Sunday, Oct. 3, 2010
Updated 5:57 PM
By Brett Ballantini
Even for the last-place team, the final game of the season is always an emotional affair.
The Chicago White Sox had sewn up second place in the AL Central days earlier, but the open spaces of their projected 2011 roster is what will trouble fans for weeks ahead.
In Sundays finale, White Sox fans bade a possible farewell to two longtime Pale Hose heroes.
In the top of the fourth, six-season catcher A.J Pierzynski, the feisty soul of the team, trotted off the field to a loud ovation, having played possibly his final game for the White Sox. Three innings later, an even louder response was generated for Paul Konerko, a 12-season White Sox and five-year team captain.
The surge of emotionspurred by a labored 5 23 innings from Edwin Jacksonpaced the White Sox to a 6-5 win over the Cleveland Indians. The White Sox finished 2010 as the hottest team in baseball, winning nine of their final 11 games and ending the year at 88-74. With the victory, manager Ozzie Guillen picked up his 600th career win.
After the game, both players spoke at length about the emotion of the day, as well as their futures. Before the two heroes left the field, Pierzynski implored the crowd, next year, bring back Paulie! and Konerko teased twice that there might be more.
The big blasts in the game came off the bat of Alexei Ramirez, who iced his Silver Slugger award with a first-inning home run and second-inning double, driving in the teams first three runs. Later, Juan Pierre stole his 69th base of the season and drove in the other three runs for the White Sox as part of a 3-for-5 day.
It was a nice way to win, Guillen said. A lot of good things happened today. Speaking as a friend or a baseball fan, it was a privilege to manage all those guys out therethey played hard.
Pierzynski went 0-for-2 in the finale and finished the season batting .270. Konerko was 2-for-3, upping his average to .312. The first baseman fell short in an attempt to clinch his third season with 40 or more home runs, however, finishing with run production numbers of 39 longballs and 111 RBI. Not that he cared much.
I hit 40 homers twice, and the world didnt change, Konerko said. Chasing an individual goal is not what Im about. If you chase the numbers, youre in trouble. This year, my numbers were just a byproduct of my plan day-to-day.
Konerko continued his insightful look at how the 2010 season has differed for him.
You dont have great years, you put together great years. Its a long-haul type of thing, he said. I gave away less at-bats fewer than 100 than I ever have this seasonthats a choice. Im a better leader because of how I went about it.
Natch, the self-deprecating Konerko would end his lesson on a comic note, laughing: I guess it took me 11 years to figure that out.
Both Guillen and Konerko described a rather comic scenario in the White Sox dugout, where as the game went on Konerko wanted to pull himself in order to get Mark Kotsay one more at-bat on the season, and Kotsay refusing to substitute for the legend. Bench coach Joey Cora had to intervene and make a final ruling.
Kotsay and I were both kind of arguing about it, Konerko said. Hes a great guy. Ill do anything for that guy.
When Kotsay trotted out to replace Konerko with one out in the seventh inning, the two had a lengthy embrace near the pitchers mound.
Pierzynski, who is the more affordable and potentially more essential team depth-wise option to return of the pair, was both grateful and urgent in his postgame comments.
The White Sox are a special team, and Chicago is a special place, he said. Ill always be thankful. White Sox fans are the best fans, and Chicago is the best place to play. Ive always said I wanted to be back. I want to be a White Sox until I retire.
Jackson pitched into the fourth without allowing a hit, and exited in the sixth having surrendered five hits and three runs while striking out six.
Lucky me, lucky me, a smiling Jackson said of piloting this monumental finale. Today was just a fun game overall. Everybody was loose. It was the last game. You can easily go out and give up, but guys continued to battle and play hard, so thats always a plus.
The Indians rallied for two runs off of Chris Sale after the rookie sensation struck out four of the first five batters he faced. But the southpaw induced a groundout from Michael Brantley to end the game, and the 2010 season.
Magic Number: 1,768
Paul Konerko logged his 1,768th game with the White Sox, the fourth-most in franchise history. He left in the top of the seventh to a standing ovation and a curtain call from the crowd of 24,539.
The only stat that matters is winning. Guillen on the importance of his 600th career win, accomplished with Sundays finale.
Next on the Mound
The White Sox will continue this six-game series in Cleveland, next April 1. Early guesses at the Opening Day starter? The safe bet here is Mark Buehrle, for a team-record ninth time.
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.coms White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information.