Superstars create postseason chances. Role players solidify them.
The Chicago White Sox's success this season has been mainly due to the significant contributions of Chris Sale, Jake Peavy, Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and A.J. Pierzynski. Without them, the White Sox wouldn’t be anywhere near where they are today.
But while the White Sox’s stars have shined, their role players deserve credit as well. If the White Sox are able to secure a playoff spot over the next month, it’ll be performances like starting pitcher Dylan Axelrod’s in Wednesday’s 8-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles that will be just as important when it’s all said and done.
Axelrod, who was called up from Triple-A earlier in the week to fill in for injured Gavin Floyd, shut down the Orioles and allowed three hits and one run over 7 1/3 innings. He retired 13 consecutive hitters during one stretch from the fourth to eighth inning.
“Ax was good tonight,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “You can’t ask for much more than he did. Pitched a great game under quick circumstances.”
While Ventura had enough faith in Axelrod to give him the ball over his other starting options like Hector Santiago and Philip Humber, Ventura still couldn’t have been exactly sure what he was going to get from Axelrod on Wednesday. With a 1-2 record and 5.63 ERA in 10 appearances, including seven starts, prior to Wednesday, Axelrod hadn’t exactly been consistent during his time in the majors.
Even Wednesday, Axelrod began the game a bit shaky. He walked three hitters and gave up two hits through three innings.
After Axelrod came off the field in the third inning, White Sox bench coach Mark Parent approached him with some advice.
“After the third inning, Mark Parent said, ‘Trust your stuff. You’re good enough, don’t nibble,’” Axelrod said. “It’s simple. I know that. Sometimes it takes that reinforcement. I was able to go out and challenge them for the most part.”
Axelrod didn’t flip the switch right away. His fourth inning started with a double and then he hit a batter. But from there, he retired the next 13 hitters and secured a much-needed win in a pennant race.
The White Sox snapped a five-game road losing streak and assured themselves they’ll have at least two games on the Detroit Tigers when they travel to Detroit for a three-game series on Friday. The Tigers lost to the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday, and the White Sox’s lead grew to three.
Gordon Beckham and Paul Konerko jokingly did put some pressure on Axelrod headed into the evening.
“We told him after last night’s game he better win,” Beckham said. “We kind of needed it. He went out and pitched great.”
Axelrod knew they were playing with him, but he envisioned himself coming through on Wednesday.
“Him and Paul were kidding me, ‘The season was on the line,’” Axelrod said. “‘You got to win this (Wednesday.)’ I know they’re kidding, but it was a good win against a good team.
“They talk about being a stopper. I’m not that. I came out with that mindset just putting forth my best effort, putting this team back on the winning track and hopefully carrying it over to tomorrow and into Detroit as well.”
After the game, Axelrod was sent back to the minors, but he is expected to return again soon. When he does, he may just be in line again to be a reason for the White Sox make the playoffs.