Matt Albers said he last took batting practice in 2007. He does not have a bat or a batting helmet to call his own. Most teammates were not even aware until Wednesday that the righthanded relief pitcher is a lefthanded batter.
So, yes, Albers confirmed, it “absolutely is a surprise” that he hit a double into the gap in left-center to lead off the 13th inning for the White Sox and later scored the winning run in a 2-1 victory over the Mets.
“I got to see, like, six pitches, and I guess I just timed it up,” he said in the visiting locker room at Citi Field, which was the scene of a giddy celebration. It matched the one in the dugout after Albers got his hit, advanced on a wild pitch by Logan Verrett and scored on Jose Abreu’s sacrifice fly to center.
“I think any time you’re in extra innings it gets a little weird,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said, “but when a pitcher gets a hit and gets on base, it gets fun . . . It’s like Little League. It really is. I think they enjoy it just as much.”
Albers, 33, a doughy 6-1, 225-pounder, had not had an at-bat since May 22, 2009, and had not had a hit since May 23, 2007. He never had had an extra-base hit in an 11-year career during which he has played for seven teams.
He entered Wednesday 2-for-34 with 21 strikeouts overall.
Ventura considered a double-switch after Albers pitched the 12th but wanted to keep backup catcher Dioner Navarro available in case the game dragged on, so Albers got his chance. “He didn’t even hesitate,” Ventura said. “He wanted an elbow guard and was ready to go.”
Well, almost. First he had to borrow a bat and helmet from Navarro.
“They were laughing, man,” he said of his teammates. “They didn’t think I could do it.”
Albers hit a 2-and-2 fastball into the gap, then awkwardly reached second base, reluctant to slide. “I was thinking about it and then I was like, I’m not sure if I can do this,” he said. “I almost ran [the Mets’ Neil] Walker over. I was like, ‘Sorry, man, I don’t know how to slide.’ . . . It was just a mess, but I made it.”
Albers might have stumbled off the bag if Walker hadn’t been there.
“I don’t think he’s accustomed to sliding,” Walker said. “I thought (Juan) Lagares would have had a chance to throw him out, and he came pretty close, so I tried to stay on the bag as much as I could. If I didn’t, he might have slid off the bag. But you certainly aren’t thinking that scenario.”
For most runners, Abreu’s fly ball would have been more than enough to score from third. Not necessarily so for Albers. “We knew it had to be deep,” Ventura said.
But Lagares’ throw was off line, and Albers scored easily. It was the first run of his career. The dugout erupted.
“A lot of guys were laughing,” he said. “They basically couldn’t believe I did that.”
Albers knew he had to calm down quickly. He had another inning to pitch, and had come into the game with an 0-4 record and 13.50 ERA in his past nine appearances.
“A hit means nothing if I don’t go out there and get those next three outs,” he said. “That was more important. After I caught my breath, I went back out there and finished it.”
Navarro said, “Really super happy for Albers. Sometimes stuff like that has to happen to bring the team even closer.”
Initially, someone had handed Albers a larger bat, but he said, “I need something I can actually swing.” So Navarro gave him his 32-ounce model. Bingo!
“A reliever hits a double, then scores and pitches two innings?” Albers said. “That’s not going to happen every day. It’s a good way to get a win, man.”