Grand opener: Crede's slam lifts Sox
Third baseman caps five-run seventh; Vazquez notches win
CHICAGO -- Things have been rolling along so smoothly for the White Sox to start the 2008 season that they are beginning to develop psychic powers.
Take general manager Ken Williams as an example, who before Monday's thrilling 7-4 victory over the Twins in the team's home opener at U.S. Cellular Field spoke of how oftentimes the best deals are the ones not made. He was answering a question about third baseman Joe Crede.
And then there's Crede, who seems to be having more fun playing baseball than he ever has before. Before leaving Detroit Sunday night, Crede was asked if he expected the home opener to be an emotional experience for him after all the offseason talk of a possible trade involving the third baseman.
Crede paused for a split-second, flashed a wry smile and responded.
"It depends if I get a standing ovation or get booed," said Crede, drawing a laugh from the assembled media.
During Monday's pregame introductions, Crede received a rousing ovation rivaling those saved for Mark Buehrle and Bobby Jenks. It was polite golf applause, though, compared to the thunderous reaction and eventual request for a curtain call provided by the 38,082 in attendance when Crede delivered the game-winning grand slam in the seventh inning of the White Sox latest come-from-behind victory.
This blast punctuated a five-run seventh and extended the White Sox win streak to five, marking the first time they have hit such a run since Aug. 10-14, 2006. At 5-2, against all American League Central opponents, the South Siders seem to be gaining greater confidence with each improbable rally. It has yet to approach flat-out bravado.
"To me, it's where you finish, not where you start," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, who was ejected by home-plate umpire Phil Cuzzi for arguing balls and strikes in the third inning. "We hope we can continue to play like this over the course of the year. But if we win every game in April and lose in September, we're in last place. We have to worry about winning one game at a time."
"We know that we have a good team, but it's early still," added White Sox starter Javier Vazquez, who evened his record at 1-1 with a little help from Crede. "It's awesome to see everyone pulling for each other and coming back the way we are. We have to continue doing this for 150-something games left."
Jim Thome actually started the seventh-inning uprising by drawing a one-out walk off reliever Matt Guerrier and quickly moving to third on Paul Konerko's single to right. Pat Neshek replaced Guerrier, but Jermaine Dye came through with a slick piece of hitting on a 0-2 pitch to score Thome on his single up the middle.
One A.J. Pierzynski strikeout later, Carlos Quentin singled to load the bases. Crede took one pitch out of the zone and then lofted a towering drive down the left-field line. The ball not only stayed inside the foul pole and had the distance to clear the fence, but it also came off of a broken bat.
How's that for living baseball's good life?
"I didn't think it had enough," said Crede, whose fifth career grand slam also was his second home run this season. "It was definitely high enough, especially coming off my bat.
"When my bat shattered after I hit it, I didn't think it had a shot. But with these winds, playing here in the past, anything that's in the air has definitely got a shot."
Scott Linebrink working the eighth and Bobby Jenks (fourth save) pitching in the ninth once again was enough to stop the Twins (3-5), although Linebrink faced the tying run in the form of Brendan Harris. Vazquez settled down nicely after a passive start -- by his own admission -- retiring the last 11 batters he faced.
"After the fourth inning, I was more aggressive and made better pitches," said Vazquez, who yielded three runs on seven hits over seven innings, fanning eight and walking one."
"Javy is going to be all right," Guillen added. "I don't worry about him. It's hard when you're the Opening Day pitcher at home and all of a sudden you get jumpy."
Vazquez's nice bounce-back effort would have gone for naught if not for another episode in the series known as, 'Joe Crede: Clutch hitter.' With Crede playing in the last year of his contract and with the thought of playing out the season and exploring free agency, it was assumed Josh Fields would continue his Major League run at third in 2008 that began with 23 home runs as Crede's replacement last year.
With all due respect to Fields, the White Sox are a better team with Crede in the lineup. He tries not to think about anything but baseball, leaving the contractual issues to agent Scott Boras.
"Playing the game of baseball is hard enough and worrisome enough, let alone to have to worry about stuff off the field that's out of your control," Crede said. "I'm blocking everything out of my mind, but at the same time I'm trying to stress the point that I want to be here. I love this city and I want to play here in years to come because of how great these fans are and how great this city has been to me."
As for the fan reaction, Crede was moved by their support. With the way things have been going for the White Sox, he probably could have seen those cheers coming.
"You feel like you belong here," said Crede of the ovations. "I feel like I've done things here that the fans appreciate, and everybody wants to see you do well."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.