He’d never had a game-winning hit before at any level so Yoan Moncada might have been surprised by what all his White Sox teammates threw at him late Thursday night.
“Everything,” Moncada said through an interpreter. “Gatorade, ice — they ripped my jersey, too.”
The White Sox rookie was all cleaned up by the time he addressed reporters following a 3-2 victory over the Houston Astros in 11 innings. But for a good period of time, Moncada was soaking wet and later likely covered in any usable substance teammates could find after the biggest game of his career. After previously striking out twice with the tying run aboard, Moncada belted a game-tying solo home run in the ninth inning and then singled home the winning run to set off a celebration unlike any he’d ever been at the center of before.
“It was something indescribable,” Moncada said. “I think that my feelings, all my emotions, were to the roof when I hit that ball and then when I was running the bases. It was something unique.”
Yoan Moncada walks it off! pic.twitter.com/gKOuD2LEyc— CSN Chicago (@CSNChicago) August 11, 2017
Having had a chance to scout Moncada when both played at Triple-A Charlotte in June, White Sox starting pitcher Carlos Rodon has a sense that Moncada’s breakthrough moment won’t be his last. Rodon, who earned a no decision with eight sharp innings (two earned runs and nine hits allowed with no walks and four strikeouts), is very impressed with the second baseman’s approach.
While Moncada brought a .688 OPS into Thursday’s game, he carried a .366 on-base percentage thanks in part to 13 walks in his first 71 plate appearances. Rodon and the White Sox figured it would only be a matter of time before Moncada, the top prospect in baseball, started to put the ball in play more often and do some damage.
That moment arrived in the ninth inning against Astros closer Ken Giles, who fell behind Moncada 2-0 in the count. Moncada looked for a fastball and drove the 98.7 mph pitch from Giles out to the opposite-field. It was only the third blown save in 25 tries for Giles.
Trubisky's not the only #10 killin' it tonight! 💣⚾️ pic.twitter.com/aA0EOTzPnG— White Sox Talk (@CSNWhiteSox) August 11, 2017
Two innings later, Moncada came to the plate with Leury Garcia at second and no outs. Garcia singled off Astros reliever Francis Martes and advanced to second on Jake Marisnick’s error in center. Moncada then ripped a 97-mph fastball from Martes past the dive of shortstop Marwin Gonzalez into center to begin the celebration.
“He battles up there and it’s about time,” Rodon said. “He’s got a good bat. Just a special player, man.
“For a young guy, just real patient. He’s aggressive sometimes, but he’ll wait it out and has good at-bats and strings them along and makes the pitcher work.”
White Sox manager Rick Renteria hoped any of his young charges would have an opportunity for redemption after their earlier struggles with men in scoring position. Moncada struck out to end the fifth with a man on second base in a 1-0 contest. He also struck out with runners on the corners in the seventh inning and the White Sox trailing by one. Yolmer Sanchez and Tim Anderson also missed out on key opportunities.
But Moncada bounced back, first against Giles and then against Martes. His composure is another reason why Renteria believes Moncada can excel in the big leagues.
“We were just talking about 'OK it's time for them to have an opportunity to redeem themselves in the game of baseball,'” Renteria said. “And see what they take from the previous at-bat in terms of how they were going to approach it. He did a nice job and got a pitch he could handle and hit it pretty hard through the infield to be able to get it out as far as it did.”
Afterward, Moncada was rewarded appropriately. Teammates threw ice at him halfway between first and second base, where Moncada wildly pumped his fist and jumped up and down.
Teammates raced from the dugout bearing gifts. Some brought ice while pitcher Derek Holland delivered a full bottle of Gatorade. They then mobbed Moncada and ripped his jersey, after which only the top button remained fastened.
“This is my first time that I hit a walkoff hit to win a game,” Moncada said. “I feel very excited.”