All the frustration from two weeks of blown leads, walkoff homers and the loss of a division lead came to an abrupt halt last night as the White Sox exploded with the 11-0 victory over the Twins.
When any team in this situation is badly in need of a win, they look to their leaders. The Sox are no exception and theirs came through big-time with a whole lot of help from the troops as The Good Guys hurled a shutout and pounded out 21 hits.
The leaders–three grizzled vets from the 2005 champs–rose to occasion in a huge way. Paul Konerko, enjoying a monster season, went 5 for 5 with his 31st homer and four RBI; Mark Buehrle pitched seven innings of scoreless, five-hit ball; and A.J. Pierzynski, struggling through an offensive season he’d like to forget, added two hits and two RBI.
Adding to the barrage were three-hit nights from Juan Pierre, Omar Vizquel, Alexei Ramirez and Mark Teahen. And, by the way, check out these averages: Pierre is hovering around .280 while Vizquel and Ramirez are both in the .290 neighborhood. A far cry from earlier in the season.
As I live and die with the Pale Hose on a daily basis, it’s always good to get a reality check from one of the guys in my Sox posse. Here’s some wisdom from Tim Clodjeaux, a former Sox PR guru:
“Keep in mind that this ‘meltdown’ is not as bad on paper as it has been to watch. Since the break the Sox are 17-17. Playing .500 ball will not win you many pennants, but it is far from a collapse. It just looks bad because of the nine losses in 12 games prior to tonight–and the way we lost many of those nine. And the Twins, on the other hand, are now 24-9 since the break. So while the Sox have stumbled, the Twins have deservedly made their move to the top of the standings.”
We knew that tonight’s game, with Felix Hernandez on the mound for the Mariners, would be a tough one for the White Sox to win. But we also know these 2010 Sox and their ability to bounce back from losses.
Last night John Danks led the way in the 6-1 dismantling of Seattle in the South Siders’ triumphant return home after the 4-6 road trip. Paul Konerko smashed his 22nd homer of the season and Juan Pierre (2), Omar Vizquel, Alexei Ramirez and A.J. Pierzynski added RBIs. Pierre and Ramirez had three hits apiece.
To me, when Danks is on his game there’s nobody I’d rather watch pitch– and he was certainly on tonight, hurling eight innings and allowing only six hits in winning his 11th contest of the season.
After the tough road swing, this was an awfully welcome win as the Sox hold on to their one-game division lead over the Twins. And beating King Felix made it even sweeter.
All eyes were on the White Sox last night. Could they come out of the break with same fire that saw them go 25-5 in the last 30 games? How would they do against the rival Twins as they aimed for their ninth victory in a row–this coming on the heels of the 11-game winning streak?
Aside from a six-run Twins uprising in the second off of John Danks, which saw Minny take the lead after the Sox scored four in the first two frames, it was all good as the Sox held on in the 8-7 squeaker to increase their division lead to a full game over the Tigers.
There was no lack of positive signs. The gutty Danks bounced back to go six innings after giving up six runs in the second, Juan Pierre went 3 for 4 with an RBI and two runs scored, four players (Omar Vizquel, Alex Rios, Mark Kotsay and Gordon Beckham) pounded out a pair of hits each with Beckham and Rios both going 2 for 3 with two RBIs apiece. And GBeck added a long second-inning homer.
Additionally, the pen did what they had to do with three clutch two-out strikeouts to end Twins rallies–Matt Thornton (Jason Kubel) in the seventh, Bobby Jenks (Orlando Hudson) and Jenks (Jim Thome) to end the game in the ninth.
With a lot of heroes to choose from, the best part of last night for me was the continuing emergence of Beckham as the same guy we saw in 2009. His bat is perking up, his power is back, he’s been sparkling in the field and his average is up to .221 and climbing. That average might not seem like much, but it’s a big improvement from where it’s been in the early going.
Many folks agree that Beckham is the key to the Sox offense. I’m one of them. His presence in the lineup was enormous last year and adding a vintage GBeck to Rios, Paul Konerko, Carlos Quentin and the rest can only mean good things for The Good Guys.
