Wednesday, June 23, 2010
By Chuck Garfien
They were down and out. Dead and buried. A baseball team whose obituary had already been written. It went something like this:
Here lies the 2010 Chicago White Sox, who died in early June of massive underachievement. An autopsy found that their hearts were in the right place, but their brains often failed to produce enough confidence to win more than one game in a row. They are survived by a fan base mourning the teams unrealized expectations. In lieu of flowers, please send extra shovels and something for Bill Melton, Frank Thomas and Chuck Garfien to talk about on White Sox Postgame Live for the next three months.
It was looking like a very long summer.
A thorough investigation would reveal that the Sox officially flat-lined on June 8. Nursing a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning against the Tigers, Matt Thornton, who had given up only six runs all season, got tagged for five in one-third of an inning. The Sox lost, 7-2. They were embarrassed at home to one of their main rivals. It dropped them a season-low nine games under .500. They trailed the Twins by 9 12 games in the American League Central. And the next day, White Sox general managerfuneral director Kenny Williams delivered the grave news to the assembled media:
Some changes need to take place," he said. "I dont know what and I dont know when, but some changes need to take place. Things arent happening the way that we envisioned, and when they dont happen the way you envision, youve got to make an adjustment. It is what it is. I have to listen to trade offers. Its not that I want to, but Im not blind.
Trouble was, the Sox often played like they were.
But suddenly, later that same evening, against those same Tigers who humiliated the Sox the day before, something strange took place. A spiritual phenomenon that would compel priests, rabbis and ministers to call U.S. Cellular Field, inquiring about a certain celestial event.
A mere two hours after Williams made that grim diagnosis about his struggling team, a miracle occurred at 35th and Shields, and it wasnt just because Brent Lillibridge hit a pinch-hit, three-run homer.
After two months of mediocre, inconsistent, uninspiring baseball, everything just magically clicked.
And I mean everything.
Besides the Lillibridge home run (which was hit so far, Frank Thomas shouted, He hit that to Hurtville!), backup catcher Ramon Castro homered and drove in four. Immediately after Castro went deep, Gordon Beckham hit a double off the wall -- his first extra-base hit in 112 at-bats.
Every single player in the Sox lineup got a hit that night. They scored seven runs in the fourth inning and seven more in the eighth, batting around twice in the same game for the first time since 1981.
Five-foot-nothing Juan Pierre leaped over the fence to rob Brennan Boesch of a home run. He then made a spectacular diving catch to end the same inning. The Sox went 10-for-12 with runners in scoring position.
Omar Vizquel came THIS close to hitting a grand slam.
Apparently there was a cap on miracles that night, but no problem. The 43-year-old homered the very next day, just his second since 2007. He also drove in a run on a suicide squeeze.
I hope they check his bat, joked manager Ozzie Guillen.
Overnight, the Sox were no longer a joke. Now it was their turn to deliver the punchline. Detroit would be their first victim, something that seems to have been forgotten. The Sox crushed the Tigers, 15-3, then blanked them, 3-0. That was followed by their historic road trip (yes, historic), going 8-1, the Sox seventh-best road trip ever.
But on every sidewalk along the way there were skeptics who looked at the competition (the Cubs, Pirates and Nationals, who are a combined 34 games under .500) and questioned whether the Sox could match up with a team thats actually good.
The Atlanta Braves are good. Potentially great. They came into Tuesday with the best record in the National League and they sent to the mound their best pitcher, Tommy Hanson, who in his previous four interleague starts was 4-0 with a 0.75 ERA.
Who did he beat in those games? Just the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and Orioles.
However on this night, he would receive one serious beatdown. The white hot White Sox torched Hanson, who gave up nine runs on 13 hits, both career highs, in just 3 23 innings.
And just like that, the Sox are suddenly back in it. One game over .500 for the first time since beating Cleveland on Opening Day.
Am I surprised it happened this fast? Um, yeah. But Im hardly the only one.
I didnt expect us to be back to .500 so quickly, Williams said before Tuesdays victory. This team has responded and showed some resiliency. At this time, those efforts should be commended and acknowledged in the form that, OK, they are going to keep pushing. We have to see what possibilities are out there to help them out.
Yep, the Sox went from sellers to buyers about as fast as a Stephen Strasburg fastball. Two weeks ago, the Sox GM warned that his team had about 24 hours to live. Now, they appear saved, thanks to a special elixir the whole team is drinking by the keg-load. Its a remedy for all that ails you.
Winning. It cures everything.
Now if only it continues ...
Chuck Garfien hosts White Sox Pregame and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet with former Sox slugger Bill Melton. Follow Chuck @ChuckGarfien on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox news and views.