KANSAS CITY -- It's obviously been a resurgent year for Alex Rios. But just how important has the outfielder been to the White Sox?Well, according to Elias Sports, Rios' homer in the seventh inning of Tuesday's 3-2 win was the eighth lead-changing homer he has hit in the sixth inning or later this year. Overall, he's tied with Baltimore's Adam Jones for the most lead-changing home runs in baseball. "He's been big," manager Robin Ventura said. "I think that's why you have the trust to let him swing 3-0. He's been that good for us. He's done a lot of different things, not just hitting but defense and running the bases. He's a complete player." Rios is lighting up the stat sheet, leading the White Sox with 88 runs scored, ranking second with a .297 average, 87 RBIs and 22 stolen bases. His 24 long balls rank third on the team and tie a career high set in 2007 when he was with Toronto.
While the White Sox are enjoying Rios' bounce-back season, Rios is enjoying his team's postseason push. He's never played in the playoffs."This whole season has been something that I've never experienced," Rios said. "I've never experienced this, and every day when you come to the field it means something. It means that you have to come and do something good to try to win games. It's been a hell of a season."
Bullpen stepping up down the stretch
KANSAS CITY -- After a particularly rough stretch by the White Sox relief corps, the bullpen has been masterful over the past five games.In the last five contests, Chicago relievers have posted an 0.60 ERA, allowing just one run in 15 innings. They've struck out 13 batters and allowed just five hits in 47 at-bats for a .106 batting average against. Perhaps not coincidentally, the White Sox are on a five-game winning streak. "I think it's just a matter of everyone doing a pretty decent job out there in the 'pen right now," reliever Matt Thornton said. "We're all on a run at the same time. When you have, throughout the regular season, seven or eight arms out there, very rarely is everyone going to be clicking at the same time. It's hard to have everyone on a good run at the same time of the season. So we picked a pretty good time for everyone to be throwing the ball well right now. We've been able to keep us in games, in some close games and maintain a lead or keep a tie, that kind of thing." Manager Robin Ventura credited the bullpen for keeping close games in the White Sox favor. "We're scoring enough runs. Guys are pitching great, and you need that," Ventura said. "We don't normally score nine runs a night. We play those kind of games every night, so nobody's panicking because that's just the way we play. It would be nice to get nine runs, but we usually don't." This latest stretch of excellence by the Chicago 'pen comes after a sour one that saw relievers give up 26 runs in eight games for an ERA of 7.16. The White Sox went 3-5 in those eight games. "You've got to have all the aspects of the game clicking for you: good defense, timely hitting, solid starting pitching and good bullpen," Thornton said. "Sometimes you can overcome one of those things not being there. Very rarely can you overcome two of those things not being there. We've been on a pretty good run here of late, and we have 15 games left in the regular season. We're looking to finish strong."
White Sox give AJ a breather
KANSAS CITY -- Despite strong career numbers against Royals starter Bruce Chen, White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski was out of the lineup on Wednesday, with Tyler Flowers getting the nod behind the dish.Pierzynski owns a .417 average in 40 plate appearances against the veteran lefty Chen with two home runs, four RBIs and a pair of walks. Flowers, though, has hit left-handers well this season. He entered play Wednesday with a .298 average against southpaws, more than .100 points higher than his average against right-handers. "We're going to need A.J. going down the stretch. It's just better to rest him," manager Robin Ventura said. "We want to make sure he's fresh and ready to play. Tyler's got to stay sharp as well, so it's a good time to do that. ... We're going to have a lot of righties coming up, so not really a spot for Tyler to get in there, matchup-wise." Pierzynski played in 14 of the team's 16 games this month heading into Wednesday's contest.
First to third
The White Sox game with the Rays on Saturday, Sept. 29, will be played at 3:05 p.m. CT. The game was originally scheduled for 6:10 p.m., but FOX picked up the game for a telecast. The time change forces the scheduled postgame fireworks to be cancelled. Tickets for potential American League Wild Card and Division Series games at U.S. Cellular Field will go on sale at noon CT on Friday.
Vinnie Duber is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.