Updated: April 2, 2014 9:40PM
Paul Konerko has this new role of his down cold.
The White Sox’ captain, who came back for one last season to be a designated hitter mainly against left-handed pitching and come off the bench when needed, came off the Sox’ pine on a chilly Wednesday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field and singled to start a two-run rally in the ninth inning. Two innings and a couple of mercury drops on the thermometer later, Leury Garcia, who got the start at second base, scooted home from third on a wild pitch to give the Sox a 7-6 victory and a 2-0 start to the season.
When you’re 38 and you’ve been sitting around for more than three hours while temperatures drop from the upper 30s to the low 30s, well, that’s not exactly routine.
“It felt OK,’’ said Konerko, who hit lefty Glen Perkins’ first pitch off the third-base bag and into left field. “I just wanted to be aggressive and not go up there free-swinging but try to make a decision on the pitch, but don’t be tentative, either.’’
Backup catcher Adrian Nieto made his major-league debut as a pinch runner and eventually scored, and Dayan Viciedo had a pinch single and slid home with the tying run on Adam Eaton’s grounder to third baseman Trevor Plouffe.
In the 11th inning, Garcia led off with a bunt single — on an 0-2 pitch from Samuel Deduno of all things — advanced to second on a balk and to third on a wild pitch. After an intentional walk to Jose Abreu, Adam Dunn walked, but the high-and-away fourth ball glanced off catcher Kurt Suzuki’s glove for the game-ending wild pitch.
“I’ve been working on that, and that was the perfect time to do it,’’ said Garcia, who was an unexpected starter because of third baseman Conor Gillaspie’s bout with the flu. “It was perfect.’’
At 2-0, so are the Sox, although this one was far from sparkling. The Twins basically handed it to them in the ninth, and the Sox made two errors and allowed seven walks.
“It’s always good when you come from behind late,’’ Konerko said. “That’s the kind of stuff that can build some chemistry, and it’s a win, so that’s always good. But, yeah, you don’t want to have to go through that to win a game. When you do wind up on the good end of it, though, it can kind of help get things going in the right direction. So take it for what it is, go home, have a good dinner and come back ready to fight tomorrow.’’
Adam Dunn homered to center in the eighth inning, Alexei Ramirez had a two-run double and a single, stole two bases and scored a run, and right-hander Felipe Paulino pitched 51/3 good innings in his first start since June 2012.
The general mood Monday around U.S. Cellular Field on Opening Day was disappointment among the sellout crowd that wanted to see Konerko get in the game. The small group of the announced 10,625 (tickets sold) fans that stayed late in the cold got to see Konerko’s 65th plate appearance in a pinch-hitting role over his career.
It’s still a learning process.
“Just trying to get the routines down during the game, which will take a little bit of time,’’ he said. “But I’ve talked to some people and kind of have an idea. I have to do what’s best for me, but I think there is a right way to get ready during a game. Just trying to get comfortable with that. It’ll take a little time, but I’ve had a million at-bats. You get in the box and get after it.’’