In a short but impressive span, White Sox outfielder Andrew Vaughn has drawn comparisons to flight hero Sully Sullenberger and 17-year first baseman Tino Martinez.
Their link? An ability to simplify crucial moments to a successful conclusion.
Vaughn, 24, who drove in the winning run in three consecutive games this weekend against the Tigers, is batting .364 with runners in scoring position and tied for second in the American League with 27 RBI in the seventh inning or later with Jose Ramirez of the Guardians.
“What happens between his ears is amazing,” said La Russa, who also believed Vaughn benefited from good coaching dating to his youth.
Vaughn said he’s been a clutch hitter throughout his baseball career but was determined to rebound after batting .196 with runners in scoring position as a rookie in 2021.
“This year I came in to simplify and stick to my approach in those situations,” said Vaughn, who provided insurance in Sunday’s 5-3 win with a solo home run in the eighth.
Meanwhile, through his association with his Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF), La Russa learned Sullenberger was a volunteer who lived in his Bay Area neighborhood.
La Russa arranged a breakfast with Sullenberger and asked him how he navigated a commercial flight to safety on the Hudson River in 2009 after a flock of birds knocked out the power of both engines.
Sullenberger told La Russa he “forced calm” and thought of three things: Keep the nose of the plane up, keep it level and try to slow it [down].”
“It’s a process,” La Russa said. “You can’t get distracted by it.”
Martinez joined La Russa’s Cardinals in 2002, one season after he hit a two-run, game-tying home run off Diamondbacks submarine-style reliever Byung-Hyun Kim in Game 4 of the 2001 World Series for the Yankees.
As part of his managing, La Russa conducted a session on handling pressure and avoiding distractions. He compared this to a college student who wastes most of the fall semester before cramming for three days and feeling pressure before the final exam.
Martinez, according to La Russa, told his teammates that he knew Kim’s fastball actually had risen instead of sank. So he prepared by looking at the upper part of the strike zone and being ready for the pitch if it was located in that area.
Vaughn, meanwhile, has handled an array of pitches for clutch hits, such as his game-winning single Saturday on a slider.
“I think it’s very impressive,” La Russa said. “Normally inexperience is a great equalizer. Until you get it, you’re playing at a disadvantage. He doesn’t look like he’s at a disadvantage.”
Notes: The Sox (59-56) are three games above .500 for the first time since April 17 (6-3).
• Infielder Leury Garcia experienced general soreness and didn’t play Sunday. La Russa was hopeful Garcia would be available to start Monday if needed.