Surprise: Defense saves the day

CHICAGO -- A defense that helped to get the Chicago White Sox in this mess in the first place, was able to give the team a victory Sunday.

Highlight-reel plays by both Jeff Keppinger at second base and Casper Wells in left field saved at least four runs and helped to propel them to a 3-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves.

The Braves had the bases loaded in the third inning with two outs when Brian McCann hit a hard roller through the hole between second base and first base. Keppinger moved to his left and made a diving stop on the ball before throwing to Adam Dunn at first base to end the half inning.

That play, which saved a pair of runs, remained the difference into the eighth inning. It was in the eighth with a runner on base when the Braves’ Reed Johnson hit a drive to right field. Wells broke back on the ball, timed his jump and went over the wall to rob the home run and ultimately preserve the victory.

“You like to see that energy defensively with Kepp out there, who was filling in for Gordon (Beckham) today, so it was nice to see him out there playing well,” manager Robin Ventura said. “And Casper, the great catch, that pretty much saves the game with a catch like that. It’s good to see and we want to build off that.”

The White Sox entered the game with a .982 fielding percentage, which was 13th in the American League. Only the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Angels were worse.

A year ago, the White Sox played the best defense of anybody in the AL and were in contention. This year, their 61 errors are a major part of the reason they are looking to sell off assets at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

“I think you realize you can go through slumps defensively but I see our team more like we played today than I do what was happening in the first half,” Ventura said.

Keppinger’s play did not happen by chance.

“McCann is a pull hitter,” Keppinger said. “He looks like he’s trying to drive everything to right field so I was more likely to go to my left than I was to my right. If he hits that ball to my right, I probably ain’t getting it. So I was anticipating something to be at me or to my left and I don’t know. I just kind of went after it and it happened to fall in my glove.”

For Wells, who went 1-for-3 at the plate and is batting .167, his game-saving catch felt like he was driving in two runs instead of taking two away.

“I've been trying to do some things offensively to help the team and kind of getting down on myself but any way I could boost the team up, that felt huge in that situation, especially how the score dictated things” Wells said. “To help the team out in that situation, with such a great game that [Jose Quintana] pitched, we got out of some tough situations there with the bases loaded twice. I'm glad he was able to come away with the win and I was able to preserve the lead at that point and the victory.”

Wells caught the ball in front of the White Sox’s bullpen, but said the play happened so fast that nobody was able to give him much help by telling him how close he was to the wall. At first, he didn’t even know that he had prevented a home run.

“I was just glad I caught it, and then I saw the replay and I was like, ‘Wow,’” Wells said. “You know, that was really special. I never did anything like that before. I'm just happy I got to help the team out in that situation, and the moment that it happened made it that much more special.”