"A walk-off against Cleveland last year,'' Rios said with a smile.
Asked if he could have mustered confidence back then to overcome the type of mini-slump he just overcame, Rios snapped, "I really don't want to talk about last year.''
It only came up because, after a miserable year in which it became easy to blame it all on Rios, the proud Puerto Rican put together a season that has made him the Sox's most valuable player. He punctuated that point by driving in all six runs in a victory the Sox needed badly. His two homers traveled a combined 846 feet and went a long way toward reminding Chicago the sky actually wasn't falling on the South Side.
"To get through periods of time like this, you have to stay calm and not lose confidence,'' Rios said. "When it comes back you stay with it.''
He was referring to his own recent struggles but could have been talking about his team's too. To get back to ripping it, Rios simply had to get back to gripping it the way he had all summer.
"I'm just focusing on having a good approach and leaving mechanics out of the equation,'' Rios said. "When you think about mechanics, the last thing you think about is seeing the ball. Seeing the ball is one of the most important things.''
As a result, Sox fans aren't afraid to watch again — at least until the next game.
Few games in a six-month baseball season qualify as must-win, but this one came as close as any will. Of all the days the Sox have been in first place, this one carried more importance than a baffling, small-college-football-sized crowd of 17,336 suggested.
A loss to the last-place Twins following an embarrassing 18-9 defeat would have made the Sox losers in three straight series and further flustered a team that once seemed unflappable. A victory allowed the Sox to regroup mentally and physically on the first off day in two weeks and kept their front office from having to make wellness calls to season ticket holders getting increasingly edgy.
"Every team goes through stretches like that and you just have to come back stronger,'' Rios said. "That's what we've done all year. We're not worried.''
Rios spoke with resolve — the way Jake Peavy threw. When the Sox needed him most, Peavy locked in to win his first game since Aug. 1. He pitched like a former Cy Young Award winner should pitch in a pennant race, giving up just one run on five hits in six innings. He pitched with his trademark intensity tailor-made for the occasion.
"He's the kind of guy you want after a game like (Tuesday's),'' manager Robin Ventura said.
It marked only the fourth time in 17 starts since June 1 that the Sox have scored more than four runs for Peavy. Only two American League pitchers have more quality starts than Peavy's 20. None carried the urgency Peavy felt taking the mound for his first meaningful September start in a Sox uniform.
"Every start should be like that,'' Peavy said. "I challenge every starter to approach the remaining (26) games like they have to win every fifth day.''
Do they? As vulnerable as the Sox have looked lately, the Tigers have to yet to announce themselves as the team to beat. As tired as Sox pitchers appear, 15 of the final 26 games come against teams with losing records. A reasonable expectation of a 15-11 finish — a .577 clip slightly higher than the Sox's current .544 — would give the Sox 89 victories.
This is one of those seasons 89 wins looks good enough to win the AL Central; one of those seasons Rios will want to remember. With 22 home runs and 82 RBIs, the AL Comeback Player of the Year candidate remains on pace for career highs in both categories. When was the last time you heard anybody complain about Rios' $13 million salary?
"If we win (the numbers) are going to mean a lot to me,'' Rios said. "If not, it's just going to be another year.''
If Rios keeps swinging the way he did Wednesday, I doubt it will be just another year for the Sox.