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Must C Catches: Lillibridge saves the day in ninth

NEW YORK -- Ladies and gentlemen of the White Sox fan base, manager Ozzie Guillen is proud to announce he has found a closer.

And it's not necessarily Sergio Santos, who picked up his second save in two nights against the Yankees during Tuesday's thrilling 3-2 victory at Yankee Stadium.

Guillen gave a one-word answer in naming the man to finish off victories late for the South Siders.

"Lillibridge," said Guillen, drawing a laugh from the media assembled in his office. "He's the one that's going to be closing games from now on. All the Chicago fans, they can sleep very nice because I found my closer."

To state the obvious, the White Sox (10-14) wouldn't have won their second game in as many nights if Brent Lillibridge wasn't stationed in right field to start the ninth inning on Tuesday. To go a step further, Lillibridge's amazing defensive gems against Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano with two runners on base might be the spark needed by this struggling group to move in a winning direction.

This final at-bat for the Yankees (12-8) started with Derek Jeter reaching base on an infield hit off of starter Gavin Floyd. Guillen immediately removed Floyd, who struck out a season-high 10 over eight-plus innings, and went to left-hander Matt Thornton to face Curtis Granderson.

Granderson bunted Jeter to second and Thornton walked Mark Teixeira, as Santos was summoned from the bullpen. Then, the fun really began.

Santos fell behind, 2-1, against Rodriguez, who launched a 95-mph fastball apparently headed for the right-field stands. Lillibridge was playing "doubles," meaning he was deeper than usual, and quickly moved toward the wall while also handling the tail of Rodriguez's lined shot. Lillibridge stretched his glove hand out and caught the ball in the webbing, having the presence of mind to fire the ball back in searching for the double play.

"It wasn't going to get over my head," Lillibridge said. "It was over the fence or take a chance on the fence."

"Usually, when the ball goes over your head off the bat, you have a good impression what the result would be," said White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko of Lillibridge's effort. "I didn't think either one would be caught."

Yes, there was a second amazing play made by Lillibridge, actually better than the first. Robinson Cano, who was the Yankees hitter Guillen wanted to avoid in any sort of ninth-inning, game-on-the-line situation, worked ahead in the count, 1-0, before crushing an 87-mph slider.

With the outfield playing so deep, Lillibridge looked as if he had no chance to get to this one. But the ball hung up a little longer than expected and Lillibridge knew the importance of getting back-to-back wins for this team for the first time since April 9-10, building up even a small streak.

He was going to make a game-deciding attempt. Lillibridge raced in and toward the line, flung his body into a full-out dive and caught the ball before it hit the ground. Cano, who had homered earlier in the game off Floyd (3-1), slammed his helmet to the ground. The White Sox celebrated as if they had just clinched the division, and deservedly so.

As for Lillibridge? His smile almost was as big as his listed 5-foot-11 frame.

"Those better be No. 1 and 2 on Web Gems," Floyd said.

"I don't think I've ever seen a game end with two great plays like that by one guy," Konerko said.

"Two incredible plays," Rodriguez said. "A very courageous dive there, that ball Robbie hit. If that ball even ricochets off his glove, we win that game. Give him credit -- it was a perfect situation for us."

With the White Sox trailing, 2-1, in the eighth, Lillibridge entered as a pinch-runner after Carlos Quentin was hit by a pitch from Rafael Soriano (1-1). Konerko followed with his sixth home run of the season on a 1-1 offering, with this one-out blast standing up as the game-winner.

Konerko's homer was momentous, aside from moving him past Gil Hodges into 68th place on the all-time list with 371. The White Sox had six hits in the game prior to Konerko's, and they all were singles. Of the previous 23 hits before Konerko's long ball, 22 were singles and the 23rd was a blooped double by Quentin on Monday. Konerko's home run was the White Sox first with a man on base since April 15.

Floyd didn't give the Yankees much to work with on Tuesday. Try just four hits over eight-plus innings, with one walk allowed. But with the White Sox offense entering at a .193 average over its last 14 games, the four hits allowed appeared to be about two too many.

That fact held true until Konerko's eighth-inning heroics and Lillibridge's unbelievable finish. As Lillibridge was engaging in postgame interviews, designated hitter Adam Dunn sat a few feet away, whistling the Superman theme song.

There was no cape on this occasion. Just a utility player doing his job, giving his team a victory.

"For him to make two huge plays back to back, it's nice that things are finally going our way, especially in the ninth inning, because we had bad luck at home," said Santos, who gave the White Sox back-to-back saves after they'd been 1-for-7 in that category. "It's nice to steal another win out here."

"Kind of a crazy way to end that game," said Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher. "You've got to give credit where credit is due. That was a great catch."

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