ANAHEIM, Calif. (CBS) — The White Sox lost to the Los Angeles Angels Wednesday night, but the loss seemed a lot less important than their heavy hearts.
The game followed the death of longtime pregame instructor Kevin Hickey at age 56 following a lengthy illness.
Gavin Floyd gave up a three-run homer to Albert Pujols and a two-run shot to Vernon Wells in the 7-2 loss to the Angels.
“I knew Hick very well. He cared about baseball and he loved baseball — but first and foremost, he loved White Sox baseball,” catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. “Hick came to the park every single day ready to work, and with a smile on his face. But his death wasn’t a distraction — because from what I’ve seen, Hick would never want to be anybody’s distraction. He would never want to be a burden on anyone. He always pulled for our guys and rooted for the team to do well, and he’ll be sorely missed.”
Hickey had been hospitalized since the day before the season opener in Arlington, Texas.
First baseman Paul Konerko was another player who was impacted by Hickey’s presence on the field and in the clubhouse.
“No one wanted to win more, no one was more optimistic, no one cared more and no one took more pride in his job,” Konerko said. “Ask anyone in our clubhouse, every person who appreciated what Kevin did to help the White Sox win baseball games.”
Floyd (3-4) gave up seven runs and 10 hits in six innings. The right-hander had allowed just one homer in 40 2-3 innings over his previous six starts after giving up three in his season debut at Texas.
“I made mistakes in key situations when I needed to make better pitches,” Floyd said. “They capitalize on those mistakes. Sometimes you get away with them.”
Trailing 2-1, the Angels grabbed a 4-2 lead with one swing by Pujols, who drove an 0-1 pitch over the center field fence. It was the 447th career homer and second this season for the three-time NL MVP, who ended the longest regular-season drought of his career after 33 games and 139 at-bats in the finale of the Angels’ previous homestand.
“I just got a good pitch to hit. It feels good any time you hit a ball like that. It’s been awhile,” Pujols said. “There are some times I feel good at the plate and hit the ball hard but don’t catch any breaks. But you can’t lose your focus. Every at-bat, no matter how I feel, I try to take it as the last at-bat of my career. Hey, listen. This game is not easy. I’ve been saying that all year long. There are things that are out of your control.”
The Angels increased the margin to 7-2 in the sixth with Kendrick’s sacrifice fly and Wells’ sixth homer.
“They swung the bats and hit some big home runs, and they had a pitcher who was able to get out of difficult situations,” manager Robin Ventura said.
Jerome Williams (4-1) won his fourth straight decision, allowing two runs and 10 hits over eight innings with five strikeouts and no walks.
The No. 8 hitters for the Angels and White Sox each drove in their team’s first run. Erick Aybar opened the scoring in the second with an RBI double after a two-out walk to Wells. Dayan Viciedo tied it in the third for the White Sox with a home run into the rock pile in left-center.
Alejandro De Aza singled two batters after Viciedo’s fifth homer and scored on Gordon Beckham’s double.
Jim Eppard was with the Angels for the first time as hitting coach after replacing Mickey Hatcher, who was fired Tuesday night by new general manager Jerry DiPoto 1 1/2 months into Hatcher’s 13th season on the job. The team’s offensive struggles led to the firing, including Pujols’ slow start after signing a 10-year, $240 million contract as a free agent.
It was an easy transition for Eppard, who is in his 10th season in the organization and nurtured Aybar and teammates Howie Kendrick, Kendrys Morales, Mark Trumbo, Peter Bourjos and Bobby Wilson as the hitting coach at Triple-A Salt Lake.
“I consider Mickey to be a good friend and as a mentor along the way,” Eppard said. “He was awesome. No ego. He allowed me in from Day One. I was able to ask him questions, and it was a nice relationship. I feel bad for him, but at the end of the day, we all know that’s baseball and these things happen.”
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