Brent Lillibridge is fast becoming a favorite in Chicago.
Lillibridge helped make John Danks a winner with a homer-saving catch in the eighth inning, and the Chicago White Sox beat the Oakland Athletics 3-2 on Saturday night.
Lillibridge robbed Oakland’s Coco Crisp with a leaping catch above the wall. With Daric Barton on second and one out in the eighth, Crisp lofted a flyball deep to left-center. Lillibridge retreated to the wall, leaped and snared Crisp’s drive before it cleared the fence.
“I’m speechless,” Danks said. “I really am. That was unbelievable. Coco hit it on the barrel. When he hit it, I thought it was halfway up the concourse. Luckily the weather kind of knocked it down. Brent made a hell of a play out there.”
That turned out to be the last batter Danks (2-8) faced. He allowed just four hits, struck out four and walked two in 7 2-3 innings. He won his second straight start after going winless in his first 11 starts to start the season.
“I don’t want to overshadow what John did tonight,” Lillibridge said. “He was outstanding tonight. He gave us a chance. It was a lot of fun to do something to impact that game.”
Modesty aside, Lillibridge’s teammates recognize his key contributions, coming at several different positions.
“Obviously Paul (Konerko), Alexei (Ramirez) and (Carlos) Quentin are having just huge years, but you have to think of him as a team MVP at this point,” Danks said. “We were all talking among ourselves, you have to kind of find him a spot in the field everyday.”
Lillibridge, an infielder in the minor leagues, has started at four different positions this season, including all three outfield spots. In addition to his defense, he’s hitting .273 with seven homers in 88 at-bats. He walked twice, stole a base and scored a run on Saturday.
“This kid is the best outfielder we have,” White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said.”He can play center field, left field, right field. Wherever we decide to plug him, it comes very easy to him now.”
Ramon Castro hit his third homer of the season, a solo shot in the fourth. Alex Rios had two hits and a walk for Chicago, his third straight game with two hits.
Athletics starter Gio Gonzalez (5-5) is winless in his last five starts. Oakland issued nine walks, has lost 11 of 12 games and fell to 1-2 under interim manager Bob Melvin.
“I don’t have much history, but maybe not (Gonzalez’s) best command,” Melvin said. “He certainly battled and made pitches when he needed to. “
Chicago’s Jesse Crain worked 1 1-3 hitless innings, picking up his first save one night after White Sox closer Sergio Santos blew a two-run, ninth-inning lead in Oakland’s 7-5 win on Friday.
“Danks pitched very well,” Guillen said. “Crain came out and closed the game. Outstanding by everyone. Great job coming back after last night’s game.”
Gonzalez was wild during most of his 115-pitch outing. He allowed three runs in 5 1-3 innings, five hits, a career-high seven walks, hit a batter, committed a balk and threw two wild pitches.
“Maybe one walk changed the game, that was basically it,” Gonzalez said. “Other than that, got some groundball double-plays, made some things happen. It wasn’t pretty, but it kept the team in the game.”
Gonzalez was removed with one out in the fifth, during which Chicago scored the go-ahead run without the benefit of a hit. Lillibridge drew a one-out walk, then stole second and went to third on Kurt Suzuki’s throwing error.
Gonzalez was replaced by reliever Brad Ziegler with a 1-0 count on Ramirez, who walked. Quentin hit a comebacker to Ziegler, who threw wide to second for an error, allowing Lillibridge to score and put Chicago ahead 3-2.
“We actually got the groundball, he was just a little quick going to second base,” Melvin said. “We were just a little sloppy in the field. I will say, to an extent, the balls are pretty wet. Both sides have to play in it. When you make three errors, you don’t win a lot of games.”
Danks held the Athletics hitless through the first three innings, allowing just two walks. Cliff Pennington led off the fourth with Oakland’s first hit, a single. He stole second and scored on Josh Willingham’s single. Pennington just beat the throw of Lillibridge.
That tied the score at 1, but Castro broke the deadlock with a leadoff homer in the bottom half of the fourth.
Oakland knotted the game in the sixth. Crisp doubled just inside the third-base line to lead off, went to second on Pennington’s sacrifice and scored on Hideki Matsui’s sacrifice fly to right.
Gonzalez’s control problems led to Chicago’s first run in the third, when Ramirez scored the first run on a wild pitch.
The White Sox stranded 12 runners , the one negative on a night Chicago closed within 4 1/2 games of first in the AL Central.
"We said all along we’re a good team," Danks said. "I think wholeheartedly before this is said and done, we’re going to be in the middle of it. It’s going to be a fun summer."