It was around this time last year that we realized the key to the White Sox’ turnaround was a guy originally thought to be window dressing.
Same thing seems to be happening this season to the same kind of guy.
Omar Vizquel is Spanish for Brent Lillibridge.
Last season, you’ll recall, Mark Teahan went down at the end of May, forcing the aging Vizquel into a regular role. So regular, in fact, that you expected AARP to picket U.S. Cellular.
But then an amazing thing happened: Vizquel caught the ball. He made plays, made Alexei Ramirez better, and made the leaky Sox infield defense better. He also hit the ball, and look at that, the Sox went on that record 25-5 run that propelled them into first place.
No, Vizquel didn’t carry the team, but he hit almost .300 during that run and drove in 12 runs while scoring 16. From May 30 to Aug. 9, the Sox went 35-15 as Vizquel hit .322. But most importantly, he solidified things.
Then came 12 straight games against the AL Central, the Sox went 4-8, and that was that.
Forget that part for now. The Sox can worry about August in August. Point is, Lillibridge is pulling a Vizquel this year.
Because of injuries and slumps, Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has played Lillibridge all over the place, and Lillibridge has made plays all over the place.
As recently as the Sox’ last game, as a matter of fact. The man Guillen considers the Sox’ best outfielder robbed Oakland’s Coco Crisp of a two-run homer with a leaping catch over the left-field fence to protect a one-run lead in the eighth inning.
Two innings earlier, Lillibridge walked, stole second, and came around to score the eventual winning run.
Such contributions are a big reason the Sox have gone 17-6 in the last 23 games to climb within four games of first place. Such contributions are why Sunday's winning pitcher John Danks called Lillibirdge the team's MVP.
Among the Lillibridge highlights was a career weekend in Yankee Stadium. One day, he entered as pinch runner, stole a base, and scored in 2-0 win for Phil Humber. Next day, Lillibridge made a great catch against the fence in right field in the ninth, then made an even better diving grab to end a 3-2 win.
This month, he doubled and homered off Tim Wakefield in Fenway Park, and a couple days later, Lillibridge homered off Detroit’s Charlie Furbush in a Sox victory.
You look up, and Lillibridge is tied for third on the team with seven homers and more remarkably ranks second on the Sox with a .568 slugging percentage, trailing only Carlos Quentin’s .573.
Nobody seems convinced Lillibridge can play everyday, but no matter how this turns out, the little guy deserves some big applause.