August 2009

AJ: “It was nice to finally get a game like that. We hadn’t won a game like that in a long time, so it was nice to get it done.”

Although it doesn’t take a genius to recognize it, AJ Pierzynski’s sentiments were my first thoughts last night after Alexei’s monumental ninth inning homer–a blast which dramatically turned the tide in the South Siders’ 3-1 victory.

I really can’t remember the last time it happened for us so spectacularly and in a key situation. If the Sox hadn’t come back in this game, we would have lost our third in a row with Felix Hernandez on the hill for the Mariners tonight. We would also have lost the chance to pick up a game on the Tigers, who fell to the Red Sox at Fenway.

History shows that most, if not all, championship teams that go on to win the division, league championship or World Series, have a multitude of these comebacks during the course of the season. You know, the games that seem lost, but turn around suddenly in the late innings. It says an awful lot about a team when they are able to rebound like this. Let’s hope there are a few more in our future.

Rios plays the numbers game

Gordon Beckham said he has no real attachment to the No. 15 and would have been willing to give it up to Alex Rios, who has worn the number the past six seasons with the Blue Jays. But Rios said “it’s just a number” and has chosen to wear No. 51 for the Sox, a number he has worn in winter ball. Not that it figured into the decision-making process, but with “Beckham 15″ jerseys a hot seller it’s reasonable to assume MLB marketers are happy.

Danks a lot

It was nice to see John Danks rebound last night with a terrific outing, even though his performance will be overshadowed by the Ramirez theatrics. In eight innings of work, Danks gave up the Mariners’ lone run on seven hits and struck out eight as he picked up his 10th victory of the season.

First-time struggles

Once again, the Sox struggled against a pitcher that they’ve never seen before. Doug Fister, making his first major league start, pitched six innings of shutout ball allowing only one hit.

Word to the Wise

I said in this space yesterday that Dewayne Wise was the logical choice to be moved with Rios joining the club. Well, my logic was wrong and Carlos Torres was sent down to Charlotte.

I’m a big fan of Wise because of how he has persevered throughout his career to stick in the majors with a contender, hit a postseason home run and make one of the greatest catches in the history of the game. Another decision might be made down the road that isn’t as positive for Wise, but for now I’m happy I was wrong.

If There’s No Risk, There’s No Reward

Like the Jake Peavy trade that preceded it, yesterday’s acquisition of Alex Rios just proves once again that Kenny Williams means business when he says the Sox will do anything to win.

KW has said over and over again that he’s all about championships and his recent moves underscore how serious he is. Before the Williams era, most Sox fans weren’t as confident that the right–and, if necessary, bold–moves would be made to help put the club over the top.

Is there risk in both the Peavy and Rios deals? Of course. These are both long-term contracts and there is certainly a chance that one or both won’t live up to expectations. But if we are to be a perennial contender and relive the magic of 2005, this is the right course to take. If you can get a No. 1 starter who is a former Cy Young Award winner, do it. And if you can get a former All-Star, who admittedly is having an off-year but has a huge upside, get him–especially without having to give up anything in return.

It terms of the money, relief may be coming as the contracts of Dye, Thome, Contreras and Dotel all expire at the end of this season. This is not to say all four will be gone, but I think it’s pretty safe to say all four won’t be back. And it’ll give Williams flexibility to continue the transition to a younger and more athletic team.

So that’s next year and beyond. What about the rest of ’09 as the Sox attempt to reach the postseason for the second straight year? Ozzie has a challenge on his hands as he will attempt to make everybody happy with playing time. What seems most likely is a rotating platoon of sorts, which will keep guys fresh and give the Sox a better chance to win at the same time.

I see Pods and Quentin in left, Pods and Rios in center, Dye with help from Rios in right and Quentin and Thome at DH. Although nothing’s been announced yet, Wise is the logical one to go. If that’s the case, he sure made his mark in his final days in a Sox uniform. Good for him.

Note of the day: If the Sox had won in Seattle last night, I would have focused some attention on the victory. Since they lost 6-4 and remain three games back as the Tigers lost to the Red Sox, I’ll just try to forget and hope they’ll bounce back tonight.

A Very Selective Bucket List

SI.com, as part of a feature story on sports bucket lists, has polled SI writers and is asking its readers to post their own personal wish lists.

