News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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July 10, 2013

Failure in baseball? Not for Phegley

Terre Haute native never had any doubts he could succeed at baseball’s highest level

CHICAGO — I thought baseball was supposed to be a game of failure?

That’s what I’ve been told through the years and that’s what watching 41 years of baseball has affirmed time and again.

You know the saying … you’re a big success at the Major League Baseball level if you hit .333? Which is the statistical glass half-full way of saying you fail to get a hit 66.7 percent of the time?

The adage is supposed to be doubly true of rookies.

Funny … I watched Josh Phegley make his home debut on Monday for the Chicago White Sox against the Chicago Cubs.

And I’m just not seeing this whole failure thing.

Phegley continued the memorable start to his career against the Cubs. On the first pitch he saw from the Cubs’ Matt Garza, an estimable pitcher with a 3.45 ERA, Phegley hammered it into the left-center bleachers at U.S. Cellular Field bleachers.

“It’s good to show that I can come out and produce and get some runs for my team. Obviously, I’ve hit two solo home runs, but I’d like to get that hit with a run on-base. Getting those hits have helped me settle in,” Phegley said.

It was his second career home run. In his third career game. The blasts came against Garza and reigning American League Cy Young Award winner David Price.

Records go back to 1921 and Phegley was the quickest White Sox rookie to hit a home run in back-to-back games since Magglio Ordonez did it in his second and third games in 1997.

Phegley had already received appreciative applause from the White Sox fans. After the home run, they were convinced they had a phenom in their midst.

Again … remind me what this failure thing is all about?

Phegley also flashed his defensive skills behind the plate. In a bang-bang strike ’em out, throw ’em out in the seventh inning, Phegley had the throw with a twist. After Starlin Castro whiffed, Phegley’s snap throw to first base was dead solid perfect to Adam Dunn who swiped out surprised Cubs baserunner Julio Borbon.

“Seeing him kind of jump, I knew I had to make a throw to either bag. I was on my toes and ready once I saw him move, I knew I could throw behind him. Dunn was there and made a good play,” Phegley said.

Phegley has managed to achieve a milestone of sorts in all three of his Major League games to date. He earned his first hit and pair of RBI in his debut. He hit his first home run in his second game.

Even if failure wasn’t obvious to his observers, Phegley was irked by his second at-bat in the fifth inning. On a 3-0 count, he grounded out 6-3 on what was likely would have been a walk.

“It was a tight game and I tried to put us ahead a little bit. Maybe I was too aggressive. It would’ve been ball four down. I kind of shot myself in the foot on that one,” Phegley said. “Maybe I shouldn’t get so geeked up and see a better pitch.”

OK. So he earned a mulligan.

Good or bad, Phegley has maintained an even keel, a sort of quiet confidence that is likely a surprise to Chicago observers who haven’t been around the rookie catcher.

It’s not surprising to me at all. Whether it was at Terre Haute North, or for his national runner-up American Legion team or when he was at Indiana, Phegley has always had a good head on his shoulders. Even if it seemed things weren’t going well for him or his team, you got the impression that Phegley never deviated from plan, which was to succeed and reach the highest level.

So he did. Again, that failure thing, when does it kick in?

He’ll need his inner strength. While Phegley shined Monday, the White Sox gave ample evidence as to why they sit in last place in the American League Central. Phegley’s success highlights the White Sox failure — he accounts for five of the White Sox seven RBI in their last four games.

“The home run was nice, but it would’ve been better if we came out on top,” Phegley said.

There will be turbulence out of Phegley’s control too. Even he sensed it Monday when he spoke of having new teammates as the season progresses. The flagging White Sox will clearly be sellers when the MLB trade deadline approaches later this month. Roster turnover is not easy for a rookie on a team that doesn’t really have an obvious veteran leader to begin with.

Then again, Phegley has made a lot of tough things look really easy so far. There’s no doubt in him, so there’s not much cause for anyone else to doubt him either. Even if baseball is a game of failure.

Just don’t tell Phegley. He never got the message.

Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or todd.golden@tribstar.com. Please follow Golden on Twitter @TribStarTodd.

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