Finally getting a little luck, Kevan Smith comes up huge in White Sox comeback win

Finally getting a little luck, Kevan Smith comes up huge in White Sox comeback win

Hit ‘em where they ain’t, right?

Kevan Smith hasn’t had an overabundance of luck following that old baseball maxim in his short time up with the White Sox this season. But Monday, Smith came up with one of the game’s biggest hits, tattooing a ball into the right-field corner for a game-tying double in the seventh inning of the White Sox 5-4 comeback win over the visiting Boston Red Sox.

Hitting the ball hard hasn’t been a problem for Smith, but he’s run into some bad luck, hitting balls hard but right at fielders. Move some of those batted balls a little bit in one direction or the other, and Smith’s numbers could be very, very good.

On balls hit with an exit velocity of 95 mph or greater, hitters across the league are hitting .539 (7,068-for-13,108), according to BaseballSavant.com. Entering Monday’s game, Smith was just 4-for-12 on such batted balls, making him significantly unluckier than the average hitter. That seventh-inning double had an exit velocity of 93 mph, coming close to the kind of hard contact Smith’s been making this season.

He’ll take coming through in the clutch Monday, though, contributing big time to the White Sox fourth win in their last five games.

Finally, Smith was able to hit it where they ain’t — or, if for nothing else but grammar's sake — where they weren’t.

“For once, right?” Smith said with a smile after the game. “Been working hard on my swing. It’s frustrating, obviously, whenever you hit it right at people, but that’s the way the game goes and that’s why you’ve got to realize it’s a ‘failing’ sport. You’ve got to get used to failing. But it fell for me today and in a big spot. So it felt good.”

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Smith’s numbers have been impressive of late. Including his 1-for-2 game Monday, he’s hitting .350 with three doubles in his last six games.

It’s nice for him to finally see some results from what’s been a good swing.

“That’s what’s tough because when you’re not getting hits, you think you have to do more, you think you have to get in the cage more. But you’re going to take hard hits all day long,” Smith said. “It’s just staying confident, trusting the work, just going out each day being consistent. And that’s what I’ve been doing, and hopefully they start falling a little more.”

Smith also made an impact on the base paths, coming around to score from second on Melky Cabrera’s infield single a few batters later. An aggressive two-out send from third-base coach Nick Capra set up the run, one that might not have scored if not for the throw bouncing away from Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez.

Instead, Smith slid in safely for the eventual game-winning run, delivering yet another win for the White Sox, who are feeling much better during a to-this-point 4-1 home stand since returning from a 3-7 road trip at the end of last week.

“I thought the ball got through,” Smith said of the play. “I knew he was playing up the middle a little bit because he was kind of stacked behind me at second. When he hit the ball, I was like I’m either going to hold up at third or he obviously got it. And then when he starts waving me, kind of caught me off guard. I thought it got through, but after I got in (to the dugout) I found out it didn’t. When he says go, I’m going. Fortunately it worked out in our favor.

“Obviously the rough road trip, but we had a lot of good games, we battled hard. And (manager Rick Renteria) got us together a little bit, kind of got us refocused and ready for this home stand. We have a good squad in here. We’re excited. We just have to trust that each of us are going to do our part, just come together and keep having big wins like this and getting this good energy in the clubhouse. Feels good.”

Melky Cabrera's big game sparks White Sox comeback win

Melky Cabrera's big game sparks White Sox comeback win

Melky Cabrera is the latest hitter to aid a surprising White Sox offense.

The veteran outfielder had two go-ahead hits on Monday afternoon, including an RBI single in the seventh inning of a 5-4 White Sox victory over the Boston Red Sox in front of 27,148 at Guaranteed Rate Field. Cabrera also blasted a three-run homer for the White Sox, who won for the fourth time in five games on the homestand.

Only three weeks ago, Cabrera boasted a .595 OPS and had one home run on his ledger. But Cabrera is hitting .407/.467/.852 with four homers and 11 RBIs in his last 30 plate appearances (seven games).

“That’s the result of all of the work I put in for my preparation,” Cabrera said through an interpreter. “I haven’t changed anything. I’ve been doing my same routine. My swing is the same. It’s just the way the ball is going out right now.

“Things are going well for us right now.”

Cabrera continued to torment opposing pitchers in the third inning when he ripped the first pitch he saw from David Price for a three-run homer to put the White Sox ahead 3-1. Cabrera then nearly broke a 3-all tie in the fifth inning with runners on the corners. But Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts made a diving stop and flipped the ball to start a fantastic, inning-ending 6-4-3 double play with runners on the corners.

But Cabrera wouldn’t be denied in the seventh.

