Nearly the entire White Sox roster was in line and waiting for Gordon Beckham by the time he reached the dugout steps, offering high-fives and pats on the back.
All except Chris Sale, who was trailing Beckham off the field and late to the party, choosing upon arrival to hug his considerably smaller second baseman.
No, Beckham hadn’t hit the go-ahead home run or clear the bases with a gapper.
Beckham had merely done what he did all of last year, which was play superb defense. Yeah, he had one of the Sox’ 8 hits, but it was his defense in the top of the seventh inning that saved the game for Sale and the Sox in a 1-0, opening-day defeat of Kansas City on the South Side.
“If you can pitch and you can field the ball,” Beckham said Monday evening, “you’re gonna win a lot of games.”
Game 1 is simply that, one on the schedule. Its significance is often overstated, but there was no denying Monday that the 2013 opener had a 2012 feel to it, with a lot of — as Beckham put it — pitching and fielding.
Sale was dominant, the bullpen effective, the defense fabulous, the offense quiet, and the catcher hit a solo homer to win it.
Of course, the blast to left field against the Royals’ James Shields came off the bat of Tyler Flowers, not A.J. Pierzynski. Other than that, it could have been any of 100 games from last season.
“I believe in myself,” Flowers said. “But there will be challenges. It’s easy to have confidence when you have a good day, and there will be bad days.
“I’ve tried to stay out of the A.J. thing, but I’m human, too. I hear what the fans are saying when I’m in the bullpen or on deck. I can only continue to work hard and remember what got me here.”
Beckham has stayed here because of his defense, but don’t try to tell his teammates that he’s not an important player.
“It’s the nature of the game that he’s going to face that criticism, because he was so good in college and so good when he got here,” said 15-year veteran Paul Konerko. “Inside this clubhouse, we see value in much different ways than people who are just looking at batting average.
“Guys who play the game for a living, who know how hard this game is, know how important Gordon is to this team.”
With the Sox ahead 1-0 in the seventh, nobody out and Eric Hosmer on first, Lorenzo Cain lined a 2-2 pitch off Sale just to the right of second base that was destined for a long roll to the wall and possibly a tie game.
But Beckham got a great jump to his right and flung himself at the ball, stabbing it for the first out of the inning and keeping the Sox ahead.
“I didn’t see it great off the bat,” he said. “He hit it so hard that I took one step and it was on me. I dove and it hit my glove. It’s a reaction play, and I’m glad I was back far enough — at double-play depth — that I had a chance to take that step.”
Three pitches later, Jeff Francoeur grounded to Jeff Keppinger at third. He tossed to Beckham, and with Hosmer bearing down, Beckham picked the throw clean and fired to first for the inning-ending double play.
Two terrific plays, one shutout intact, and dozens of players and coaches grateful that Beckham has made himself that good at a position he was learning just a couple of years ago.
“Huge play,” Sale said of the line-drive catch. “Play of the game for sure.”
While he’s certainly of Gold Glove ability, Beckham also intends to contribute offensively in 2013.
“I feel great. It’s the best I’ve felt since I was first called up (in 2009),” Beckham said. “I’m not OK with what I’ve done the last couple years, but I’ve gone through it and come out the other side stronger.
“I have big expectations and I feel great about where I am.”
White Sox fans left the South Side feeling just as good, enthralled by another brilliant game from Sale, who created enough wood chips from shattered bats to cover the infield.
By the time the shadows covered the field late in the afternoon, it was 36 degrees and the wind made it feel much worse, but the Sox were all warm and fuzzy, knowing their top pitcher was in form and they had handled a team that beat them 12 of 18 times in 2012.
If time begins on Opening Day, pessimism can stop a clock and depress a fan base.
The opposite is also true, especially for two players in Beckham and Flowers facing tremendous pressure this season.
“There’s so much anticipation and energy for this day, and then you have to come down from it and settle in for a long season,” Flowers said. “But you would always rather start with a win, and it’s hard to imagine a better Opening Day than this.”
And it’s hard to imagine any White Sox fan arguing with that.
ŸListen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score’s “Hit and Run” show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.