Adam Dunn couldn't stop smiling. He was floating, levitating almost, as he talked about how all the years of his baseball career — including one of the longest seasons anyone has ever had — had led to two swings of his bat Monday night.
In a game his White Sox team badly needed to win, he had delivered a solo home run in the sixth inning and a three-run shot in the eighth. The latter landed squarely in the solar plexus of the Tigers, who had beaten the Royals in Detroit earlier in the night.
"I've been (carrying teams) since I was probably 10 years old,'' said Dunn, who now has 41 home runs to offset 207 strikeouts. "I was always the kind of player that did that. Everybody in here has probably been that kind of player.''
Maybe so. But the biggest players are often expected to shoulder the biggest loads, and that's the way it has been with Dunn.
Yet he never has had the ultimate thrill — the one of delivering a blow that leaves a lasting scar, one that gets a team into the playoffs or helps it advance toward the World Series. The 32-year-old Texan has played 1,713 regular-season games without any in the postseason — the longest such streak among active players.
Maybe that's why he called the game-winning homer off Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano the biggest of his career.
"This was a game we really needed to win,'' he said.
Indeed it was. The White Sox returned to U.S. Cellular Field with a one-game lead after going 1-5 on a trip to Kansas City and Anaheim.
Before Monday night's game, Robin Ventura had acknowledged he was surprised that his team was still in first place. He showed that he still had faith in the guys that had taken the lead back on May 29 by declining to tinker with a sputtering lineup.
Ventura stuck with the usual suspects. He even played Dayan Viciedo in left field over Dewayne Wise, hoping the 23-year-old would come out of a 5-for-33 slump.
Dunn had been asked if this was time to shake up the lineup.
"Why?'' he replied. "We've been going with for a long time. Why change now? We're not panicking. Why start now?''
Dunn knows more about patience than most hitters, if not every other hitter in the majors. He found a way to survive a historically bad 2011, and now joins the Rangers' Josh Hamilton in having a chance to wreck Miguel Cabrera's dream of baseball's first Triple Crown since 1967.
Dunn is streaky, there's no doubt about that, but he's also productive. Ventura has recognized that by leaving Dunn as his No. 3 hitter, which has significantly lessened Paul Konerko's opportunities to drive in runs.
Nobody really cares about those things these days. The White Sox have a one-game lead with nine games to play, and they have five more games against the Indians, who are 13-42 since May 27.
"Obviously you want to get hot at the right time,'' Dunn said. "Hopefully this jump-starts (us), we get hot and see what happens.''
Dunn started his career with the Reds in 2001, passed through Arizona on his way to Washington, and always missed out on playing in October. He must have thought about what it would be like to celebrate a playoff clincher. Yet he says that's not on his mind.
"I don't want to start thinking about that,'' Dunn said. "This time is fun. It's a fun time for baseball, for me. I don't want to look ahead. It's no use. I'm having fun right now.''