Daniel Palka’s been asked a lot about his approach in clutch situations, mostly because he keeps coming through in them.
Palka flexed his walk-off muscles again Tuesday night, driving in the tying and winning runs with a base hit off Cleveland Indians strikeout machine Carlos Carrasco in the bottom of the ninth and giving the White Sox an exciting win in their penultimate home game of the 2018 season.
It was just the latest in an increasingly unbelievable series of clutch hits from the guy White Sox fans have fallen in love with during this rebuilding season. He now has 10 hits, two doubles, six homers and 13 RBIs in the ninth inning this season. Heck, it wasn’t even the first time he’s walked off these Indians this season.
You might think that explaining how to come through with a game-winning hit against a major league pitcher is easier than actually doing it. But that’s the thing: Palka’s making it look easy specifically because he’s trying to keep it easy.
“I just try to keep it as simple as possible,” Palka said, a reasonable follow up to what he said after a big home run earlier this season. “What were you trying to do in that situation?” was the question lobbed his way. He hit the answer to that one out of the park, too: “I was trying to hit a home run.”
Palka’s big moments continue to fuel the conversation surrounding his place in the long-term plans of an organization with its eyes squarely set on the future. He long ago took the title of Surprise of the Year, considering he wasn’t on the Opening Day roster and yet will almost certainly finish as the team leader in home runs. He’s five ahead of his closest competition, the injured Jose Abreu, with a team-best 27 dingers and five games to play. Tim Anderson and Matt Davidson would need seven apiece over the next five contests to catch Palka.
Whether Palka’s place on those planned contenders of the future is as an everyday designated hitter or an everyday outfielder or a platoon guy or simply a left-handed power bat off the bench, he’s looking more and more like the totally unexpected success story of this rebuilding effort. Of course, there’s still a long time to go — and plenty of prospects still to develop and reach the major leagues — before any final assessments on lineups of the future can be made.
Still, it figures Rick Hahn’s front office could find a spot for a guy with such a flair for the dramatic and a knack for big hits in big moments.
And for someone who makes all that so easy.
“I think the outcome is just based on him keeping it simple,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He really doesn’t complicate it. He really does focus on the baseball and tries to get something he can handle and tries to hit it hard. It’s kind of that simple. You can’t control what happens once the ball leaves your bat, but you can control how simple you approach the at-bat. And he does that.”
White Sox fans know how they feel about Palka’s heroics. How does Palka feel about them?
“Yeah, it’s cool.”
“I don’t really know what else to say about it besides I like that moment and I’m happy to be in that moment. That’s it.”