I’ve been lucky. Among my experiences have been trips to World Series, Super Bowls, NBA Finals, Final Fours, the Rose Bowl and Olympic Games–most of them as part of my job.

That said, had I actually put together a sports bucket list none of those would have been included. The one and only event that has really mattered to me through the years is witnessing the White Sox win the World Series. I was fortunate enough to be at every home playoff game in 2005, including the first Series game against the Astros with my then-82-year-old father. And thanks to my good friend and great Sox fan Kevin Sullivan, I was at the White House in February 2006 when the President celebrated our World Champs.

While others have a long list to pursue, luckily I was able to achieve my one wish. But, hopefully, I have many more years left in me and the Sox will have many more opportunities to do it again. So I’m going to keep my one-item list alive.

Well, At Least We Didn’t Make An Error

The 8-4 White Sox loss to the Indians today at the Cell was a huge disappointment on many levels.

* The Sox once had a 3-0 lead.
* The defeat prevented the South Siders from taking the three-game series vs. the Tribe.

* The loss destroyed the opportunity to end the homestand at 7-3, which began with series victories over the first-place Yankees and Angels.

* We lost a game in the standings and now stand three games behind the Tigers.

* After four shutout innings, Contreras gave up four runs in the fifth making him even more of a concern heading down the stretch.

* Jermaine continued his struggles, going 0-for-4.

* The overtaxed bullpen gave up key insurance runs, making a comeback next to impossible.

On the other hand, it wasn’t all bad…

* AJ continued to sizzle. Today he homered and doubled, raising his average to .316.

* Mark Kotsay singled, doubled, scored and was terrific in the field at first base.

* Alexei was 3-for-4 with a homer and two RBI.

The race now continues in Seattle and Oakland before the Sox return home to face Kansas City and Baltimore–hopefully closer to first place. 

A Good Win (Is there really such a thing as a bad win?)

In baseball, as in life, it’s all about recovery. To state the obvious, every team is going to find itself behind during the course of a game–sometimes by multiple runs. What matters, though, is if the club rebounds. That alone will tell you a lot about the ballclub. 
Last night against the Indians, the Sox found themselves trailing 5-1 entering the bottom of the fifh. If you were looking at the glass half-empty, it sure seemed that the Sox were on their way to their third straight loss and second in a row against the Tribe. Then, the offense took over and via a Thome two-run blast and a Quentin two-run double, the score was knotted at 5. In the next inning, Beckham’s sac fly put the South Siders ahead for good as the bullpen excelled en route to the 8-5 triumph–a win that enabled the Sox to creep within two games of the Tigers.
I’d like to think it’s a sign of things to come.
Some other thoughts on a Sunday morning:

*  Regardless of the outcome of this year’s stretch drive, it’s a nice to know that guys like Beckham and Getz are part of the Sox future. Speaking of GBeck, his 40 RBI in his first 52 major league games (201 at bats) is remarkable.

*  Jake Peavy is scheduled to pitch for Charlotte on Thursday. Crossing my fingers that his rehab is successful and he will be on the mound for the Sox in Yankee Stadium on August 28.

*  A Sox fan of note wanted me give a shout-out to DJ Carrasco. No, not only for his fine performance last night, but for the old-school way he wears his stirrup socks. And were those high-top shoes he was wearing? Chalk it up for the old guys.

* Sox immortal Shoeless Joe Jackson has been shunned by the Baseball Hall of Fame for his role in the 1919 Black Sox scandal, but he hasn’t been forgotten by his hometown of Greenville, SC. If you’re ever in the Greenville area, make sure you visit The Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Baseball Library. It’s open 10am-2pm on Saturdays or by appointment.

*My “best friend” Happy, who’s by my side for every Sox game, is recovering nicely from surgery. We’ll both be in front of the tube this afternoon hoping for a series win against the Tribe.

Errors, Just Like Hits and Runs….

When you’re a kid learning the nuances of baseball, some things make an indelible impression.

