MINNEAPOLIS — White Sox catcher Adrian Nieto couldn’t believe Eduardo Escobar touched home plate on Friday night.
Not many other White Sox players or coaches did, either.
But 63 seconds later, the White Sox had visual evidence and a call confirmed by league officials that the Minnesota Twins inched past them for a 5-4 walkoff win at Target Field in front of 32, 071.
Escobar touched home plate with his back hand ahead of Nieto’s tag after Brian Dozier singled to left off Ronald Belisario with two outs to drive in the game-winning run. The rally came moments after the White Sox scored twice to tie the game against Twins closer Glen Perkins in the top of the ninth.
“I can’t see his hands, but it’s what I felt,” Nieto said. “I was like, ‘There’s no way he got the plate’ because I felt his whole hands grab my cleat. But then on the replay it showed he reached back with his right hand. So he did a great job.”
A former White Sox utility man, Escobar got the winning rally started when he drew a five-pitch walk against reliever Daniel Webb (4-1). Webb also walked Sam Fuld and gave way to Scott Downs, who got Danny Santana to fly out.
Belisario came on and despite breaking Dozier’s bat with a 1-1 sinker gave up a single to left. Dayan Viciedo grabbed it on one hop and fired a perfect strike to Nieto, but it wasn’t there in time to get Escobar, who was ruled safe by plate ump Andy Fletcher.
White Sox manager Robin Ventura raced onto the field to request an official review believing that Nieto had blocked Escobar. Officials confirmed the call after 1 minute, 3 seconds when replays showed that Nieto did block the first attempt at the plate but Escobar reached back with his right hand and tapped the dish before Nieto could tag him.
“Fight back,” Ventura said. “Had a nice ninth inning to be able to fight our way back in. You just put a couple of guys on, and it makes it extra tough to be able to hold on.”
The White Sox offense scored early and late but didn’t do much in between.
Gordon Beckham blasted a solo homer in the first inning to put the White Sox ahead. Two batters later, Jose Abreu clubbed his 21st homer to give the White Sox a 2-0 lead.
But starter Ricky Nolasco settled down, and the White Sox did little else against him in 5 1/3 innings. Nolasco did get into trouble in the sixth inning after Conor Gillaspie singled and Adam Dunn walked with one out. But reliever Matt Guerrier got Alexei Ramirez and Viciedo to fly out to left. Though he’s off to one of the best starts of his career, Ramirez hasn’t driven in a run since May 26.
The White Sox had more success against Perkins as Viciedo tripled off the glove of Josh Willingham with one out in the ninth, and Paul Konerko followed with a pinch-hit RBI single to cut the lead to 4-3. Tyler Flowers then singled, and Adam Eaton doubled in a run to tie the game for the White Sox, who lead the majors with 46 ninth-innings runs.
But they didn’t get another.
Perkins elected to intentionally walked Beckham to load the bases and got out of the jam when Gillaspie grounded into a double play.
“It’s great to see us battle back,” Eaton said. “I’d like to do that in the fifth and sixth. We can’t be waiting until that long. I know it's baseball. I understand that. But we need to put more pressure on people earlier. When our backs are to the wall, it shows what we can do. We take every at-bat as, ‘Hey this is our last at-bat, let’s get it going.’
“Conor, that was a tough guy to face. Not easy. I got pretty lucky.
“Its tough. Belisario has nasty stuff, and he had a good swing on it and broke (Dozier’s) bat just enough to fall in front of Tanky. And Tanky made a great throw, and it just didn’t work out.”
But courtesy of replay, Nieto is glad to know it was the correct call. He’s not happy about the end result, but at least he’s certain the White Sox weren’t cheated.
“When I saw the replay I was just like, ‘Ah,’” Nieto said. “But it helps that there’s replay. Unfortunately it went their way, but it could have gone the other way and gone our way. So try to come back tomorrow and get one back.”