August 2009

Next Stop: The Dump That Joe Nathan Built

My good friend Tom Merritt and I made our way to the new Yankee Stadium today in the hope that our Sox could rebound from the embarrassing (Ozzie’s term) loss on Saturday and avoid the sweep.

Weatherwise it was a beautiful day in The Bronx and the game started on a positive note as well with a Scotty Pods triple and a Beckham RBI. But the Yanks tied it up in the bottom of the first and after the Sox went ahead 2-1 in the top of the third, Johnny Damon put the Bombers ahead for good with a two-run homer in the home half of the inning.
The lone Sox bright spot of the day was Freddy Garcia’s solid six-inning performance, which made Tom and I think there was still a shot at winning this thing. But it wasn’t to be.
I’m a loyal Sox guy and always have been there through thick and thin. But I have to admit that the recent woes have really gotten to me. When Mark Teixeira climaxed the five-run Yankee seventh with a three-run shot off of Linebrink, I said goodbye to Tom, worked my way through the delirious Yankee fans and headed for home. Just couldn’t take it anymore.
If the lost weekend in New York wasn’t bad enough, I heard the news later that the Tigers and Twins both came from behind to win and moved further ahead of our South Siders.
The deadly road trip now continues to the Twinkiedome. Lord knows what’s going 
to happen. I’d just like to have a blunt conversation with the schedule maker to find out what horrible thing the Sox did to deserve this particular sequence of games.

What’s the Answer?

Let me be honest, I’m in a bad mood. A really bad mood.

The reality of the road trip from hell is becoming worse than my anticipation of it–which says a lot since I’ve been obsessing about this stretch of games since the schedule came out. With today’s 10-0 pounding by the Yankees, the Sox fall to 1-5 on the trip and two games under .500. Not the position you’d like to be in on August 29 with any hope of playing in October.
At this point it’s not one thing, it’s everything. That includes the team’s collective body language, which to me looks like the manager, players and coaches are as frustrated and disgruntled as I am–which is saying a great deal. And it’s not only the losing, it’s the way we’re losing. It’s like all of us are waiting for bad things to happen because past performance has conditioned us to do so.
Always one who hopes for a better day tomorrow, here’s my wish list of things we need to accomplish to leave Yankee Stadium with a victory under our belts. 
* Pods does some igniting out of the leadoff spot.
* Jermaine snaps out of it with something, anything, positive.
* Beckham gets three hits, including a double and a homer.
* Freddy goes at least six innings to give us a chance to win.
* The bullpen is effective.
* Rios gets out of my doghouse and shows some life offensively.
* Alexei goes deep with runners aboard.
Impossible? We’ll see.

Little Joy in Sox World

I hate to say it, but Robby Cano’s three-run blast in the bottom of the 10th to lift the Yanks over the Sox last night was inevitable. Not the specific details, but the result. That’s the way it is in Sox World these days.

Whether it’s being thrown out at the plate (it happened twice in the seventh in last night’s 5-2 loss), stranding runners, making errors, getting picked off base in crucial situations or surrendering late-inning homers, The Sox have been finding ways to lose.
The result? We’re a game below .500, in third place 1/2 game behind the Twins and 5 in back of the first-place Tigers. We’re now 1-4 on the road trip with six more games against New York (2), Minnesota (3) and the Cubs (1). Not a pleasant prospect, but in the glass half-full tradition of Art of the Pale Hose, I’d like to think we’re due.
Jose

With all the talk of Jake Peavy, Carlos Torres or even hotshot Daniel Hudson pitching against the Yankees today, it’s going to be Jose Contreras after all. Watching Jose lately, it seems he’s lost his confidence and it’s hard to predict how he’ll fare. No doubt a well-rested D.J. Carrasco will be up early if Contreras struggles.  

And Now, The Folks Who Brought You Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle and Berra…

One of my lots in life is to be a White Sox fan living in the New York area. With the region populated mostly by Yankees, Mets and Red Sox fans, I stick out of the crowd–if anyone even notices at all.

To most folks I’m the only White Sox fan they’ve ever met and they frequently add insult to injury by saying they know a lot of Cubs fans (ouch!). But I’ve been here since the mid-1970s and I’m used to all the insults and reactions.

It’s a huge deal for me when my Sox play in New York so I’m looking forward to this weekend’s series. I want so much for them to do well and maybe, just maybe, get some acclaim from the New York fans and media. You know, the chance to walk around the next day with a smile on my face and my head held high. Just like the recent series at the Cell when the South Siders took three out of four from the Yanks.

But the truth is, with their 26 World Series rings, the Yankees look at the Sox as just another team. I can’t help but remember a line from humorist Jean Shepherd, a loyal White Sox booster. He said that when the New Yorkers came to old Comiskey it was a monumental occasion for the Sox and their fans. To the mighty Yankees, they didn’t even know they were in a fight.