For me, as a White Sox fan growing up in the Chicago area in the l950s, I gathered a lot of information from local broadcasters such as Jack Brickhouse and “The Commander” Bob Elson. For the record, both are in the broadcasters “wing” of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
Elson, the long-time radio voice of the Sox, didn’t exactly capture a child’s imagination. He spoke in monotone, really didn’t add a whole lot of technical expertise and as a typical hometown announcer offered very little criticism.
For instance, when the Sox would be victimized by bad defense his standard line was: “Errors, just like hits and runs, are all part of this great game of baseball.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about Elson’s unique way of expressing poor play in the field as the Sox have been plagued by a porous defense. At this point in time they hold the dubious distinction of leading the AL in errors.
I look at the players we put on the field and I don’t see the league’s worst, but lately it’s become a huge problem and certainly will be a factor in our quest for he division title. Ozzie said this after last night’s disappointing 6-2 loss to the Indians, which included three Sox miscues:  “I say I never will criticize my players for making errors, but when you see more errors than hits, something is wrong.”

Ironically, despite the defensive woes, the Sox set a club record and tied an AL mark last night by turning six double plays–all via the grounder.

Off the Mark

Since Mark Buehrle retired a record 45 consecutive batters, he has given up 17 earned runs and 27 hits in 12 2/3 innings. It’s certainly unexpected and not happening at a great time, but there’s no cause for alarm. Buehrle has gone through these slumps before and hopefully it’s just a matter of time before he finds himself again.
Carlos Torres Part II

Carlos Torres takes the hill today in his second major league start. He’ll face Justin Masterson, just acquired by the Tribe from the Red Sox in the Victor Martinez deal.
On July 22 against the Rays, Torres gave up three runs on six hits in an impressive six-inning outing. The Sox won, but Torres wasn’t around to get the decision.

The Rays, Tigers, Twins, Yankees, Angels…And Now? The Rejuvenated Tribe

You’d think that after the difficult schedule we’ve been facing since the All-Star break, including three of the last four series against division leaders and two other sets against legitimate contenders, we might have a chance to catch our collective breaths.

Well, that doesn’t seem to be the case as the rebuilding Indians, who just traded the likes of Victor Martinez, Cliff Lee, Ryan Garko, Mark DeRosa and Ben Francisco, are playing their best baseball of the season having won 10 of their last 15 games.

The probable pitching matchups:  Buehrle vs. Jeremy Sowers tonight, TBA (Torres? Carrasco? Whisler?) vs.TBA tomorrow night and Contreras vs. David Huff on Sunday. Carl Pavano was set to hurl for the Indians tomorrow night, but was traded today to the Twins.

Sox Musings…

* Ozzie used the term Little League when describing the Sox effort against the Angels yesterday in the 9-5 loss. Hopefully the sleepwalking won’t last for long.

* Bobby Abreu’s blistering attack on Sox pitchers is nothing new, he’s done it for a long time. The situation reminds me of when the Yankees’ Don Mattingly battered us all those years. His lifetime average was impressive enough, but kiddingly I’ve told friends I don’t remember him ever making an out. It could be Abreu has some extra incentive hitting against his friend Ozzie’s ball club.

* I’m not giving up on Ramon Castro offensively. Even though he’s been somewhat of a disappointment at bat, I’ve seen him come up with a lot of key hits as the Mets backup and confident he’ll deliver as we head down the stretch.

* Although on balance he’s done fairly well, there’s nothing like that anxiety when Mr. Dotel enters the game. You just never know which Octavio is going to show up–the one who has the stuff to strike out the side or the one who gives up a crucial hit or walk.
 
* John Danks is a key to our pennant hopes. He just has to turn it around and soon. He’s a bulldog so we know his struggles aren’t for a lack of effort.

Thome Or Not Thome

When Jim Thome is on his game, no less an authority than AJ Pierzynski says he’s as good as anybody. And as we all know that was the case last night as Gentleman Jim, one of the classiest and well-liked players in the game, was a one-man show as he smashed a three-run homer and a solo shot in the 6-2 Sox triumph over the Halos. That gives him 20 for the season and 561 in his career, just two behind Reggie Jackson.

On the flip side, when Jim is consistently striking out and grounding out to short right field, it causes huge frustration for Sox fans. We understand that even in a slump, he contributes by getting on base. Thome’s .391 on-base percentage is among the league leaders and ties him with Derek Jeter and Jason Bartlett. But sometimes I’d love to see a tape measure job, a double off the wall or a shift-defying opposite field single instead of a walk in clutch situations. In a very real way, he’s a victim of his own success because we have such high expectations every time he steps to the plate.

