Leury Garcia's walk-off homer gives White Sox 2-1 win over Boston
It's tempting to underestimate Leury Garcia -- the 5-foot-8 White Sox player whose versatility in the infield and outfield should not be confused with assigning him "utility man" status.
On Sunday afternoon, Garcia slugged a two-out, walk-off home run to dead-centerfield, propelling Chicago to a 2-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox before 36,178 at Guaranteed Rate Field.
"We call him 'The Legend,'" said Lance Lynn, Sunday's starting pitcher for Chicago. "You're looking at the guy who is the longest tenured around here (since 2013)."
Garcia's heroics came after two of the team's most feared hitters, Eloy Jimenez and Yasmani Grandal, went down swinging against hard-throwing Boston pitcher Garrett Whitlock. Garcia himself was down 0-and-2 in the count.
"We all know that he had a pretty good fastball. When I was 0-2, my mind was, you know, still looking for a fastball. ... He threw me a fastball right in the middle," Garcia recalled. "I knew I hit it good, but you know, it was center field. I'm like, 'You better go.'"
White Sox manager Tony La Russa touted Garcia's versatility, from his ability to play just about any position in the field to his switch-hitting skills. On Sunday, in relief of an injured Tim Anderson, Garcia started at shortstop for the 14th time this season. Overall, he has started 101 games across six positions -- all but first base, catcher and pitcher.
"This guy is really a talented star player," La Russa said.
The Sox are now 12 games ahead of the Cleveland Indians for first place in the American League Central division. With 19 games to go, their biggest challenge is overcoming AL West leader Houston's 1½-game lead for home-field advantage in the Divisional Playoff round.
The third consecutive one-run decision of the series, the game was a contrast to Saturday evening's 9-8 Red Sox win, with each team managing just 4 hits.
In his first start in 15 days, Lynn struck out 9 batters and gave up 2 hits -- one a swinging bunt -- in 5 innings. Though efficient with only 70 pitches at that point, he was on a pitch limit of 75 to 80 pitches, he said.
Chicago scored an unearned run in the sixth inning, after an Enrique Hernandez throwing error let Cesar Hernandez aboard. Catcher Seby Zavala sacrificed Hernandez to second, and then Luis Robert drilled a grounder through the hole on the left side of the infield to make it 1-0, Chicago.
Boston starting pitcher Nick Pivetta was nearly Lynn's match, fanning 5 and giving up only the 1 unearned run in 5⅓ innings. He allowed 3 hits and, like Lynn, didn't walk a batter.
White Sox relievers Garrett Crochet and Jose Ruiz combined for 3 scoreless innings. Crochet was aided by a sterling Robert assist, as the center fielder caught a fly ball at the warning track, flat footed, then gunned down Boston shortstop Jose Iglesias trying to tag up from first to second.
Craig Kimbrel came on for the save opportunity in the ninth inning. However, for the second consecutive night, his wildness led to a tying Red Sox run.
Atoning for his error, Boston's Hernandez opened with a double, followed by a strikeout of Kyle Schwarber. Walks to Hunter Renfroe and Rafael Devers followed. Having seen Kimbrel throw 12 balls in 17 pitches, Alex Verdugo swung at the first pitch and lofted a sacrifice fly to left that brought Hernandez home easily.
In his postgame remarks, La Russa focused on Kimbrel's ability to strike out the next batter, Bobby Dalbec, to prevent further damage. Dalbec bit on a slider out of the zone that prior batters had resisted.
"He's a Hall of Fame candidate," La Russa said of Kimbrel. "We're thrilled to have him."
With the win, Chicago took two of three in the series and four of seven for the season. The Sox also boosted their home record to 48-25, best in the American League. Boston is in line to earn one of two Wild Card berths to the playoffs, but four teams are within 3 games of the Red Sox.