Thursday, Sept. 30, 2010
Updated 11:54 PM
By Brett Ballantini
If theres a baseball player in Chicago with more flair for the dramatic than Paul Konerko, have him stand forth and be judged.
On a day the White Soxs mainstay first baseman forecasted his departure from the club this offseason, it was only appropriate he iced Thursdays game with a full-count grand slam in the fourth inning, spurring an 8-2 rout of the Boston Red Sox. Konerko reached base in four of five trips to the plate and now stands at 39 homers, 111 RBI and an OPS of .981.
That was perfect, White Sox starter John Danks said of Konerkos clout.
All year, he wasnt giving up any at-bats, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said of his captain, openly zealous about a possible 40-homer campaign for Konerko. Its max effort out there. Thats why he had a season like this.
Konerko, natch, was thinking little of 40 round-trippers.
Numbers are nice, but Ive done it before in 2004 and 2005, he said. Its good to have a nice, round number like 40, but I dont think about it too much.
Two innings after Konerkos clout, the baseball gods deemed the game already perfect and unworthy of continuing, pulling the plug on the ballpark lights and delaying the contest for 21 minutes.
Red Sox starter Jon Lester probably hoped that the plug was yanked for good. The southpaw came into the game with a glistening career record vs. the White Sox, at 2-1 with a 3.04 ERA, along with a 1.13 WHIP and 1.90 KBB. He had been unbeatable in September and October in his career against all AL opponents, going 16-2 with a 2.50 ERA. Lesters three starts in Chicago have been stellar: 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA, and overall no White Sox starter was hitting better than .222 for his career against him.
Lesters got four pitches and he can use both sides of the plate, Konerko said. You just have to keep scratching.
I was worried when I gave up a home run, Danks said of the two-run blast he surrendered to Victor Martinez in the third that put Boston ahead, 2-1. Lester is tough to score against.
That all changed on Thursday, when the Red Sox ace was pummeled for nine hits and eight earned runs in four innings, an outing that tacked more than a quarter-run onto his season ERA. Lester also lost a shot at becoming Bostons first 20-game winner in three seasons, finishing his campaign at 19-9.
We made him workhe had 99 pitches in four innings, Guillen said. Our offense did a tremendous job.
Konerkos grand slam paced a 2-3 night, but the offense was keyed by Juan Pierre, who reached base on his first four plate appearances, going 3-3 with a walk. Pierre also swiped three bags, giving him 66 on the season, a personal best.
Before the game, I was making fun of Pierre because I told him I wasnt playing him and he got angry with me, Guillen said. Im lucky to manage this guy. I love fast players. Speed never gets in a slump.
Before the baseball gods could darken the game, Dayan Viciedo (starting at Konerkos first base, with PK shifting to DH for the night) clouted an opposite-field, two-run homer in the fifth, which would close out the scoring.
Danks was sharp for the White Sox, tossing six innings of five-hit, one-run ball, striking out six. In his final start of 2010, the southpaw shaved his ERA down to 3.72 and extended career bests in wins (to 15) and strikeouts (162).
The White Sox have now spun wins in seven of eight games, finishing the 2010 campaign strong, just as Guillen promised they would.
Were going out there trying to win every game, and this was just another example of that, Danks said. Games like this make it fun to pitch, even when were out of it.
For Konerko, being feted with a curtain call from a rapturous U.S. Cellular Field crowd after his grand slam was a season highlight, and admittedly a career one.
That felt good, Konerko said. Curtain calls are really special. I remember all of themyou never know when your last one might be.
White Sox fans will go to sleep tonight praying it wasnt their final serenade of the Captain.
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.coms White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information.