Wednesday, June 8, 2011

While the Big Breeze refreshes, Vizquel triples Sox fans' pleasure

Posted By on 06.08.11 at 03:59 PM

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The triple—there just ain't nothin' like it.

So says Luke Gofannon, star of the hapless Rupert Mundys, the baseball team invented by Philip Roth in his hilarious 1973 The Great American Novel. When Gofannon's lover asks him to name his greatest love, to her dismay it isn't her—nor is it the other rival she suspects.

"I don't understand, darling," she says. "What about home runs?"

"Nope. Triples. Hittin' triples," Gofannon says. "Don't get me wrong, Angela, I ain't bad-mouthin' the home run and them what hits 'em, me included. But smack a home run and that's it, it's all over." Then he dreamily relates to jealous Angela the deep joys of tripling, from smacking the ball, to blazing around the bases, to the cloud of dust from the slide into third. ("Hell, ya might be in a tornado, Angela.") And then the best part—"Dustin’ off y’r breeches and standin’ up, there on that bag" as the crowd roars.

The triple is thrilling for spectators as well, and, with slugger Adam Dunn on the bench, Sox fans were treated to a beauty in last night's 5-1 win over the Seattle Mariners in the sultry Cell.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen is sitting the Big Breeze to give him a chance to "refresh his mind," a sabbatical that Ozzie says will continue today. The struggling Alex Rios has been on a similar holiday. Without these boppers, and with the reigning American League Cy Young champ, "King Felix" Hernandez, on the hill for the Mariners, the Sox needed to play crisply as a team, which they did. Their defense was impeccable and included the daily sliding outfield grab by Brent Lillibridge. Phil Humber tossed another gem, though the Mariner hitters, several of whom have averages in Dunn's low-rent district, deserve some credit.

In the third inning, with the Sox up only 1-0, King Felix faced Omar Vizquel with Brent Morel on second and Juan Pierre on first and one out. The switch-hitting Vizquel was batting left-handed against the righty Hernandez. Right-fielder Ichiro Suzuki waited well off the line, since Vizquel, a slap-hitter in his prime whose current age in baseball years works out to early 80s, was unlikely to turn on a pitch from King Felix, who throws one of the hottest heaters in the game. But King Felix tried to trick Omar with a changeup, a royal mistake. The pitch started inside but tailed across the heart of the plate, and Omar yanked it into the right-field corner, lifting the sweaty faithful out of their sticky seats.

Triples with runners aboard are mighty tests for baseball fans.The game's signature languid pace is instantly snapped, and runners are suddenly scurrying around the bases while fielders and umpires dash to and fro. Fans must make split-second decisions about who and what to watch while guarding their beers and checking Facebook. In a moment, there stood Omar on the third base bag, smiling and dusting off his breeches as the crowd roared.

Rios did see action late in the game as a pinch runner and defensive replacement, two roles for which the Big Breeze isn't certified. The Sox need Rios back to his old self more than they need a recovery from Dunn. Rios is a five-tool player: He can run, hit for average, hit with power, catch the ball, and throw it. Dunn can do all those things too, except for four of them. At his best, Rios, like Vizquel, is exciting and productive, whereas Dunn at his best is only the latter. Even after the Big Breeze is thoroughly refreshed, the only way he's going to triple is if he forgets to step on home.

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