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Crede backs Astros into a (hot) corner

Crede backs Astros into a (hot) corner

CHICAGO -- Suggestion for Houston batters:

Stop hitting the ball to Joe Crede's right. It's not working.

The Chicago third baseman has come up with one key postseason hit after another -- he did it again Saturday night in Game 1 of the World Series with a fourth-inning homer for the tiebreaking run in the White Sox 5-3 win.

This time, he expanded his repertoire. While continuing to hit in the clutch, he clutched everything the Astros hit at him.

Shades of Brooks Robinson and Graig Nettles, what a hot time at the hot corner.

"With the magnitude of the game, there is no bigger stage," Crede said. "To be able to perform -- to be able to draw comparisons to people like that -- it's definitely a great honor.

"I was just fortunate to be in the right spot at the right time."

Not as fortunate as Jose Contreras, who won this game because Crede saved a slew of runs before Bobby Jenks officially saved the game.

"His two plays saved the game," Contreras agreed. "His home run put us ahead and his two defensive plays kept us in the game and kept them from going ahead. Those balls go through, they score and we might lose."

"Might" may not apply here. Crede, who often compensated during an inconsistent offensive season with unshakeable defensive focus, had it all going to incite an appreciative U.S. Cellular Field crowd.

He couldn't know that his homer off Wandy Rodriguez would endure as the difference. But he sure was going to do all he could to help those odds.

• Fifth inning, none on: Crede warmed up by snaring Adam Everett's sizzler down the line, drifting into foul territory before pivoting to throw a clothesline to first for the out, the sixth in a chain of seven straight outs for Contreras.

• Sixth inning, man on third, one out: Morgan Ensberg rips a two-hopper that has "tie game" written on it, but Crede, playing in to cut down on his reaction time, makes a backhanded stop and ropes a throw to first baseman Paul Konerko to keep Willy Taveras rooted on third.

"We knew it was going to be a tough game all the way," Crede said. "We can't play for a blowout, and in a close game you have to play an aggressive style of defense.

"With one out, they were in a situation of just trying to put the ball in the air for a sacrifice fly, or just get a ground ball to get the run in. I was fortunate to get enough of the ball to make a play."

• Seventh inning, bases loaded, two outs: Craig Biggio plants a smash between the foul line and Crede, who backhands it and fires to first base to extinguish another Houston flame.

"Crede has done that all year," White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "You stick Crede over there and he'll catch it. That's just Joe. He's very underrated as a player."

Not in his own clubhouse.

"Unbelievable," said Konerko, offering his one-word review of Crede's plays. ."He's the story of the game for me. Those plays at third ... I don't think anybody can appreciate them unless you're on field level.

"Those are absolutely bullets that are getting hit down there. It's wet, coming off the grass. He's been making great plays all year, so it doesn't surprise me. In the World Series, you see the ball get hit hard and you have a bad feeling, but then he comes up big.

"He makes a great throw across the diamond. Sometimes you don't see guys make good throws off that. He's made my job easy over there."

A small town boy (Westphalia, Mo.) who enjoys, even prefers, anonymity, Crede had already pretty much blown his offensive cover with a string of late-season and postseason hits at the most critical situations.

Now his glove prowess is also coming to light. His teammates yawn over plays that daze opponents and fans, because they've been watching them for years.

Crede isn't sure he is ready to be "discovered." But if it benefits the White Sox, if it moves them closer to a World Series championship, he'll cope with it.

"It's been an awesome ride," he said of a wave he has straddled for six weeks, "making this definitely one of the years I'll remember.

"For me, it's always about going out and helping my team win. I try to get the hits when they count and when they mean the most for the team."

All of his hits seem to have counted since the two homers on Sept. 20 that beat Cleveland in an extra-inning game and protected the White Sox shrinking American League Central lead, and their sanity. The spotlight has repeatedly found him ever since, and he has answered without fail.

It's all that small-town blood in his veins. It runs cold.

"You try to control your nerves," he said. "That's the biggest part of it, trying to calm yourself down -- don't try to do too much, just put good wood on the ball and hopefully you can do something positive with it."

Hitting it into the teeth of a defense that doesn't have him at a corner is already a positive.

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

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