"I just told him that might be the play of the year." - Gordon Beckham
There's something incredibly neat about the crucial play of the White Sox biggest win of the year being a hard slide by Alex Rios to break-up a double play. It was a big moment in a huge game against a division rival, and that's part of it It's also was an old school/fundamentals play that gives everyone over the age of 40 the tremors, and that's part of it, too, but there's context here.
1. For all of Adam Dunn's struggles, Alex Rios might have been more thoroughly dismissed by the fan base last year. While Dunn seemed incompetent, Rios embodied the lethargy of the entire season. Whether it was his failure to adjust his approach until September, his uncertain and apprehensive play in the outfield, or simply his demeanor, Rios could never come off as invested in what he was doing.
Racing into the opposing 2nd basemen, sacrificing his body on the off-chance it could do some good, is a full-speed reversal. If someone took a yearlong break from watching Sox games that ended Monday, this would be a shocking sight.
2. The explanation for why the White Sox are leading the Detroit Tigers by three games cannot be summed by a single play, and probably not a single game. Yet, this moment captured a couple of crucial elements. Detroit's defense has been a plague on a pretty darn good lineup and pitching staff, and mid-season acquisition Omar Infante has surprisingly furthered those issues.
With the way the Tigers have dominated head-to-head play with the Sox, the only way they were going down is if their defense failed them. It wasn't quite peppering an injured Miguel Cabrera with bunts, but the Sox forced the issue to Detroit's defense and were handsomely rewarded. Rios can't go back in time and send Alexei Ramirez or Carlos Lee hard into the 2nd basemen, but issued a stern mantra going forward.
"Every middle infielder knows that if they stay in the baseline, something like that is going to happen."
3. The White Sox have been the Detroit Tigers before. They have been the most talented team in the division that yielded performances less than the sum of its parts. Throughout every demoralizing loss to the Twins over the past decade-plus, have been torturous moments of defensive lapses, poor strategy, and failures in execution that have contributed to the notion of the Sox not being a team that plays the game correctly.
It was probably overstated and unfair all along, but to be on the other side of it is unquestionably fantastic. Frankly, it's just a relief.