TOP OF THE THIRD: INDIANS 3 (0) – 1 WHITE SOX
A statue of a leaping, striving, stretching shortstop careening into the annals of World Series history, White Sox glory—the iconic first out of a trophy-winning ninth inning in Houston.
Reanimated, shaking off the bronze coating, scrubbing off the rust, stepping out of the championship pavilion and back into the batter’s box at U.S. Cellular Field in 2016, with the fans rising in appreciation. Back, at long last, to home.
Juan Uribe, back in front of the White Sox faithful, in the gray, blue and red of the Cleveland Indians. The new Uribe, like the old Uribe, standing again under the outdated lighting and ambience of the very same 25-year-old stadium he called home for the middle years of a long career.
— #VoteTribe (@Indians) May 25, 2016
He digs his cleats into the dirt, delaying the set up, as he waits for the very last bits of applause to reach his ears, squeezing every last drop out like a…still-damp towel, or whichever metaphor says lukewarm, pleasant, half-hearted.
The fans stand up, or some portion of them, clapping with the flash of his name on the pixelated right-field scoreboard.
Chris Sale’s up on the mound, staring at Uribe like a complete stranger, blocking out the warm smiles all around the park, one generation of Sox sizing up another. His forearm flickers with the muscle movement of fingers gripping and re-gripping the ball, and he winds up and whips a slider toward home.
A minute earlier, it was Mike Napoli at the plate—new Clevelander, long-time A.L. slugger, and (likely) the only player whose surname shares the name of an Italian city, other than the short-lived minor-league career of one Andrew Palermo (credit Baseball Reference), who, coincidentally, played for the 1946 Colonels of Rome, New York.
So Napoli comes up to bat—bearded, tattooed, looking for an RBI—with the should-be walkup music (not actually) playing out over the stadium:
“A boy went back, to Napolliiii…… because he missed, the sceneryyyy……”
And on the first pitch he’s nearly hit, a fastball high and tight, and the distracted TV broadcast crew’s attention snaps nervously back to the game. Is Chris Sale, they all wonder, struggling?
The number of earned runs given in in Sale’s most recent starts: 0, 0, 1, 1, 2, 2, 1. And a season ERA of 1.58.
But now, with a ball hit hard off the bat of Napoli, the number’s jumping up, as the ball soars deep toward the gap in left-center, where Melky Cabrera and Austin Jackson near-crash, near-catch and then stumble past each other, and suddenly it’s 2-1, Indians ahead.
Jose Ramirez trots in to score, Francisco Lindor legs his way home from first-base, and Napoli is racing his way to third. The throw comes in from Cabrera, who mishandles the pickup, as Napoli lays out in a full slide into third, coming up safe on the other side of the best Shaqtin’ A Fool moment of the week.
His face, chest, everything, digs into the infield dirt like it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet, his mouth a geology of sand, dirt, teeth and chalk—and his body contorts into the shape of a smile, legs up, back bent, as if he’s doing ‘the worm’ in perfect character, munching on dirt, sliding around outdoors. Hey mambo, mambo italiano…
— Carlos Carrasco (@Cookie_Carrasco) May 25, 2016
Napoli stands up, shakes himself off, the middle VE of the CLEVELAND on the jersey covered up by dirt, with the whole dugout cracking up across the field.
But he’s on the books for a triple. Two RBIs. A lead. And a big step in the changing script of the AL Central, with the surging Indians cutting the Sox lead under a game and a half.
— #VoteTribe (@Indians) May 25, 2016
With a quick walk to Carlos Santana, still with two outs, it’s back where we started—Juan Uribe at the plate, an impossible assignment in Chris Sale, and a chance to break open the game.
Sale’s up to 30 pitches in the third inning alone, by now, and he brings the count to 2-2. Uribe leans the bat down on the plate, adjusts his pants, sets up again.
The fans get into it. A strong hack and foul flicked behind at the backstop.
Uribe peers out at Sale, ready, and hits the next two pitches foul. And on the ninth pitch, finally, it’s off-speed. Uribe reaches out, pokes at it, the cheeky half-swing, looping a hit just, just over the head of a leaping Brett Lawrie, whose glove comes inches shy of the ball and then twists falling back to earth—the cousin to Josh Donaldson’s game-tying hit over Rougned Odor in the wild Game 5 of last year’s ALDS.
“That right there was a thing of beauty,” says one of the Indians’ TV guys. “That’s a great at-bat.”
Perhaps the best AB of the season in baseball…Juan Uribe grinds out an RBI-bloop single, #Indians take a 3-1 lead over Chris Sale, 3rd inn
— Nick Camino (@NickCaminoWTAM) May 25, 2016
At U.S. Cellular Field, Juan Uribe played the hero, once again. He’d left, long ago, for northern California and then southern, moved around, became a baseball veteran, and now came back, against maybe the best Sox team since ’05. The stubborn, savvy hitting is still intact, where the others have all since retired—Joe Crede, Paul Konerko, Tadahito Iguchi, Scott Podsednik.
The hit put Cleveland up 3-1, enough for the win (6-2) and under two games back now in the standings.
“I ran into a buzzsaw,” said Chris Sale, after the game, just short of saying, “Who can stop the dominance that is Juan Uribe??”
And so, to Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf: get that man Uribe another statue! You might just make an AL Central rival go easy on you, next time he’s back home.