Mr. Clutch: Crede's reputation growing

Mr. Clutch: Crede proves he can get it done

CHICAGO -- One third baseman is the golden boy of baseball, considered by many to be the most complete player in all of the game.

With 429 career home runs over 12 seasons, 226 stolen bases, a .307 average and two Gold Gloves thrown in for good measure, Alex Rodriguez has earned every accolade thrown in his direction. Of course, it doesn't hurt that A-Rod, acquired as part of one of the biggest blockbusters in the history of the sport, plays for the New York Yankees.

Yet, Rodriguez probably would give up most of his $26,000,000 salary from this past year to trade places with Joe Crede. The White Sox third baseman isn't exceptionally accomplished offensively, with a .255 career average, 74 home runs and 251 RBIs over parts of six years on the South Side of Chicago.

In fact, Crede has been characterized has an immensely talented young man, who has underachieved with the bat for most of his short time in the Majors. The 27-year-old from tiny Westphalia, Mo., hasn't exactly broken the bank contractually, with his career earnings checking in at less than one pay period for Rodriguez.

Crede hasn't been selected for the All-Star team, hasn't won the American League Most Valuable Player, and his only batting crown came for Class A Winston-Salem in the Carolina League during the 1998 season. But Crede now has something Rodriguez has missed out on during his stellar years as a pro.

On Saturday night at U.S. Cellular Field, the eighth hitter in the White Sox lineup will be guarding the line during the team's first World Series appearance since 1959. And one of the primary reasons for the White Sox survival and advancement is Crede, who has emerged as one of the best late-inning hitters with the game on the line in all of baseball.

He's possibly stronger in that category than Rodriguez, who struggled mightily during the Division Series against the Angels.

"Yeah, he's 'Johnny Clutch,'" said White Sox center fielder Aaron Rowand of Crede, one of his closest friends on the team. "The guy has been that way his entire career, and it's nice to see him get recognition for good performances on such a big stage."

If Crede had $1 for every time he's been asked why he performs so well in tight situations, he probably would amass a sum pretty close to what Rodriguez earned in 2005. OK, he would at least have enough to buy his wife, Lisa, and their two daughters a nice dinner in the city.

Of course, with some of Crede's heroics of late, he's probably eating for free at most establishments recognizing the low-key third baseman. In 2004 alone, Crede posted five game-ending offensive plays.

There was a game-winning single, two sacrifice flies, and on Sept. 23 against Kansas City, facing hard-throwing then-closer Jeremy Affeldt, it was a walk-off home run that sent the crowd away happy. Crede also beat Detroit and Ugueth Urbina on July 24 with a blast deep to left, marking the final day of the past season in which the White Sox held down first place in the American League Central.

That level of success has only grown in stature in 2005.

On Sept. 20 against Cleveland, Crede literally might have saved the season with his walk-off home run against reliever David Riske during a 7-6, 10-inning victory. The win kept the White Sox lead in the Central from slipping to 1 1/2 games in what would have been a devastating loss after the White Sox gave away a ninth-inning advantage.

As for the eight postseason games, Crede's eight RBIs rank second behind Paul Konerko's total of 11. His .286 average is tied with Scott Podsednik behind Juan Uribe (.308).

But it's all about quality over quantity for Crede. He singled home a run off David Wells during the five-run fifth in Game 2 of the Division Series, scoring later on Tadahito Iguchi's decisive home run. Crede homered in the second game of the American League Championship Series before exiting into a nearby phone booth to change into his cape and put the "S" on his chest.

Following the disputed strikeout that wasn't involving A.J. Pierzynski and pinch-runner Pablo Ozuna's stolen base, Crede doubled home the winning run off Kelvim Escobar to even the ALCS at one game apiece. He tied up the clincher on Sunday with a seventh-inning home run, once again off Escobar, and drove in one of the most historic runs ever scored by the White Sox with his eighth-inning infield single against closer Francisco Rodriguez.

Most players, even top-of-the-line performers such as Rodriguez, would sell their private jets just for two or three of these moments over the course of a long career. The answer for Crede's success, though, is there is no definitive answer.

"Like I said earlier, if I could figure it out, I would take it in every day to every at-bat," Crede said following Wednesday's workout. "But it's something where I've been in the right position to help the team out, and just been fortunate to be in that position.

"I had a few chances in high school and the Minors like these, but obviously nothing on as big of a stage as I've had here. I really don't feel different from the past, except that maybe something clicked this year."

Rowand believes Crede, who has gone from slightly introverted to one of the funniest guys in the clubhouse, no longer takes his problems home with him. Crede has come to realize that whether he produces three hits or goes hitless in four at-bats, there's always tomorrow.

Ask general manager Ken Williams about Crede, and he initially points to Crede's Gold Glove caliber defense at third base. In fact, if Crede had Rodriguez's reputation, he probably would win the award in 2005. He committed only 10 errors, even while playing the final three months with a pair of herniated discs in his lower back.

His diving plays down the line or strong throws on the run are every bit as important as Crede's celebratory shots in the bottom of the ninth.

"Without Joe Crede and Juan Uribe on that left side, I'm telling you we would not be here right now," Williams said. "Forget the batting averages and all the other stuff. They bring that to the table every day.

"You can't have the pitching end of things to the degree we do without having the defensive components. The other part is he comes up big for us late in the game since his rookie year. We have to get him to focus a little bit like that earlier in the game to get some rallies started. But you get a good feeling when he walks up at the end of the game, with the game on the line."

Aside from winning a World Series title, Crede's expressed biggest goal is to play his entire career with the White Sox. As an arbitration-eligible player, represented by Scott Boras, Crede didn't always seem to be a slam dunk to even return next year. His play late in this season seems to make the decision an easy one.

It's hard to find a big-game player such as Crede, even from the players with the biggest games.

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.