So, the Boston series ends with a satisfying 9-5 victory and the road swing continues with the club’s first trip to the new Yankee Stadium. It’ll be Buehrle (11-7, 3.92) vs. Sox nemesis C.C. Sabathia (15-7, 3.59) tonight, TBA for the Sox vs. Sergio Mitre (2-1, 6.82) on Saturday and Garcia (0-1, 6.75) vs. Joba Chamberlain (8-4, 4.34) on Sunday. Keep in mind that it looks like it’s going to be a rainy weekend. Doubleheader anyone?

THE SOX 11-GAME ROAD ODYSSEY SCORECARD: 1-3,  BACK TO .500, IN SECOND PLACE 4 GAMES IN BACK OF THE TIGERS AND 1/2 GAME AHEAD OF THE TWINS.     

Ozzie: “The Way We’re Playing, It Feels Like We’re 20 Games Out.”

When you’ve dropped below .500 for the first time since the end of June, have lost four in a row, are hitting .221 with runners in scoring position in the last 22 games and can’t count on anyone in the bullpen, you’re going to feel like you’re so low that you have to look up to see down.

Last night, the David Ortiz walk-off homer off of Tony Pena in the bottom of the ninth sunk the Sox, 3-2.  Two nights ago, it was Jason Bay’s clout in the eighth off of Scott Linebrink that put Boston in the lead for good.

It was also another night of stranding runners at third. In the first, Konerko was left on base with two outs. In the fifth, Quentin didn’t score with one out as Rios and Ramirez both grounded out and Beckham was left on third in the eighth with two down. Obviously, any of those runs would have made a big difference in the game.

Now on a four-game skid, the Sox only hope in Boston is to salvage the series finale tonight before heading to, gulp, Yankee Stadium to face the game’s best team. Salvaging one game may not seem like much, but if we can make things happen tonight the team’s mindset should be a bit more positive as they play the final seven games of the road trip.

Good News Department:  The best news coming out of last night’s game were Floyd’s solid performance and a pair of rarities–a Paulie triple and a Scotty Pods pinch homer.

THE SOX 11-GAME ROAD ODYSSEY SCORECARD: 0-3, TIED WITH TWINS FOR SECOND, 4 1/2 GAMES IN BACK OF THE TIGERS.          

“You Are What Your Record Says You Are”

No less an authority on winning than future Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells defines performance in the simplest of terms, “You are what your record says you are.”

In other words, no excuses. For instance, if you’re playing at a .500 clip but you think you are better than that, sorry, you’re not–at least at that moment. You are, Parcells believes, your record.

Following last night’s 6-3 loss to the Red Sox, the South Siders are that .500 team (63-63). So, who are we?  If you look at our lineup and pitching staff on paper and all the positive signs we’ve seen, you can certainly make a case that we’re good team.  But the truth is that because we’ve been close to first in an admittedly weak division, perhaps the perception has been that we’re better than we really are. Remember, you are your record.

Deja vu all over again

Last night in the eighth, with the score tied 3-3, the ’09 Sox offense was played out in microcosm. With Quentin (single) on third and Kotsay, running for Konerko (single), on first with no outs here was a golden opportunity to take lead. But Dye, in a terrible slump since the All-Star break, popped out to short. A.J. struck out and Rios, who hasn’t found himself yet in a Sox uniform, popped out to second. Taking advantage of our blown chance, The Red Sox scored three in the bottom of the frame to seal the deal.

“That’s been our problem all year long,” Ozzie said after the game. “If you watch this ballclub closely, you’ll see we’re really bad with men on third base and less than two out–maybe the worst team in baseball right now.”

We’re back at it tonight, trying to win the next two at Fenway in an effort to split the series. How does Ozzie look at this team’s position?

“Right now, this is a man’s game. I know what I’ve got. I’m still waiting for it to show up.”

Good News Department

Freddy Garcia really stepped up last night, scattering five hits over 6 1/3 with five strikeouts. His outing didn’t translate into a win, but with the pitching staff having its struggles it was nice to see him pitch well. We need him.

SOX 11-GAME ROAD ODYSSEY SCORECARD: 0-2, TIED WITH TWINS FOR SECOND PLACE, 4 1/2 GAMES IN BACK OF THE TIGERS.

The Sky is Falling, the Sky is Falling!

The reality is that it was one game and there is no reason the Sox can’t bounce back and succeed on this road trip to hell. But the result of last night’s 12-8 disaster in Boston certainly doesn’t help our collective spirits. It’s just not a good thing when you’re using words like “unwatchable” to describe your team’s play. And The Tigers victory over the Angels to move 3 1/2 games up makes things even worse.

