Back during the 2008 ALDS, the White Sox grew tired of Grant Balfour's histrionics after a Juan Uribe strikeout. Up came Orlando Cabrera, who started jawing at Balfour immediately after the first pitch. After a brief standoff, the at-bat continued, and Balfour got the last laugh with a strikeout.
Tonight, Jose Abreu showed how that sequence was supposed to end.
With two outs and the bases loaded, Abreu took an 0-1 fastball and crushed it out of the park to right field for a walk-off grand slam. Two events that preceded the blast made it even sweeter.
No. 1: Balfour nearly hits pinch-hitting Paul Konerko in the head with ball four. Konerko didn't care for the chin music, and Balfour follows him to first base, looking insane.
No. 2: With the bases loaded, Adam Eaton grounded into a potential 4-6-3 double play, but a slight bobble by Ben Zobrist allowed Eaton to beat the return throw, and a run scored to make it a one-run game. Joe Maddon came out for a vanity, what-the-hell challenge under the concept that he had nothing to lose -- except for maybe icing his pitcher.
Sure enough, Balfour walked Marcus Semien on five pitches to load the bases, and Abreu promptly unloaded them for the comeback victory.
In the process, Abreu also got Matt Lindstrom off the hook. Lindstrom started the ninth with the 10th walk issued by White Sox pitchers, followed by an Evan Longoria homer to center, turning a 6-4 game into a save situation for Balfour.
While Lindstrom didn't look good, it's hard to fault the bullpen as a whole. The Rays knocked an erratic Erik Johnson out of the game after just 1⅔ innings, batting around on him in the second inning for four runs. Jake Petricka finished the second with one pitch, and he, Zach Putnam, and Ronald Belisario posted zeroes from the third inning through the eighth. When a shaky bullpen allows two runs over 7⅓ innings -- even while walking seven -- one shouldn't nitpick that it wasn't pretty enough.
The offense covered for Johnson rather quickly. Abreu, who had already driven in a first-inning run with a single, hit a solo shot to center in the third to make it a 4-2 game. Tyler Flowers' bases-loaded single in the fourth evened it up ... although a colossal baserunning error by Flowers prevented the Sox from tacking on more runs.
With runners on the corners and one out, Eaton hit a chopper back to the mound. Alejandro De Aza, the runner on third, thought it would clear Chris Archer's glove, but Archer snagged it and fired to third to start the rundown. De Aza induced a couple throws, but Flowers started pulling up as he was three-quarters to third base while De Aza dragged it out. Then, for some reason, Flowers tried doubling back to second as they placed the tag on De Aza. One throw back to second, followed by another to third, resulted in a double TOOTBLAN to end the inning.
Abreu's slam covered for that, too, but really, that was the only mistake the Sox position players made. Marcus Semien started a couple of slick double plays on short hops, including an inning-ending 5-2-3 double play. Gordon Beckham also showed off his arm on a double play turn, as well as on another play ranging to his right.
The pitching may be off-kilter, and it's incredible that the other half of the roster can make up the difference. Then again, it's growing more and more believable by the game.
*With his second homer of the night, Abreu set a major league rookie record with nine homers in April.
*The Sox faced a difficult pitching matchup on paper, but they fared well against Archer -- four runs on nine hits over six innings.
*Outside of the baserunning error, it was another great game from Flowers: 2-for-3 with a double, two RBI and a walk. He also thwarted Tampa Bay's only steal attempt to end the first inning (meaning Johnson only retired four batters, technically).
*Eaton went 1-for-5 with a stolen base and two runs scored in his first game back from his hamstring issue.