At the Major League level, Ozuna never had the chance to practice his home run trot during parts of five seasons. That homerless stretch covered 333 at-bats with the Marlins, Rockies and, currently, the White Sox.
But the 31-year-old reserve certainly picked a perfect time to put an end to the drought. When Ozuna launched the game-tying home run off Seattle closer Eddie Guardado in the bottom of the ninth inning Wednesday at U.S. Cellular Field, it was about as improbable of a baseball moment in a three-year managerial reign for Ozzie Guillen on the South Side filled with wild finishes.
Ozuna's heroic effort was not finished. His hustle double with two outs in the 11th off Jake Woods gave slumping Juan Uribe the chance to dump a single in front of center fielder Jeremy Reed and give the White Sox a 6-5 victory in front of 27,569. The win gave the White Sox the best record in baseball at 19-8.
It also kept Guillen's crew atop the American League Central for an 18th consecutive day, one-half game ahead of the red-hot Tigers, who won for the sixth straight time Wednesday at Comerica Park. That lofty perch was made possible by Ozuna's power and his sheer will, turning a ground single up the middle into a runner in scoring position.
"As soon as I hit the ball, I realized the center fielder and second baseman were kind of lackadaisical," said Ozuna through a translator. "So, I decided to take a chance."
"When you are going to get an extra base, you do it from the [get-go]," added Guillen. "As soon as you leave the box, you know it can be extra bases. The thing you see in the last at-bat from him, that's the way everybody in baseball should be playing."
Ozuna actually entered the game in the ninth as a pinch-hitter for Rob Mackowiak, after Guardado struck out A.J. Pierzynski and induced Joe Crede's slow roller to shortstop Willie Bloomquist. Guillen's plan was for Ozuna to somehow get on base and then take advantage of his speed to get into scoring position.
Guardado threw a changeup down and in to Ozuna, and he golfed it 380 feet to left field. It was a little over one week ago when Brian Anderson, hitting below .150 at the time, launched a 1-2 pitch from Guardado into the left-field stands with two outs in the ninth inning at Safeco Field and tied a game the White Sox eventually would lose.
"I'm not going to strike out the world, but I'll get ground balls and fly balls," Guardado said of the Ozuna at-bat. "It's just those fly balls are going over the fence."
Bobby Jenks (1-0) worked 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, shutting down the Mariners (12-17) and giving Uribe a chance to end the contest. It was a big moment for the White Sox shortstop, a notoriously quick starter who is only hitting .175 this season.
Uribe was upset with himself for an at-bat following Ozuna's ninth-inning home run, in which he struck out against Guardado. He made amends two innings later.
"The at-bat I had before that I was trying to do too much," said Uribe through a translator. "I'm glad I calmed myself down and put the ball in play. When you put the ball in play, good things can happen."
Carrying a 4-1 lead into the eighth and with Freddy Garcia turning in his best effort all season, the White Sox looked in line for a quick evening's work. Joe Crede erased a 1-0 deficit in the seventh, launching his second career grand slam on the first pitch he saw from reliever Rafael Soriano, and the first grand slam of 2006 for the White Sox.
Garcia entered the eighth with just 72 pitches thrown, taking advantage of eager Seattle hitters by not walking a batter. But after two hits to start the eighth, including Kenji Johjima's run-scoring single, Garcia was replaced at the 79-pitch mark.
Relievers Matt Thornton and Cliff Politte could not hold the lead, allowing three more runs to score. The go-ahead run came home on Tadahito Iguchi's throwing error on the relay to double up Richie Sexson at first base.
A bullpen hiccup quickly became a distant memory with one swing of the bat from Ozuna, of all people. The fleet-footed infielder/outfielder said he was getting ready to play from the fourth inning on, knowing about the four left-handed relievers in Seattle's bullpen. He knew the baseball was gone as soon as he hit it off Guardado in the ninth, and Ozuna was able to retrieve the ball from a fan in the left-center-field stands.
Ozuna had a special personal memento. The White Sox had their ninth straight win at home, their first win in seven tries when trailing after six innings and their first game-ending play of the season. There probably are a few more to come.
"It's your first career home run, to tie the game up in the ninth," Jenks said of Ozuna. "It doesn't get any better than that -- especially for a bench player who doesn't get a chance to play every day."
"That was my best individual moment ever in baseball," Ozuna added.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less