Thoughts on Game 1: 

* Contreras gave us some hope in his last start, but last night’s performance was enough for Ozzie to yank him from the rotation. His body language alone told you there was something very wrong.
* So, who starts Saturday against the Yankees? The buzz is circulating around Peavy, but is he ready? Will Carlos Torres return? How about phenom Daniel Hudson and do you put him in that kind of pressure situation in his major league debut?
* As bad as Jose’s pitching was, his bobble on the David Ortiz grounder was worse. It’s a play that a youth league player has to make and the miscue opened the flood gates in the third. The Sox never recovered.
* Not everything was on the bleak side. Paulie’s three-run shot, which gave us some life in the 5th, and his two walks hopefully mean he’s getting back on track.

* Another plus was Mr. Beckham’s two-run shot that gave us an early 4-1 lead. He added another RBI later in the game, giving him 47 since his June 4 debut.

* A.J. continues his terrific season. His three hits last night brought the average up to .318.

* It’s Freddy Garcia’s turn tonight and we really need him. Can’t afford another pitching performance like last night. Freddy, take some pity on the bullpen and go deep. It’ll put less pressure on the hitters as well. Not to mention the fans.

THE SOX 11-GAME ROAD ODYSSEY SCORECARD: 0-1, 3 1/2 GAMES IN BACK OF THE TIGERS.

Once Upon a Time…

For those of you who are angry about the Sox losing two of three to last-place Baltimore this weekend, skeptical of their chances of winning the AL Central and scared about what might happen in the next 11 games against the Red Sox, Yankees, Twins and Cubs, join the club.

But while it looks pretty bleak right now, let’s all try to snap out of our funk and take a trip down memory lane–specifically back to June 12-18, 2000.
Beginning a seven-game road swing to Cleveland (3) and New York (4), the Sox owned a two-game lead over the Indians. Although the ’09 trip includes four contending teams who are all money at home, the ’00 Tribe and the eventual World Series champion Yankees, were no slouches.
These were the Indians of Manny Ramirez, Kenny Lofton, Omar Vizquel and the Alomars, Roberto and Sandy.  The future World Champs boasted the likes of Tino Martinez, Derek Jeter, Paul O’Neill and Bernie Williams.
History shows that, miracles of miracles, the Sox swept the seven games by overcoming the likes of a vintage Bartolo Colon in Cleveland and Andy Pettitte, David Cone and El Duque Hernandez at Yankee Stadium. The South Siders, led offensively by Ray Durham, Jose Valentin, Frank Thomas, Paul Konerko, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Lee, outscored the Tribe 23-14 in the three games and the Yankees, 42-14 in the four-game sweep, climaxed by a 17-4 victory. Cal Eldred (2), James Baldwin, Jim Parque, Mike Sirotka, Bill Simas and Kevin Beirne were the winning pitchers.
I guess the moral of this story is not to look at the upcoming road trip and waive the white towel. In 2000, the Sox lead over the Indians went from 2 to 7 1/2 games over this stretch–and they were ultimately crowned the A.L. Central champs.

It’s Time to Recognize A.J.

It’s a well-known fact that A.J. Pierzynski is a human boo magnet. Because of his winning-at-all-costs persona, his swagger and his knack for putting himself in the middle of controversy, he’s a target in almost every ballpark–every ballpark, that is, except the Cell.

Ozzie has made good-natured cracks about A.J. and how he’s annoying to his teammates as well. But he’s their A.J. and, as fans, he’s our A.J. We know he’s always there with winning in mind.
With the return of Pods, the emergence of Beckham, Buehrle’s perfecto and Thome’s climb up the home run ladder, Pierzynski’s 2009 hasn’t been as heralded as it should be.
The bottom line is that he’s just been great. In 105 games, he leads the team with a .314 batting average. A.J. has clouted 13 homers, driven in 36 runs and has been his usual outstanding and durable self behind the plate. Because our pitchers have improved at holding on runners, he’s been able to throw them out at a better pace as well. In fact, A.J. has erased three Orioles attempting to steal in the first two games of this weekend’s series.
With our monster road trip coming up, A.J. will need to continue his stellar play. And he’ll be needed most of all in navigating the pitchers through the troubled waters of Fenway, Yankee Stadium, the Twinkiedome and Wrigley.
Thought of the day:  Had to really love the way Danks toughed it out last night in the 4-1 win against the Orioles. He looked absolutely lost in the third inning and was on the verge of being removed, but he gained his composure, gutted it out for 6 1/3 and earned his 11th win.

Not Much to Say After Tonight’s Ugly Loss to O’s

This is about as disappointed as I’ve been all season and I just don’t have much to say.
All that needs to be said is that in the opener of a crucial series at home against a mediocre pitcher and the last place team in the AL East, the Sox lose 5-1. Missed opportunity after missed opportunity by our hitters made it impossible for the South Siders to take advantage of a good outing by Gavin Floyd. And there was Pods, who has been so good for us this year, getting picked off again in scoring position.
It’s inexplicable why a team with this talent can’t rise to the occasion in these key spots. There’s still two more games so we still have a shot at winning the series, but now we’ve made it really tough on ourselves. I’d like to think we can get the job done, but the truth is I don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine.                                     
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