Gavin’s got a pair

Once upon a time in the City of Brotherly Love, a young pitcher named Gavin Floyd got the reputation of being soft. Sorry Philly, how wrong you were.

As we know, Floyd won 17 games a year ago so my observation is not breaking news. But each time he goes out and pitches like he did last night, we’re reminded about what a tough competitor he is. In fact, he is 5-0 with a 1.54 ERA in his last eight starts at the Cell.

How’s No. 1 draft pick Jared Mitchell doing at Class A Kannapolis?

In his first 16 games, the speedy outfielder from LSU is hitting .294, with four doubles, a triple, a couple of stolen bases and a very impressive .419 on-base percentage. He’s still looking for his first homer.

An interesting fact about his on-base percentage is that Mitchell, who bats from the left side, is hitting .231 against lefties. However, he still has a .412 on-base percentage against southpaws.
 

Why We Love Beckham and the Amazing Return of Scotty Pods

Yesterday afternoon, the newest South Side phenom Gordon Beckham was named AL Rookie of the Year for the month of July as he led all rookies with a .330 average, three homers and 18 RBI.

Just hours later, he continued  to sizzle by blasting a solo homer off of the Angels’ John Lackey in the first inning and tied the game at four with a two-out single in the seventh. It set the stage for Scotty Pods two-out game-winning single in the ninth for a 5-4 Sox win. In GBeck’s first 53 games in the big leagues he has compiled a .316 batting average, six homers, 38 RBI and a .376 on base percentage.

Why do I, and countless other Sox fans, have such a fascination with Beckham? There are many answers. He comes with a lot of fanfare, he plays like a veteran, he has some swagger but not in an off-putting way, and he simply plays the game the right way.

One other factor is that when Sox fans have a prospect that succeeds it’s a special occasion because of all the disappointments in the past. We celebrated the arrival of Harold Baines in the 80s and the Big Hurt, Ventura, McDowell and Fernandez in the 90s, but the names of those who failed still stick with us. For instance, Bee Bee Richard, Kevin Bell, Daryl Boston, Joel Skinner, Scott Ruffcorn, Mike Caruso and Joe Borchard. I won’t belabor the point, but it’s definitely one of the reasons we celebrate Beckham and the ones who make it.

Pods has never been better

By leading off my blog with Beckham, I’m in no way minimizing the impact of our very own Scott Podsednik, who continues to amaze day after day. He’s even better that the terrific ’05 version and has been the catalyst in what recently has been an impressive team effort.

Since joining the club after the start of the season, he has hit .303, with a .357 on base percentage and 16 stolen bases. And his performance last night is an example of his clutch hitting. He doubled with two outs in the seventh and scored on Beckham’s single. In the ninth, he outdid himself with his two-out game-winner, which pulled the Sox within a game of the Tigers in the AL Central.

Can’t Win ‘Em All

Oh sure, it would have been nice to sweep the Yankees, but we still have to be happy how the Sox bounced back from the disastrous road trip in Detroit and Minnesota and won 3 of 4 against the league’s best. Plus we remain only a game and a half behind the Tigers, who fell to the Tribe.

That said, we know it doesn’t get any easier. The Angels, who are at the Cell Tuesday through Thursday, are on a rampage–sweeping the Twins at the Dome over the weekend, 11-5, 11-6 and 13-4. Yeah, the same Twins who swept the Sox last week. Go figure.
Some thoughts:

* GBeck was especially excited about the Yankee series, having idolized Derek Jeter. He rose to the occasion by going 7-for-19, including five doubles and seven RBI, in the four games. The only glitch was in the eighth inning on Saturday in the 14-4 win when Mr. Beckham lost track of the outs and was doubled off of third. Could be that the chat he had with Jeter around second base moments before took his mind off the game. 

* Jake Peavy threw a 50-pitch bullpen session today and experienced no pain. The best news is that Ozzie speculated that Peavy might very well be back before people think. 

* The pitching matchups in the Angel series: John Lackey vs. Contreras on Tuesday, Sean O’Sullivan vs. Floyd on Wednesday and Ervin Santana vs. Danks on Thursday. We can be thankful that Jered Weaver isn’t on the menu.

The off-day tomorrow comes at a good time–for me. I’m exhausted from the ups and downs of the recent schedule of games. I need to save my energy with the stretch drive looming.
I recommend we all keeping thinking, one game at a time.
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