Spin Forward: Go-Go Sox revisited
White Sox beat Rays at own game with aggressive baserunning
CHICAGO -- It was the most unlikely three-by-90 relay team you'll ever see.
Jim Thome, Paul Konerko and Ken Griffey Jr. -- three players who never had or had long since lost whatever might have passed for foot speed -- tagging up and advancing on the same fly ball.
Even if you blinked, you still would have caught most of this fourth-inning "dash" on Alexei Ramirez's fly to center. For one game, the team that led the Major Leagues with 235 home runs looked like the Go-Go Sox.
"I'm just trying to get [White Sox manager] Ozzie [Guillen] to give everybody the green light," Griffey said following Chicago's 5-3 victory in Game 3 of the American League Division Series on Sunday night at U.S. Cellular Field. "I asked for it and [bench coach] Joey [Cora] said I've got a blinking yellow."
Their slugging offense stymied in the first two games in St. Petersburg, the Sox knew that home runs would be harder to come by in their home park now that the weather has cooled. Held homerless again by the Rays, the Sox compensated with a more aggressive attack in Game 3.
They stole three bases -- three more than they pilfered during the first two games -- tagged up three times and took the extra base twice.
They took a page from Tampa Bay's playbook and beat the AL East champions at their own game. That aggressiveness forced the Rays to make the kind of mistakes the White Sox made at Tropicana Field.
It wouldn't have worked without proper execution and veterans who knew when the odds were more in their favor than not.
Thome tagged from third and knew it would take a good throw to get him, assuming it wasn't cut off. Konerko knew the throw would go to the plate or get cut off, greatly increasing his chances of going from second to third.
The biggest surprise was Griffey, who was tagging from first on what was a medium fly ball to center.
It was a gutsy decision, but a smart one. Griffey gambled the Rays would not throw directly to second. The usual throw in that situation is to the cutoff man. It was a quick thinking move and an aggressive move, and it put him in position to score Chicago's fourth run.
"They've got to make two good throws," Griffey explained. "If they throw to second, I'm out."
Score one for experience over youth.
"To be honest, I thought Griffey cheated," Guillen said. "I never thought he went back to the bag. That's good smart baserunning. I think that was a big huge play for us in that inning."
The White Sox must keep up that kind of pedal-to-the-metal attack in Game 4 if they're going to stave off elimination for another day.
They have to do the unexpected and capitalize on each opportunity. They have to continue this kind of attack to keep the pressure on the Rays, something they didn't do with any kind of consistency in Florida.
Out of the comforts of the dome, the Sox made the Rays squirm just a little bit in this one. The Rays insist the tide has not turned, and they're probably right, but the bottome line is the Sox have taken the step they needed to stay alive, and showed the Rays they can win even when they're not hitting on all cylinders.
With the exception of the ninth inning of Game 1, when Tampa Bay did not even have to bat, Game 3 was the first time in the series the Rays did not answer with at least one run in an inning following a White Sox score.
Credit the pitching and defense for that. And credit the Sox offense for playing hard on a night when the boomers weren't sending balls into the cheap seats.
The Sox proved their point Sunday night. To prove they can send this series back to St. Pete, they're going to have to do it again Monday.
"Just because we're a team that leads the league in home runs, I don't think everybody is just sitting around waiting for the home run," White Sox left fielder Dewayne Wise said. "It just happens that way."
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.