CHICAGO -- Neither the pitcher who finished a complete game Friday night nor the one who hit his major league leading 27th home run received a curtain call from a near capacity crowd.
That honor went to the guy who tacked on a couple of insurance runs in the late innings with a drive into the Chicago White Sox’s bullpen, and Paul Konerko couldn’t be more grateful.
The retiring team captain felt a little sheepish about the accolades, but appreciative at the same time.
“Most players handle it like I did,” Konerko said. “You don’t go out there (for the curtain call) until you’re pushed and pushed and pushed because you just feel like you don’t want to be singled out like that. But it does feel good. That was a great crowd. (Shoot) it was a sellout. There was so much energy last night and Sale was throwing well.”
In his 18th major league season (16 with the White Sox), Konerko is finally getting a chance to learn something new. Coming off the bench for pinch-hit appearances, or getting spot designated hitter or first base duties, has never been a role he’s played, but he came back this year specifically for the job and seems to be getting the hang of it.
“My swing is good right now,” said Konerko, who was back on the bench Saturday after starting Friday’s game as the DH. “If my swing is right it will do what it did last night. But I know if I try to go out there every day it will be tough to do, depending on how long it will be asked of me to do it. The role definitely helps to feel good on the days you play.”
In 50 games played (120 at-bats), Konerko has a .225 batting average with a .264 on-base percentage and a .392 slugging percentage, all well under his career norms. But he has managed to hit five home runs and collect 18 RBIs in his spot duty.
He also serves as a steadying influence in a clubhouse that has gone to youth over the past year, and could get even younger once the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline passes.
Then there is the appreciation from the fans, who know they aren’t seeing the same productive Konerko from the past anymore, but still show their love for the veteran’s entire body of work.
On Friday night, fans were likely drawn in for the combination of baseball and fireworks, and home runs from Konerko, Jose Abreu and Dayan Viciedo at least made the baseball part memorable, not to mention the pitching performance from Chris Sale.
“I wish we could have a lot of nights like that,” Konerko said about the big crowd. “But those (curtain calls) don’t get old. It’s an adrenaline rush that you can’t get anywhere else.”