White Sox slugger Adam Dunn knows about ups and downs
BY TONI GINNETTI For Sun-Times Media May 24, 2014 8:12PM
Sox slugger Adam Dunn follows through on his two-run home run in the ninth inning Friday against the Yankees. Brian Kersey/Getty Images
Updated: June 26, 2014 6:47AM
The ‘‘best feeling in all of sports’’ was how White Sox slugger Adam Dunn described his walk-off, two-run home run Friday against the Yankees at U.S. Cellular Field.
Of all the Sox’ players, Dunn might deserve to feel that emotion most after four roller-coaster seasons on the South Side.
Dunn has had more of those game-ending thrills than all but three active players. The Red Sox’ David Ortiz has hit 11 walk-off homers in the regular season, and Dunn is tied with the Indians’ Jason Giambi and the Angels’ Albert Pujols with 10.
And coming on an 0-2 pitch from Yankees closer David Robertson made it all the sweeter, given Dunn’s strikeout woes and hitting struggles the last three seasons.
‘‘[Taking pitches] got me in trouble a lot,’’ Dunn said, ‘‘so I try to be ready on 0-2 instead of taking one right down the middle.’’
Dunn, 34, has endured plenty of grief since signing a four-year, $56 million contract with the Sox in December 2010, but this season is starting out differently. Dunn’s .244 average, .395 on-base percentage and .474 slugging percentage are up from .163/.256/.405 at the same point last season. He is tied for third in the American League in walks (34) and on-base percentage.
‘‘He’s been having a good year, and that’s part of the way the offense has started and everything else,’’ manager Robin Ventura said. ‘‘You see him taking his walks. He’s putting the ball in play. He’s still hitting homers. He’s hitting balls hard. He’s consistently done that, and that’s been a big deal for us.
‘‘There was some protection there for [rookie] Jose [Abreu] early in the year because of the way [Dunn is] swinging the bat.’’
Dunn also is someone who is held in the highest regard by his teammates, past and present. In fact, teammates were more upset at the booing Dunn suffered from fans than he was.
His rocky start with the Sox has been well-chronicled. He debuted with a 2-for-4, four-RBI game in 2011, only to undergo an emergency appendectomy five days later. He missed only six games, but the season became the worst of his career.
Dunn hit only .159 (66-for-415), which would have been an all-time major-league low had he had the minimum number of plate appearances to qualify (he was six short). He also set a Sox record with 177 strikeouts, then exceeded that in 2012 with 222, one short of the all-time big-league mark.
But Dunn also hit 41 homers and drew 105 walks in 2012, making the AL All-Star team and being named the AL comeback player of the year by The Sporting News.
Dunn likely won’t be back with the Sox next season, but his presence will be important as the team tries to stay afloat in the wake of injuries to Abreu (ankle) and outfielder Avisail Garcia (shoulder). He even might become a trade chip if the Sox fall out of the playoff picture.
‘‘I think his confidence has been better, his balance at the plate,’’ Ventura said. ‘‘If you have that, a lot of things go hand in hand. He just feels comfortable at the plate.’’