The Angels' Albert Pujols and Mike Trout et. al. did their best last night to roll over the White Sox and a very hittable Philip Humber by tagging the up and down Sox hurler for six runs and 10 hits while coaxing four walks in 5 2/3 innings. But, in the end, it was Alex Rios's two-run 10th inning homer, his second blast of the game, that handed the Halos their third straight loss, 8-6, and neutralized the Pujols and Trout home runs off of Humber. The victory also kept the South Siders 2 1/2 games ahead of the second place Tigers.
I first became aware of Rios when he broke into the majors with the Blue Jays in 2004. He was a highly touted rookie with star quality written all over him, joining a Jays lineup tht included then-productive sluggers like Carlos Delgado and Vernon Wells. I think objective fans and members of the media would agree that Rios, while making two All-Star teams during his tenure in Toronto and enjoying two 20-plus home run seasons, three 80-plus RBI campaigns and a lifetime batting of average hovering at around .280, hasn't lived up to the initial hype. Until this season.
The White Sox have seen the very best of Rios this year, both in the numbers and his clutch performance. But no one knew before this season which Rios would show up. Would it be the player who joined the Sox during the 2009 season and sported a .199 BA with virtually no power? Or would it be the Alex who blasted 21 homers, drove in 88 runs and batted .284 the following year? Or would the outfielder reach the bottom again as he did in 2011 with only 13 roundtrippers, 44 RBIs and a weak .227 average?
What we have gotten thus far from Rios is beyond our expectations. He has been the most consistent, productive and clutch performer in the Sox lineup since he homered against Texas in April to give the Sox their first victory. Right now, he has produced 18 home runs, 67 RBIs, he's hitting .318, 40 points above his career average, and he's much more comfortable and dependable in his familiar right field position. And while I'm not as knowledgeable about the rest of baseball as I am with the Sox, I can't imagine there are many more players in the majors who have been as vital to their team as Rios.
The bottom line for me is that when I think about who on the Sox I would want up at the plate with the game on the line, who would I choose? I would give consideration to Alejandro De Aza, Kevin Youkilis, Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski. But, at this point in the season, my final answer would have to be Rios.