"We just have to take a step back and relax," Dunn said. "We have to realize we are in first place and in a really, really good position."
That was Adam Dunn, the veteran of absolutely zero MLB playoff wars, before Monday night's crucial showdown with the Cleveland Indians. Dunn would cooly go on to bash two home runs, including a dramatic, go-ahead three-run blast in the 8th inning, and come about as close as one can to single-handedly winning a baseball game--a whopping 71.3% win probability added.
It's not the biggest impact Dunn's ever had on a ballgame--it's 2nd. On June 30th, 2006, Dunn finished a game with 86.6% win probability added by doing pretty much the most dramatic thing possible. He hit a two-out, walk-off grand slam off of Bob Wickman in the bottom of the 9th inning to erase a three-run deficit. At the time, Wickman was serving as the closer for, you guessed it, the Cleveland Indians. The win dragged the Cincinnati Reds into a tie for 1st place, a spot they would finish the season nowhere close to.
That tidbit of info is offered with tongue planted firmly in cheek, of course. We all know that Monday night was easily the biggest moment of Dunn's career. He admitted it readily and without hesitation in his post-game interview, mentioned his hunger for meaningful baseball when he signed with Chicago in the winter of 2010, and just got through another ordeal with his oblique because he eagerly rushed back to the lineup before fully healing. He's not even 100% now, the fool.
We're not far removed from such impulses from Dunn being tragic elements, or markers of his incredibly poor timing. He had arrived with a chance to compete in Chicago right in time for his skills to erode overnight, and the night where his mild successes were mocked by the fans, and he had the luck to be standing at the plate when the Royals balked their way out of the game seemed like the closest he'd come to heroism in a White Sox uniform.
After Dunn lifted an 0-2 fastball left in far too friendly of a spot by Vinnie Pestano to the right field seats, the most enthusiastic high-five--and corresponding butt pat--he received came from an elated and exuberant Alex Rios, who was waiting in the on-deck circle. If these two have been good for anything--and they have, obviously--it's been yanking everything about this year quickly back into perspective. Rios and Dunn spent most of last season looking like they would rather dissolve on the spot than be dragged through the embarrassment of completing all nine innings, and are now in a position to function as the driving forces of a playoff team.
Even if the AL Central winner is a mortal lock to be the least-qualified team in the playoffs, even though Monday night's win over the worst team in the AL cleared up very few of the Sox issues--RISP awfulness, fatigued Chris Sale, patchwork bullpen, exhausted and old middle of the order--the gift of this remarkable about-face should not be forgotten.
Adam Dunn was the hero Monday night. Dunn, the man who once inspired this illustration, the man whose volcanic disaster of a contract crippled the Sox off-season, is in a position to make it all worthwhile with one mighty closing stretch (which could have been enabled by a Manto tweak). This year may yet end up with a sour finish, but it's certainly had it's moments, which is just what Dunn has been waiting for all along.