For White Sox, the defense never rests
White Sox right fielder Alex Rios pats center fielder Dewayne Wise on the back after Monday's victory over the Detroit Tigers at U.S. Cellular Field.
Fielding separates the White Sox and Tigers in the American League Central race like a couple hundred horsepower separates a Ferrari from a Focus.
The Sox catch the ball routinely and throw it accurately.
The Tigers, well, not so much.
Defense isn't a sexy aspect of the game. Chicks dig the longball and the pitchers who make TV commercials saying as much.
However, the Sox won a big game Monday afternoon 5-4 when a Tigers' fielding gaffe was the difference.
This shouldn't be startling. Detroit is seventh in the league in fielding percentage and the Sox are second.
That doesn't even calculate how much more range the Sox have in the field than the Tigers have and how much stronger their throwing arms are in both the infield and outfield.
The Tigers can catch a cold, catch a bus, catch their breath and even catch your eye …
But they often have trouble catching the baseball.
Of more relevance on this day the Tigers could throw a garter, throw a discus, throw a tantrum and even throw an octopus onto the ice at a Red Wings game …
But they couldn't make the throw that mattered most.
Second baseman Omar Infante scattershot the relay on a potential double play, allowing the Sox to go from 1 run behind to 1 run ahead.
To be fair, Infante was under pressure from an oncoming baserunner named Alex Rios.
"That was special," Gordon Beckham said. "I told Rios that might have been the play of the year."
Beckham should know. As the Sox' second baseman, he understands what it's like to have 6-feet-5 and 215 pounds bearing down on him.
"Every second baseman in that situation knows we're coming in hard," Rios said. "We took advantage of the situation."
The Sox and Tigers have been jockeying for position in the AL Central all season. This victory put the Sox 3 games ahead and prevented the Tigers from drawing within 1 game.
The outcome didn't end the suspense either way, but Infante's errant throw helped the Sox inch closer toward throwing a champagne party as division champs.
"It had those kinds of implications," Beckham said of the game's playoff atmosphere.
Each team has 16 games remaining, and every game, every inning and every pitch is meaningful … along, of course, with every slide into second base to break up a double play.
"Rios plays the game hard," Sox manager Robin Ventura said.
So do his teammates. That hasn't been an issue with the Sox this season. They don't always play well and like every team they have the occasional mental lapse, but the effort has been reliable.
"We scrapped this one out," is the way Beckham explained the Sox' latest victory. "We didn't play our best but did some good things."
One of them was Rios' slide that disrupted the Tigers', uh, let's call it their disruptable defense. Another was the Sox not letting their own mistakes be fatal.
Dayan Viciedo made a three-base error, but Jose Quintana pitched over it. Dewayne Wise made a baserunning blunder, but the Sox' bullpen rendered it a nonfactor.
"I can't speak for them," Beckham said of the Tigers, "but I know we field well and get our pitchers off the field."
When so little separates two contenders, getting back into the dugout as quickly as possible always helps.
So does exposing the other team's defensive deficiencies.
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