With the White Sox down 4-3, Yolmer Sanchez led off the seventh with a triple to right. Kevan Smith tied it with an RBI double. Two outs later, Cabrera looped a Matt Barnes pitch up the middle for a single. Smith was waved home even though Red Sox second baseman Josh Rutledge tracked the ball down in shallow center. Rutledge fired home, but catcher Christian Vazquez couldn’t handle the hop and Smith slid in with the go-ahead run.

Buoyed by the performances of Avisail Garcia, Jose Abreu — whose 10-game hit streak ended Monday — and Cabrera, the White Sox offense has performed better than expected this season. Monday’s effort was the 23rd time in 50 games in which the offense has scored five or more runs. The team entered Monday seventh in the American League with 225 runs scored, an average of 4.59 per contest.

“(Cabrera’s) bat’s starting to come to life a little bit more lately,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s been as relaxed as he’s ever been. He’s focused. I don’t think he’s changed his routine. He has a very steady routine. I think for most veteran hitters, they know when they’re doing what they’re doing, and they know that in time things will start to come full circle and they’ll come back to where they’re at. It’s not like he’s losing bat speed or none of that. It’s just a matter of time and sync and focus, and kind of finding himself back in the zone where he’s comfortable doing what he’s doing.”

[MORE WHITE SOX: Chris Sale has 'no hard feelings' as he returns to face White Sox]

The back end of the White Sox bullpen continues to look comfortable holding the lead. Juan Minaya struck out the side in a scoreless seventh inning for the victory. Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson each added scoreless frames to preserve the win.

White Sox relievers followed David Holmberg’s spot start (four innings, three earned runs) with one run allowed over five innings. The group entered Monday with a 2.48 ERA, second-best in the majors behind Cleveland (2.19).

“We got some good arms here,” Robertson said. “Those guys have experience. Everyone that comes up seems to step into a role, figure out and gets the job done. That's what we as a bullpen, try to be a tight-knit group, come in and protect leads and if we're not protecting a lead at least hold the game where it is and give our offense a chance to come through for a win.”

Jose Quintana on Tuesday opponent Chris Sale: 'He was the best teammate I ever played with'

Jose Quintana on Tuesday opponent Chris Sale: 'He was the best teammate I ever played with'

The majority of the talk surrounding Tuesday night's pitching matchup at Guaranteed Rate Field will be focused on the guy pitching against the White Sox.

Chris Sale returned to the South Side for the first time since being traded to the Boston Red Sox this past offseason, and he'll take the mound against his former teammates Tuesday. But the White Sox, who traded away one of the best pitchers in baseball, will be sending another All-Star hurler to the mound to oppose Sale.

Jose Quintana gets the ball for the White Sox, and while the attention will be squarely on Sale — and the emotions he does or does not show and the reaction he receives from the fans — Quintana will have his own emotional roller coaster going on, pitching against a guy who served as a mentor of sorts for the first five seasons of his career.

"Throwing on the same day will be a different feeling for me because he was the best teammate I ever played with," Quintana said. "It will be a different feeling watching him go against me after the last four years when he was my teammate. We talked last night. He said, ‘Hey, I’m in town. I can’t wait to see you guys.’ So I’m excited to play against him."

Sale had a few years on Quintana in major league service, but the duo looked like they would be a near-untouchable 1-2 combo at the front of the White Sox pitching rotation for years to come.

They both represented the White Sox at the All-Star Game last season and both finished in the top 10 in voting for the American League Cy Young Award.

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Sale was shipped to the Red Sox to start the White Sox rebuilding effort, breaking up that duo leading the staff. But as is often the case, it's not the performances and the statistics that Quintana misses the most about Sale but rather the qualities he brought as a teammate.

"I learned from his focus on the game and his passion for baseball," Quintana said. "We talked a lot over the years. But the first thing I learned from him was focus.

"I miss him. He was one of my best teammates ever that I played with. I understand it was part of the game. It’s a business and that happens. ... I miss his energy. We have a lot of guys here with energy too, but I miss the energy he had every time we talked in the dugout, watching the game."

Sale is having one of the best campaigns of any pitcher in baseball through the season's first two months. And while Quintana's start has been shaky at times, he's still the White Sox ace. It's that standing, though, that has had his name the subject of plenty of trade rumors during the offseason, spring training and since Opening Day. There is an expectation, warranted or not, that he will soon join Sale in departing the White Sox for a big prospect haul.

Until then, though, Quintana is taking over for Sale as the team's No. 1. The two old mates will go head to head Tuesday night in a monumental matchup, and Quintana is already projecting that focus he learned from Sale.

"I have just one game, and I have my focus on throwing the ball well for my team, to get a 'W.' That’s my focus every time, to do my job," Quintana said. "It will be a different feeling because I’m pitching against him, but I don’t want to pay attention to the other team. I just want to do my job."