CHICAGO – Standing steps off first base, Paul Konerko threw up his fist, partly in relief and partly in excitement, as he watched the ball sail over the fence.
The White Sox’s failures to capitalize with runners in scoring position seemed a distant memory after Alex Rios’ three-run homer sparked the South Siders to a 6-1 win over the Detroit Tigers on Monday. Their comeback win pushed their division lead to three games and snapped a seven-game losing streak against the Tigers.
Rios’ go-ahead home run in the sixth ended a 0 for 10 stretch with runners in scoring position. But that didn’t erase the Sox’s prolonged struggles to drive in base runners.
They finished 2 for 16 with RISP, hardly the makings of a playoff-caliber team.
Ultimately, if the Sox expect to fend off the Tigers and win the division, timely hits are a must, especially in the final three games of the series.
“It piles up and it gets frustrating,” manager Robin Ventura said. “But again, you just get them to play and realize the situation you’re in. Slow down a little bit. I think that’s what [Rios] did. That was a pretty big home run for us.
“I think when [Rios] hits that ball, it just kind of pops the cork on all the angst of not getting guys in.”
The formula to beat the Sox is not rocket science. They are second in the majors in home runs and the only team with five players who have hit at least 20 home runs. The long ball was again their saving grace Monday. Three of their seven hits landed in the seats, turning around a game that was headed for a potentially crushing one-run loss.
As if he knew his team’s fate, Tigers manager Jim Leyland’s analysis of the Sox’s offense was anything but complex.
“Against this team, I think it’s pretty simple,” Leyland said before the game. “You’ve got to keep them in the ballpark. They hit it out of the ballpark. That’s what they do.”
The Sox were the first to admit that while a win in September, let alone against the team chasing them, is great, the offense can’t survive solely on home runs. They only masked their offensive rut. Despite leading baseball with a .284 average with RISP, the Sox are hitting just .195 in those situations over their past 10 games.
“I don’t know if [Rios’ homer] even got us over the hump,” second baseman Gordon Beckham said. “I would say it was a huge swing in a big situation in a time where we were just kind of feeling it out.”
Sometimes a hitter can do everything right during an at-bat but still fail in a clutch situation. Konerko, one of the game’s most underrated hitters, abides by the philosophy that even if a situation doesn’t work out, the hitter didn’t necessarily do something wrong.
“A lot of times what happens is they all get grouped together, but they’re actually all different,” Konerko said. “From the outside looking in they kind of all look the same – they’re all failed attempts. But I think as a player you can be doing the right things up there and these things go in cycles. It goes in cycles as a player and as a team. Tonight it kind of turned finally.”
Meghan Montemurro is the Northwest Herald’s White Sox reporter. She can be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @Sox_Insider.