Rios sets off White Sox celebration
Two-out, two-run homer in ninth steals victory
CHICAGO -- If the White Sox were going to wait until almost one month into the 2010 regular season to claim their first series victory, they might as well do it in style.
As in back-to-back, game-ending home runs, accomplished by the team for the first time in the history of U.S. Cellular Field, both coming with two outs.
Andruw Jones provided the theatrics on Friday, celebrating his birthday with a winning blast to left off Seattle reliever Mark Lowe. And on Saturday, the walk-off honors belonged to Alex Rios, who launched a two-run blast on a 95-mph fastball from closer David Aardsma to give the White Sox a 5-4 victory.
Rios' first career walk-off roundtripper gave the White Sox (7-11) just their second two-game winning streak of the season. The 397-foot shot completed a three-run rally against the Mariners' reliever who previously practiced his craft on both sides of town in Chicago.
Asked to describe the feeling after the exciting win, Rios was left almost speechless.
"Unbelievable," said Rios with a grin. "It was, I can't describe it. It was good."
"I mean, you would rather win a laugher, like 8-2," White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko said. "But after you win, it brings the team together more. So, you take it and run with it."
With one out, Konerko started the ninth-inning uprising with his team-best seventh home run of the year. After A.J. Pierzynski flew out to center field for the second out, Carlos Quentin drew a walk to extend the inning.
Quentin, who exited the game hitting .164, was down 1-2 in the count before taking three straight fastballs to coax the free pass. That moment set up Rios' blast on a 1-1 pitch, marking the first White Sox walk-offs in consecutive games since J.C. Martin and Ken Berry did the damage in a doubleheader against Cleveland on July 25, 1967, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
"Carlos had an awesome at-bat," Konerko said. "Carlos had a really tough, big league at-bat off [Aardsma]. That set up the home run."
"That at-bat by Quentin was big. He took a couple of pitches [that were] very close," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "The last at-bat was a pretty good approach at the plate."
Where was Guillen when Rios connected? Well, he was in his clubhouse office, watching soap operas from Telemundo. Guillen had been ejected in the top of the ninth after arguing a call by third-base umpire Fieldin Culbreth, allowing two runs to score on Casey Kotchman's ground-rule double off of Bobby Jenks (1-0).
Kotchman's drive just inside the first-base line was touched by a fan. By Culbreth's judgment, though, pinch-runner Jack Wilson would have scored on the play without the interference.
"There's nothing you can do with calls like that," Rios said. "You have to battle through it."
Although he didn't factor in the final decision, Freddy Garcia set the tone for the White Sox from the outset. The right-hander looked absolutely dominant working on eight days' rest, giving up two runs on two hits over seven innings.
Garcia struck out five and walked two, retiring 18 of the first 19 Seattle hitters faced.
"You throw strikes, put the ball down, and make your pitch," said Garcia, who threw 60 of his 103 pitches for strikes, after getting knocked around over three innings in Toronto during his last start. "For me, I need to be consistent. I can't go pitch good for seven innings and then the next start three."
"When Freddy throws strikes, he knows how to pitch," Guillen said.
Alexei Ramirez's two-run double gave the White Sox a 2-1 lead in the fifth, scoring Rios and Mark Teahen. Ramirez lofted the Doug Fister pitch toward the White Sox bullpen, but left fielder Eric Byrnes boosted himself up on the fence and seemed to get in position to make the spectacular catch.
Instead, the ball tipped off Byrnes' glove as he sort of swatted at the fly ball and then hit the fence. The ruling from Culbreth was that the ball "hit the top of the fence and came in," as told to a pool reporter from The Associated Press.
Those lost runs for the White Sox only helped to make the finale a bit more dramatic.
"Can you please win before the ninth? That would be nice," asked a smiling Guillen of his team during the postgame press conference. "We don't give up. That's the good thing about it. After they scored the runs, it's not easy to score three runs in the ninth, especially against Aardsma."
"He has been awfully good for us this year, perfect, and he just left some pitches up and got hurt," Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu said of Aardsma. "This is a good hitting club we're facing. Say what you want, but they have power up and down their lineup. They can hurt you."
It's a powerful team with six home runs in the past two games and 25 for the season. It's also a group slowly getting back on the right track.
They have their first series win, and on Sunday afternoon, weather permitting, the White Sox will go for their first series sweep and first three-game win streak in 2010. It's anyone's guess who takes the walk-off honors.
"We still have some ground to make up to get back to .500 and that should be our short-term goal, but it's starting to get a little better," Konerko said. "Just keep working, everyone is working hard. Just keep grinding."
"Hopefully everything starts clicking and we start playing better," Garcia said. "It's how you start winning. We did it last night and we did it today."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.