Coming off a long, bone-chilling, disappointing 10-inning loss to the Mariners on Friday night, the initial outlook for the White Sox in Saturday afternoon's middle game was bleak at best.
Facing Seattle ace Felix Hernandez is never easy, and the Sox had to contend with the right-hander roughly 13 hours after dropping the series opener 8-7.
To make matters worse, fill-in starter Dylan Axelrod was Hernandez's mound opponent in the unusual 12:10 p.m. start, and third baseman Conor Gillaspie, center fielder Dewayne Wise and catcher Hector Gimenez were making their first starts of the season.
"Baseball's kind of a crazy game," Gillaspie said.
Yes, it is.
The temperature was 20-25 degrees warmer Saturday than Friday night, but the wind was howling from right to left at 25 mph. Some how, some way, the White Sox beat Hernandez, the Mariners and the elements.
"Obviously it's a tough matchup coming in," Axelrod said after the Sox emerged with a 4-3 win. "My goal is to keep us in the game and see what we could do off of Hernandez once we got his pitch count up. We were able to get to him a little bit."
Axelrod hung in there with King Felix, pitching 5 innings and allowing 1 unearned run on 3 hits.
After Seattle took a 1-0 lead in the second inning, the White Sox rallied to tie it in the fifth when Gillaspie led off with a triple and came home on Gimenez's one-out sacrifice fly.
"I was pretty nervous today," said Gillaspie, who also singled off Hernandez in the seventh inning and came around to score the decisive run. "I'm not going to lie. He threw a couple of balls over the plate and you can't miss pitches against a guy like that because you're probably going to get out if you do. I got a little bit lucky."
Actually, the Sox appeared to catch a collective break when it became apparent Hernandez did not have his best stuff.
"It was the command, that was the problem," Hernandez said. "When I don't have my command, it's tough to pitch. I don't know if it was the wind. I'm not going to make an excuse."
Hernandez didn't have the usual zip on his fastball, and his changeup was a little off as well. With the game tied at 1-1 in the sixth inning, Alex Rios put the White Sox ahead for good with a 2-run homer on a Hernandez change.
"I was just looking for a ball right over the plate," Rios said after homering for the second straight game. "(Hernandez) wasn't as usual. He throws 94, 95 (mph), and he was in the low 90s today. He threw that (changeup) right over the plate, and I took advantage of it."
The Mariners probably entered the game with a high level of confidence, given the pitching matchup. But Axelrod proved to be a fearless -- and effective -- mound opponent. And with Seattle's lineup stacked with six left-handed hitters, the right-handed Axelrod made a critical adjustment.
"I threw a lot of fastballs in," he said. "I was trying to stand them up and go fastballs in and soft away for the most part. You know, I don't throw the ball in that much. I think that might be the report on me. So just to make them aware of that was big."