CHICAGO — Nick Madrigal hasn’t earned the nickname of “Nicky two strikes” by accident, as the White Sox second baseman proved why once again on Saturday night during a 2-1 victory over the Rangers at Guaranteed Rate Field. The White Sox are 5-1 in their last six games and improved to 11-9 overall.
Madrigal delivered his first career walk-off hit with a double over the head of right fielder Joey Gallo to score Luis Robert. It was the culmination of an interesting ninth inning where the White Sox lost the lead but came back to raise their record in one-run games to 3-2.
Rangers reliever John King jumped ahead 0-2 on Madrigal with two outs and runners at first and second, before leaving a slider over the middle of the plate. Madrigal entered the contest as a career .342 hitter with two strikes and a .438 average after the count reached 0-2.
“It’s huge, especially with that game,” said Madrigal, who has reached base in 16 of his 17 starts this season. “It was a close game the entire time. The pitching staff did a great job holding them to one run. Hopefully that gives us a spark moving into the next couple games. Anytime you can get a win like that is huge.”
“This game more than anything else is putting the ball in play,” manager Tony La Russa said. “Just like Robert did to start there. What a great at-bat by him, he’s got no fear. He loves those situations. It makes him a winning-type championship player.”
The White Sox held a 1-0 lead into the ninth, scoring via a Kyle Gibson wild pitch in the sixth, before Willie Calhoun connected for a game-tying home run off closer Liam Hendriks with one out in the inning. Hendriks threw 32 pitches on Friday and struck out seven over his combined 2 2/3 innings of work, but got caught for his second blown save when Calhoun connected on a 97.5 mph fastball out over the plate but slightly above his shoulders.
La Russa had no regrets about going to Hendriks in back-to-back nights, following two off-days.
“We did all our homework,” La Russa said. “He had good stuff. He got the outs. Calhoun just tomahawked that ball. It’s why it’s the big leagues. The ball is out of the strike zone and he jumped it. I tip my cap to Calhoun. A tough out.”
Robert started the ninth with a single to left, and La Russa followed by making the unusual call for Yasmani Grandal to bunt him over, trying to keep the less-than-speedy Grandal out of a double play situation. Grandal, the switch-hitting catcher with game-ending power, laid down his third sacrifice bunt in 10 seasons, which was followed by an intentional walk issued to Yermín Mercedes and his .424 average.
That call was anticipated by La Russa, leaving the game in the hands of Billy Hamilton and Madrigal. Hamilton entered in the seventh inning as a defensive replacement for left fielder Andrew Vaughn and immediately paid dividends.
With the White Sox clinging to a 1-0 advantage, Hamilton nailed Calhoun at the plate on Nick Solak’s line drive single off of Codi Heuer to end the inning. The send could be considered questionable, even with two outs late in the game, as Calhoun had just hit third when Hamilton picked up the baseball and with Gallo waiting on-deck for a potential bases-loaded situation. It was Grandal who completed the play, moving toward the first base line to catch the throw on the fly and then diving back to tag Calhoun for the out.
Hamilton’s 95.1 mph throw marks the fourth-fastest tracked outfield assist this year, per Statcast. It’s tied for his fifth-fastest tracked by Statcast (since 2015). But Hamilton could not come through offensively in the ninth, striking out swinging after three foul balls in his attempt to shoot the ball towards right.
That strikeout left the task to Madrigal, who lived up to his nickname.
“Once Robert got on, I knew there was a good chance I was going to come up. I was kind of playing it out in my head,” Madrigal said. “I knew they weren’t going to pitch to Mercedes once Grandal got that bunt down.
“Billy was putting some good swings on it. I knew there was a good chance he was going to shoot one down the right field line, but I was ready to come up. I was feeling good. I didn’t feel like the pressure was on me, even when the guy got to two strikes. I was feeling good about the whole moment.”