By Matt Spiegel-
(CBS) What a weird, enormous win for the first-place White Sox on Monday.
That long anticipated Tigers home series is now officially done and it finishes as a 2-2 split. The “rainout” last Thursday night enabled several things. The Sox avoided Justin Verlander, and got to Doug Fister yesterday in his stead. White Sox starting pitchers for the weekend sweep of Minnesota certainly benefited from an extra day’s rest. And the makeup day crowd of 29,000 and change was bigger and better than what a rainy Thursday would have provided, especially going against Bears-Packers.
That crowd was loud and engaged by a see-saw win.
Alex Rios had the key play in both series wins. His home run last Monday night woke up a slumbering team, ballpark, and fandom. Monday’s take-out slide, on what should have been a routine double play, was the moment and play of the day. Omar Infante couldn’t make the turn, Prince Fielder couldn’t make the scoop, and two runs scored to give the Sox the lead. Rios went in hard and clean.
Rios has been this team’s MVP, consistently excellent in all facets of the game. It’s quite a change from the struggling, simmering mess he was in 2011. He changed things mechanically at the plate, was given a better positional fit in the outfield and clearly is more comfortable under calmer leadership. Guillenlessness benefits Rios more than most.
The bullpen over-managing that has driven me nuts about Robin Ventura lately was utilized in the ninth inning yesterday, with great results. It’s different when you’re dealing with your best arms. This was not minor leaguers like Brian Omogrosso or Leyton Septimo in the middle innings, options taken that you wished did not even exist. Damn you, expanded rosters.
This was a manager not simply handing the ball to a struggling closer in the key moment of the game. Instead, Ventura stuck with a dominant Brett Myers for a fourth out, used a resurgent Matt Thornton for one batter, and then went to Addison Reed in a good final match-up. The ninth inning decisions were inventive and effective.
So the three-game division lead with 16 to play feels like it might, just might, be enough. We’ve discussed the final two weeks of the schedule for months now, knowing the Sox had to try and build a substantial lead to withstand an unbalanced finish. The Tigers go Twins/Royals/Twins/Royals to finish out, while the Sox have contenders in Tampa Bay and Anaheim.
But how can you possibly think the Tigers have what it takes to step up and grab a division that’s been offered all season long? They are the same flawed bunch they’ve always been, and falter at every turn because of it.
Detroit has turned only 118 double plays this season, the fewest in the American League. What should have been their 119th yesterday cost them dearly.
By Game 146, you are what your record says you are. The White Sox are the better team, and will most likely have the division crown to prove it.
Matt Spiegel is the co-host of The McNeil and Spiegel Show, heard Monday-Friday from 9am-1pm on 670 The Score and 670TheScore.com. You can follow him on Twitter @MattSpiegel670.