Adam Eaton seems to play every game like he’s the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote is in pursuit.
But even he admits he gets a boost from playing in big games.
The White Sox outfielder provided sufficient evidence to that point Monday night when he made plays on both sides of the ball in an energetic 6-5 win over the Detroit Tigers in front of 18,803 at U.S. Cellular Field.
Eaton had two big hits, Jose Abreu homered and Conor Gillaspie and Gordon Beckham also played key roles as the White Sox moved within 3 1/2 games of the first-place Tigers. Hector Noesi (2-4) gave up three homers, but pitched well enough to win his second straight start.
Though the White Sox tried to downplay the significance of a four-game series against Detroit, Eaton begrudgingly offered he enjoys rivalry games.
“We say there’s not, but there definitely is,” Eaton said. “When I was in Arizona, the Dodgers were always the team you wanted to compete against. It seemed like the fans showed up for those games because of the kind of rivalry. Same thing with the Tigers; when they come to town, first place and we’re chasing, it’s definitely a big game and you have a little more pep in your step for sure.”
Eaton’s perky play didn’t take long to surface.
He led off the bottom of the first inning with a triple to left field and Beckham, who had three hits and was robbed of a fourth, singled to make it 1-0.
Moments later, Eaton raced from his position in center field to the warning track in right-center field to rob Victor Martinez of an extra-base hit.
“He’s really got some close-out speed on the ball,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “It looks like he can out-run it if it’s going to stay in the park.”
The White Sox offense managed to outslug the Tigers.
The White Sox increased their lead to 2-0 in the third inning when Gillaspie singled in Tyler Flowers, who walked and moved into scoring position on Beckham’s one-out double.
Even after the Tigers rallied to tie the score with solo homers in the fourth and fifth innings by Miguel Cabrera and Eugenio Suarez, the White Sox kept going.
Beckham doubled with one out in the bottom of the fifth off Rick Porcello and Gillaspie singled to right to make it 3-2. Then Abreu, who had one hit in 17 previous at-bats, ripped a 1-0 slider from Porcello into the bleachers in left-center field for a two-run homer, his 18th, and a three-run lead. Abreu’s homer traveled 407 feet.
An inning later, the White Sox extended their lead to 6-4 on Eaton’s seeing-eye, RBI single to left field to score Alejandro De Aza.
“You never doubt a guy’s competitiveness, especially (Eaton),” Gillaspie said. “I think as a whole today we were all extremely energized. I don’t know if it was excited about being back home. But that’s the way it worked.”
The White Sox offense is clearly much better when Eaton performs at a higher level. From May 25-June 4, Eaton had a .100/.122/.125 slash line and scored three runs. The White Sox scored 27 runs in those 10 games.
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Over the last four games, Eaton has shown signs of his hot start to the season, reaching base in seven of 19 plate appearances and the White Sox have scored 17 runs.
“Any time you get your leadoff guy on base and creating havoc it’s going to make you better,” Ventura said. “It makes everybody else in the lineup better and if he’s going like that we’re going to score some runs.”
The White Sox have a big challenge ahead with Detroit’s starting rotation.
Justin Verlander, Drew Smyly and Max Scherzer start the next three games. But Eaton’s sure to be pumped up similar to how he was in the ninth inning on Monday. With the tying run on second base, Eaton fired a rocket from deep center field and nearly threw out the speedy Rajai Davis on a play that normally has little chance for success.
“I hate to say that because you want to say you compete every day,” Eaton said. “ But you definitely (do). Those last three outs, for me, the adrenaline rush, I’m nervous. I want to make a play. Definitely bring a different component.”