Griffey's baserunning is 'huge' for Sox
Advancing to second on sacrifice fly in fourth turns into run
CHICAGO -- Talk of the career accomplishments for Ken Griffey Jr. always begins and frequently ends with his 611 career home runs, putting him fifth on the all-time list.
Overlooked in that incredible number is the fact that Griffey really has been a five-tool player from his first season with the Mariners in 1989. The skills aren't quite as sharp 20 seasons later, but the knowledge of the game hasn't faded for this surefire Hall of Famer.
Take a look at the fourth inning of Sunday's 5-3 victory for the White Sox over the Rays in Game 3 of the American League Division Series as an example. With the bases loaded and nobody out, Alexei Ramirez lofted a fly ball to center fielder B.J. Upton that was plenty deep to score Jim Thome.
Paul Konerko also tagged up at second and moved to third, but Griffey made the shrewd baserunning move of going into second from first on the play. On the next pitch, Dewayne Wise singled home two to complete a three-run inning and give the White Sox a 4-1 lead.
So, what was the thought process for Griffey in this instance? He simply was trying to be aggressive, while also keeping the White Sox out of a double-play situation. If Upton threw to second, Griffey reasoned, he could always retreat.
"If you get doubled up, you still have a guy on third," Griffey said. "I was thinking that if we are going to go down, we should go down swinging."
Griffey's baserunning was praised by his teammates. Manager Ozzie Guillen threw out a few plaudits, after taking a playful shot at the soon-to-be 39-year-old.
"To be honest, I thought Griffey cheated," Guillen said. "I never thought he went back to the bag. That's good, smart baserunning. I think that was a big, big, huge play for us in that inning. Huge."
"People underestimate his speed," said outfielder Brian Anderson of Griffey, whom Anderson replaced after Griffey walked to open the sixth. "He's not the same 19-year-old kid, but he's not slow. He has been around the game a long time. Griffey knows the ins and outs of baseball a lot better than all of us."
When general manager Ken Williams pursued Griffey at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline and Griffey agreed to come to the White Sox, taking the extra base probably wasn't what the White Sox had in mind regarding his potential contributions. Neither was throwing out a runner at the plate, as Griffey did to Michael Cuddyer during Tuesday's 1-0 victory over the Twins to claim the AL Central title in tiebreaking fashion.
But Griffey remains a complete player, even if he's not quite as dominant in all areas of the game. He chipped in two hits to Sunday's victory, and the single that loaded the bases in the fourth was Griffey's way of trying to move the runners over. It had nothing to do with Griffey swinging for playoff home run No. 7.
"That's my job, to get the guy over -- whether it's a fly ball, ground ball or by getting good wood on it and hitting a single," Griffey said. "It's all about situational hitting. I know what he's going to try to do, so I just have to counter and get the ball to right to get everyone moved up one."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.