A 1st place team starts a rally

Through five innings, White Sox starter Philip Humber was hanging in, but Rays ace James Shields was thriving.

He had struck out seven batters, allowed five singles, and had hitters--especially Paul Konerko--off balance with his revered changeup.  The only runs scored off of him had come courtesy of a botched pickoff move that moved Viciedo forward two bases, and holding a 2-1 lead looked to be in his power.

To start the 6th, Shields walked Adam Dunn, but followed it up by striking out Konerko for the third time on the night, and looked as sharp as ever doing so.

Over the next six at-bats, the White Sox hit total would double, five runs would score, and Shields would soon be done for the night, his changeup turned into a liability.

Alex Rios

Rios simply gets a first-pitch fastball belt-high and jumps on it.  It's actually on the inner portion, but he slices it to right field with an inside-out swing.  The single puts runners on 1st and 2nd with one out.

A.J. Pierzynski

After cursing himself for fouling off a low-and-in fastball for the first pitch, and poking away another curveball, Pierzynski found himself in the same jackpot that Shields had been placing hitters in all night--in protect-mode and in position to chase a tailing changeup.

Shields uncorks a good one and gets A.J. to swing, but Pierzynski stays with the speed and shows his famous ability to make contact with pitches that are entire counties away from him.  The single to right field scores Adam Dunn and ties the game, with Alex Rios on 3rd..

Dayan Viciedo

Viciedo also found himself in an 0-2 hole, and also saw a changeup for a putaway pitch, but when Shields tried to avoid the tragedy of the previous batter--and test Viciedo's discipline--by putting it into the dirt, Dayan laid off as it bounced away for a wild pitch.

Shields followed it up with another changeup higher up and in, which produced a grounder but not a whiff, and Viciedo still turned on it with enough force to knock it through a drawn-in infield for the go-ahead run.

Alexei Ramirez & Orlando Hudson

After losing the lead, Shields began to fiddle with his approach...

...or lose his command, or temporarily his confidence in his changeup.  Either way, he abandoned the pitch for two straight batters, fell behind both, and was burnt for back-to-back drilled line drives on flat sliders.  Neither one was poorly located so much as they lacked movement or velocity separation from his fastball.

The moment Shields returned to the changeup, he induced a groundball out from Alejandro De Aza; one too weak to even complete a double play with, costing the Rays another run, and putting them down 6-2.  Shields had righted himself, but his team's win probability had dropped 55% in the meantime.

Like any winning streak, the White Sox have been doing a variety of things well, and running into the good fortune of stringing them together.

But--Especially in light of last year--the sight of the back half of the batting order initiating a rally by making adjustments, and knocking a good pitcher having a dominant night off of his approach, even for just a moment, is as impressive and encouraging as it gets.

The Sox have 1st place in the AL Central as their reward.

(Pitch Fx data from brooksbaseball.net, screenshots from CSN Chicago, MLBTV broadcast)

Follow White Sox Observer on Twitter @ JRFegan and on Facebook

Leave a comment