Baseball’s regular season is 162 games long; even playing almost every day it takes six months to play out. Even the best team will lose 30% of its games and the worst team will win 30%, so oftentimes individual games seem fairly inconsequential. Sometimes late September rolls around though, and it turns out that every single one of those 162 was important, an extra win or an extra loss suddenly has the potential to change everything.
Yesterday’s game against the Tigers had every White Sox fan’s attention, there was no doubt about its importance. A loss would have allowed Detroit back within one game of the Sox, and with an easier remaining schedule, the Tigers might have seemed almost the favorite at that point. A win though? A win would extend the lead to 3 with little more than two weeks left in the season, certainly not an insurmountable lead, but a pretty solid one. Just as a season is made up of 162 games, whose importance can’t always be seen til the end, a game is made up of dozens of at bats, hundreds of pitches, and we can’t know until the end just how much each of them mattered.
In the 8th inning Dewayne Wise made a horrible base running decision that cost the Sox at least one insurance run. That would have been the story of the game if the Sox had gone on to lose, but instead Brett Myers, Matt Thornton, and Addison Reed each recorded one out in the 9th and the Pale Hose held on for a huge win.
So, instead of Wise’s blunder, what everyone wanted to talk about after the game was a force out, a fielder’s choice. In the 5th inning, with the Sox down 4-3, the bases were loaded with nobody out. A.J. Pierzynski lined out to right, not deep enough for Adam Dunn to tag up (is it possible for a ball to be that deep???). That brought Dayan Viciedo to the plate. He hit an easy grounder to the shortstop, for what looked like an inning-ending double play. “Oh no,” was all Hawk Harrleson could muster as the ball approached Jhonny Peralta, who fielded it cleanly and threw to second, where Alex Rios was forced out.
Second baseman Omar Infante went to turn two. Viciedo was running hard down the line, but he wasn’t going to beat the throw. Infante’s throw never made it to Prince Fielder‘s glove though, instead it landed a couple feet in front of him and then skipped by, allowing not only Dunn’s tying run to score, but Paul Konerko‘s go ahead run as well. What looked to be an inning-ending double play had instead given the Sox the lead. The score wouldn’t change again.
Why didn’t Infante’s throw make it? Because Alex Rios busted his ass to second and put in a great takeout slide, colliding with Infante as he attempted to make the throw. There’s not really any statistic that tracks that sort of thing, it certainly doesn’t show up in the box score, but it turned out to make a huge difference in yesterday’s game, and yesterday’s game looks to make a huge difference in the 2012 season.