It looked like the White Sox were heading to extra innings when Leury Garcia stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning. After Craig Kimbrel blew a save for the second consecutive day, the White Sox found themselves knotted at one run apiece with the Boston Red Sox.
Despite being the longest-tenured player on the Chicago White Sox, Leury Garcia is one of the last players that comes to mind when you think of guys that can provide game-ending power. That distinction would fall on players such as Eloy Jimenez and Yasmani Grandal. But each of them struck out to open the ninth inning leaving the game in Leury Garcia’s hands.
Things looked especially grim when he quickly fell behind 0-2 in the count to the Red Sox most consistent reliever, Garrett Whitlock. A few moments later he was being mobbed by his teammates at home plate while a crowd of 36,178 rose to their feet in celebration.
Garrett Whitlock had made a 97 mph mistake. He grooved a fastball right over the heart of the plate that Garcia smacked 427-feet. The ball carried to the deepest part of the ballpark, over the center-field fence on a line.
“When I was 0-2, my mind was still looking for a fastball, because that’s one of the best pitches,” Garcia explained. “He threw me a fastball right in the middle. I knew I hit it good, but it was center field. So I’m like, ‘You better go.'”
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) September 13, 2021
The man that has been putting on a White Sox uniform since 2013 finally got his signature moment. It is a moment that has been a long time coming for Leury Garcia and one that is well deserved.
Ever since arriving in Chicago via a trade that sent Alex Rios packing he has been a positive clubhouse presence. Garcia goes about his day with an infectious smile and the ability to play multiple positions across the diamond. He has been a staple in the lineup for years and watched teammates come and go over the course of a long rebuild. Now he is watching the White Sox ascent into contention. But he isn’t just along for the ride, he has emerged as an underrated piece of the White Sox success this season.
After a slow start to the year, he is batting .278 with a .361 OBP over his last 85 games. He has filled in for the injured Tim Anderson at shortstop over the past ten games and is slashing .361/.405/.556/ with a .960 OPS over that span. He also ranks fifth on the team with 49 RBIs.
“We call him The Legend,” starting pitcher Lance Lynn said. “You’re looking at the guy that has the longest tenure around here. Great human being. Every day he comes in here with a smile on his face, works hard no matter if he’s in the lineup or not. Day in, day out, he’s doing the same thing, getting himself ready no matter what the situation is. Whenever we call on him, no matter what position, where in the lineup, or whatever we need from him, he’s there to do it with a smile on his face. You’ve got to have those guys if you want to beat a playoff-caliber team.”
After the game, Garcia said that the walk-off home run was one of the best moments he has experienced in his career.
“It was great, especially in front of those fans, especially here at home,” Garcia said. “And we all know that they’ve got a pretty good team, too. But we got the win.”
He has served as a swiss army knife for the White Sox over the years. He can play six of the nine positions on the field and has even been called upon to pitch on two separate occasions. But don’t you dare call him a utility player in front of Tony La Russa. Vinnie Duber of NBC Sports Chicago found that out the hard way during Tony La Russa’s post-game press conference.
“OK, so I’m trying to say this very respectfully,” La Russa said in response to a question that Duber asked in which he called Garcia a utility guy. “I could dislike you the rest of the time here if you refer to Garcia as a utility player.
“He’s a regular player who plays all around. If you look at the at-bats, if he stays healthy, this guy would get as many at-bats as a regular. It’s just he’ll play all over. He’s not a utility player. He’s just a really good everyday versatile player.”
Tony La Russa asks reporters to put some RESPECT on Leury Garcia's name pic.twitter.com/BcPsl2gbZp
— White Sox Talk (@NBCSWhiteSox) September 12, 2021
Really good versatile players are something that really good teams need in October. When Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert were injured, Garcia was there to fill the hole. When the White Sox needed a second baseman after Nick Madrigal got hurt, Garcia was there. He has proven time and time again that he is capable of salvaging the season. On Sunday, his ninth laser salvaged the game.
“It had to end that way, I think,” Tony La Russa added. “We had the last hero.”
His name is Leury Garcia. The Legend.