Time will tell whether or not the White Sox are legitimate contenders to catch and surpass the Twins–or the Tigers for that matter.
But we’re all adults here (most of us anyway) and we can face the reality of not making the postseason. After all, except for nine seasons (1906, 1917, 1919, 1959, 1983, 1993, 2000, 2005, 2008) in the club’s long history we’ve failed to accomplish it.
What I’m saying is that as Sox fans what we really want is something to root for–and the team’s performance in the early going has made it tough. But if the South Siders play an aggressive, exciting brand of ball with more wins than losses we’ll deal with it. We won’t be totally happy because in the past few years expectations have risen, but it’ll be OK and the summer won’t be ruined. Nothing’s worse than a summer without having fun rooting for your favorite team.
The good news is that contender or not the Sox are playing better, having won six of eight including last night’s 6-4 victory over the Pirates. And the best parts of the contest? Gordon Beckham looked like the 2009 Beckham with two hits and three RBI and the starting pitching continued its comeback. And the Juan Pierre-Beckham suicide squeeze (see picture above) was a real bonus.
Of course White Sox fans would have loved a sweep at Wrigley, extend the club’s winning streak to five and to have gained a game on the Twins. But in light of last night’s developments, I’m just happy that Juan Pierre foiled Ted Lilly‘s no-no in the ninth so we didn’t have to suffer the indignity of enduring the feat amid the vines. And able to leave the North Side with a series victory.
Perhaps more important than winning a series on the road–and against the North Side Media Darlings at that–is that the Sox have begun to play entertaining, competitive baseball with solid starting pitching such as Gavin Floyd‘s gem last night. Frankly, it was getting difficult to watch their dismal play–even for the most loyal fans.
So, now it’s on to Pittsburgh and Washington starting tomorrow night. The hope is that we can continue winning series and maybe even give Stephen Strasburg his first major league loss on Friday night.
Question of the Day: Hate to be petty, but has anyone ever seen Ted Lilly smile?
With the White Sox having the dubious distinction of a league-low team batting average of .235 and a comparable mark with runners in scoring position, their 21-27 won-loss mark is no surprise. In fact, you could make the argument that it should be worse.
Amid the underperforming hitters is Alex Rios, whose .309 batting average is about 60 points more than the next regular, Juan Pierre (.251), and 108 points higher than last year’s rookie sensation, Gordon Beckham. Paul Konerko, whose average has dwindled to under .250, has come through on the power side, but Rios has been the man overall adding 10 homers and 25 RBI. He did it again last night with the key two-run homer off of David Price in the 4-2 victory over the first-place Rays. He’s been a godsend.
That goes for Freddy Garcia as well, who bounced back from his horrendous outing against the Marlins to dominate Tampa Bay last night. He’s been pretty darn good for a fifth starter especially since his fellow starters, for the most part, have underperformed. While we’re at it, we have to add Sergio Santos, he of the 0.50 ERA, and Matt Thornton (1.77) to the mix of stalwarts.
The common denominator here is that all of the above have been significant contributors for the first two months of the season and each had a hand in the win last night.
I don’t know where we’d be without them.
I have to admit that my blood pressure reached scary levels after the first inning last night as Jake Peavy was the victim of a three-run Royal splurge that included a walk and a hit batsman. All I could think about was losing back-to-back games to the Royals and losing the opportunity to gain on the Twins, who lost earlier in the day to the Yanks.
But the South Siders showed some grit and overcame a 4-1 with a four-run seventh to win 5-4. Aside from the rare comeback itself, there were some positive signs. Among them:
–The way that Peavy rebounded after the shaky start. After giving up four runs through three innings, he pitched scoreless ball into the ninth for this third victory of the season.
—Juan Pierre collected a pair of hits and raised his average to .254. Not exactly on par with Rod Carew, but we’ll take it after Juan’s subpar start.
—Alexei Ramirez (above) was 3 for 4 with an RBI, upping his average to .231. Puny, but improving.
—Ramon Castro got his first hit of the season and drove in a pair of runs in the pivotal seventh inning.
—Matt Thornton got the save after relieving Peavy with one out in the ninth.
Now the hard part–winning today to capture the series.