikely it was. The White Sox were 90 feet away from losing their third game in four days in walk-off fashion only a few hours after general manager Rick Hahn fielded questions about Ventura’s job status. For a team that’s been stuck in a bad way for about a month and a half, Duke’s spectacular escape was a much-needed reversal of fortune. 

Whether the ninth inning — and Jose Abreu’s game-winning, two-run double in the 10th — result in the White Sox turning things around for good after losing 26 of their previous 36 games heading into Boston remains to be seen. But thanks to Zach “Duque” (he had a laugh at all those plays on his and Hernandez’s name that were all over social media), the White Sox were able to celebrate instead of wallow on Monday night.

“For us, it’s hard to win one game, sometimes,” Ventura said. “It took a game a game as odd as this one to do it and it shows something about the toughness of the guys we have in here.”

In stellar return from injured list, only Yoan Moncada's pride hurt in embarrassing tumble

In stellar return from injured list, only Yoan Moncada's pride hurt in embarrassing tumble

On the day he returned from a weeks-long stay on the injured list with a hamstring strain, the sight of Yoan Moncada face-planting coming out of the batter's box was enough to make an entire fan base hold its breath.

Fans weren't alone, either. Asked if his heart skipped a beat when Moncada hit the ground in the seventh-inning, manager Rick Renteria went a step further.

"Two beats," he laughed.

Moncada was fine, it turned out, hurting nothing but his pride on that embarrassing tumble. The longest lasting effect will be the continued ribbing from his teammates. Jose Abreu and Eloy Jimenez wouldn't let him hear the end of it before, during or after the third baseman's postgame meeting with the media.

"They've been all over me about that," Moncada said through team interpreter Billy Russo. "They say I have weak legs and I need to more work in the gym.

"Everything's good. I have a scratch on my knee, but it's OK."

Other than that on-field folly, Moncada was stellar in his first game back from the IL. He blasted a homer into The Goose Island in his second trip to the plate, a two-run shot that kind of busted things open in what was a dominant 6-1 victory over the visiting Texas Rangers. He added a double in his third at-bat.

Moncada's 2019 slash line is up to .303/.359/.545 after picking up those two extra-base knocks Thursday night, continuing a breakout season that's seen him go from 217 strikeouts in 2018 to the White Sox best hitter a year later.

The 2019 season is about the development of the young, core guys much more than it is about the win-loss record at the end of the year. Moncada is one of those young, core guys, and his big season has been one of the things that has fans and onlookers thinking about 2020 as the year that could see the White Sox move from rebuilding mode to contention mode.

Moncada and the rest of these young White Sox have a handful of weeks remaining in the 2019 to create some momentum for 2020. While offseason additions, the return of a healthy Michael Kopech and the eventual arrivals of top-ranked prospects Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal will have plenty to do with changing the landscape over the coming months, Moncada and Tim Anderson and Eloy Jimenez and James McCann and Jose Abreu and Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez and Dylan Cease can move the ball closer to the goal, to borrow a sports metaphor from a different sport, with their efforts over the next month and change.

For Moncada, the easiest way to do that is to simply stay on the field.

"I think our goal right now is just to stay healthy and play as free as we can," he said before Thursday's game. "Just try to do the things we know we can do and just take advantage of being healthy and being on the field.

"I think we're going to have a strong finish to the season and hopefully we're going to carry that to next season."

Fans know that importance, too, still waiting for the young trio of Moncada, Anderson and Jimenez to all play together in a full game for the first time since late June. That was supposed to happen Thursday, before Jimenez was scratched from the lineup with some mild hip soreness that neither general manager Rick Hahn nor Renteria seemed too concerned about.

But that heightened alertness for the health of these young, core players caused that brief second of panic when Moncada hit the dirt Thursday night.

Thankfully for the White Sox, Dr. Renteria got to the bottom of things rather quickly.

"It looked awkward, but you could tell he stumbled out of the box," Renteria said. "He was staying down there for a little bit. That’s when I started getting concerned.

"But when I go out there, he gets up right away. I said, 'You are little embarrassed right now, aren’t you?' He said, ‘No, it’s my knee.’

"I said, ‘You are embarrassed.' And he started smiling. That’s all it was. He was fine."

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White Sox Talk Podcast: Behind the scenes with Lucas Giolito

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Behind the scenes with Lucas Giolito

Fresh off his complete game shutout against the Twins, Lucas Giolito goes in-depth with Chuck Garfien about his impressive victory and all that went on behind the scenes.

-What it was like striking out White Sox killer Nelson Cruz to end the game (7:30)

-How he beat a Twins team that's trying to hit a home run almost every time they come to the plate (10:00)

-What it will mean to get 200 strikeouts this season (11:10)

-What's different about the baseball (14:40)

-How he's helped Evan Marshall get in touch with actor Jason Segel (16:10)

-Making it a priority to beat the Twins to win a series against them (17:40)

-What he's doing mentally before each game that's different this year (18:30) and more.

Listen to the entire episode here or in the embedded player below.

White Sox Talk Podcast

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