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Risky move the right one for Eaton vs. Tribe

White Sox leadoff man triples off Kluber, scores game-tying run on wild pitch

CHICAGO -- No one ever said Adam Eaton lacks nerve.

So why then, Adam, did you even bother to wait for the ball to bounce out of catcher Roberto Perez's mitt? Why not just a straight steal of home?

Eaton might not have been crazy enough to break for the plate while the ball was still in Indians starter Corey Kluber's hands, with White Sox slugger Jose Abreu in the batter's box, but he might as well have. It was still rolling toward the dirt when Perez retrieved it, and Eaton appeared like he'd be out at home plate.

He dived in headfirst, his teeth clinched and every fiber of his being moving at top speed, and Perez seemed too startled to secure the ball before tagging Eaton. He was safe with the game-tying run on this miniature wild pitch as the ball slipped out of Perez's grasp, and by that thin margin the White Sox avoided being shut out by Kluber on Monday night, after they returned home from a 5-1 trip with a .500 record and renewed confidence.

The White Sox would beat the Indians, 2-1, in the 10th on an opposite-field liner down the left-field line from rookie second baseman Carlos Sanchez. Chris Sale described it as the ultimate job of grinding out a victory, as he and Kluber combined to hold hitters to nine hits in 17 innings while striking out 19, with 12 of those K's belonging to Kluber.

"It's a game that as a hitter you don't really enjoy, but as a fan it's one of the best,'' Eaton said. "Two really good arms going at it, every pitch matters in that circumstance. We were fortunate to come out on top.''

Video: CLE@CWS: Sanchez hits a walk-off hit to left field

Sale essentially matched the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner in a battle of pitching heavyweights. He gave the Sox the kind of pitching performance that makes manager Robin Ventura believe his team has a chance to evolve into a postseason contender, but if you want to play in October, you've got to score runs, too, and that's where Eaton comes in.

After all, he's The Straw That Stirs the Drink. Just check those bright green T-shirts that White Sox players have been wearing around the clubhouse the last couple of weeks.

On the front is a martini glass with a picture of Eaton's face atop the straw; on the back is a quote from Eaton in April, when he was taking responsibility for Chicago's slow start.

"I'm supposed to stir the drink,'' Eaton said after a loss, borrowing an expression from Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson. "I'm the straw. That's my job. When we don't do that, I definitely take it personally."

Give Eaton credit for being able to see the humor in the T-shirts.

"I'm glad people think enough of me to make one,'' Eaton said.

There are a couple realities at play here.

The first is that Eaton is a guy who hasn't always known that his teammates had his back.

He did not bond well with the D-backs after reaching the big leagues in 2012 at 23 years old. Then-general manager Kevin Towers made that clear after Arizona traded Eaton to the White Sox as part of a three-team deal following the 2013 season to acquire Mark Trumbo from the Angels and open center field for organizational favorite A.J. Pollock.

The second is that Eaton was right when he said the Sox need him to get going.

While the arrival of Abreu was the biggest development for the Sox in 2014, Eaton's .362 on-base percentage was also a factor in general manager Rick Hahn's aggressive offseason. It also earned Eaton a five-year, $23.5 million contract extension, and through May 9, he was hitting .186 with a .248 on-base percentage.

A four-hit game last Monday in Milwaukee turned things around. Eaton has gone 12-for-32 with three doubles and a triple in the last seven games, raising his average to .233 and his OBP to .288. That's a start, and the White Sox needed it.

"When he's going good, we're a better team,'' Ventura said. "Any team that has a leadoff guy that's getting on, creating havoc when he gets on and becomes a tough out, you're a much better lineup because it's right before your best hitters come up. He can create a lot of uncomfortable situations for people by getting on and running around the bases.''

Video: CLE@CWS: Eaton lines a triple to right field in 6th

Eaton's triple into the right-field corner off Kluber in the sixth inning was arguably the biggest hit of this victory, but it wouldn't have meant anything without him going 90 feet more with his speed and willingness to use it.

"I told [White Sox third-base coach] Joe [McEwing] if it touches the grass or it's close, I'm going,'' Eaton said. "You have to put pressure on him. Joe, the pitch before, said, 'He's going to get nasty on this one, be ready to go.' As soon as I saw the ball I kind of took a little slide step and broke for home. Sometimes you have to be risky, especially with a really good guy on the mound, and it paid off.''

In addition to the T-shirt, Eaton's line about stirring the drink has led to some celebratory theater. After a big hit or great play, White Sox players have begun using their hands to act like they're mixing a drink, and they don't seem to care if it looks more shaken than stirred.

"We're continuing to build our friendships in here as a team,'' Eaton said. "If you smile as a team, you're going to win as a team. I truly do believe that, and guys are really enjoying each other's company and going out there and getting the job done. … The team that gets along, can enjoy each other's company, can make fun of each other, it goes a long way. It really does.''

So what about a straight steal of home? Did that cross your mind, Adam?

"You know what, I've always dreamed about it,'' Eaton said. "But if I straight steal home with one of the best hitters in the AL up, I'd probably be shot. I [wouldn't] even want to go back to the dugout.''

Video: CLE@CWS: Eaton on run-scoring play, winning streak

Phil Rogers is a columnist for
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