Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011
Posted: 9:56 p.m. Updated: 11:29 p.m.
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MINNEAPOLIS The White Sox season long inability to muster up a knockout punch was manifest in two plays that low lighted Chicagos sloppy, 5-4 loss to the Minnesota Twins in the series finale on Wednesday night.
Both gaffes were borne of walks. The first came when Pale Hose starter John Danks issued a free pass to Drew Butera, of the .298 on-base and .435 OPS Buteras. That free pass set a four-run third inning in motion.
The walk to Butera I dont say Butera is a bad hitter, but hes only hitting .164, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. When you walk the guy batting ninth, youre looking at trouble. Thats what Danks did. He hit Joe Mauer and got in trouble in that inning, but thats the only bad inning he had. After that he battled back. You take that inning away, its a pretty good game. Those two walks killed him. That inning killed him, with a walk and a hit batter. That started a big problem.
Obviously, you dont want to walk Butera there but I made some good pitches to him, too, Danks said. Him and Jason Repko especially, it seems like they had tough at-bats, couldnt put them away. But you see enough pitches and foul off enough good pitches, eventually youre going to work the count back in your favor, and they did.
The second gaffe came on a pickoff attempt of Luke HughesDankss only other walk of the gamewhich turned into a clown car of all clown-car plays, Paul Konerko throwing well wide of Alexei Ramirez covering second to tag Hughes out, then the soft-tossing arms of Juan Pierre in left and Omar Vizquel as the cutoff man allowing Hughes to come all the way around to score with ease.
Its been a sh---y year, no doubt, Danks said of falling to 6-11 and seeing his ERA climb back over four at 4.09. I dont know how many starts I have left, but Ill be ready to throw in those games. All in all, its been a crappy year. Im looking forward to next year, starting clean. I dont want to sound like I am giving up on the yearIm not. But Im definitely looking forward to starting with a clean slate.
Im not feeling sorry for myself; I put myself in this position. But it seems like this year, whenever anything bad can happen, it has. Baseball: You have to be tough. And this year I learned a lot, learned I can take anything and be ready for next year.
On top of the mound struggles came a return to offensive inefficiency. In the first three games of the series the White Sox stranded just seven runners total, while on Wednesday they left 13.
We played typical White Sox baseballI dont think we lost, I just think we gave this game away, Guillen said. There is no doubt in my mind we gave it away. We had a lot of chances. We didnt get the hitsIm not talking about big hits, we cant even get a hit. When you cant do that, thats the type of game youre going to have.
While A.J. Pierzynski had a rough night in the clutch in stranding eight runners and going 1-for-5, it was Alex Rios who embodied the clubs frustration with runners in scoring position by looking at a called third strike from Glen Perkins with Ramirez on third and breaking his bat over his thigh afterward.
Lets say Im sad about RISP woes because I dont want to say what I really want to say, said Guillen, as all nearby coffee makers and office chairs appeared intact and unscathed. Yeah, Im not going to say this gamesince spring training weve been not good at all with men at third base and less than two outs. Weve had a lot of problems all year long with it, and today was another example.
Yes, the White Sox fought back twice, clawing within 4-3 and 5-4, but in the end, the White Sox were unable to secure their first-ever four-game sweep of the Twins in Minnesota and fell nine games behind the first-place Detroit Tigers. What promised just a week ago to be a crucial series at home vs. the Cleveland Indians now has been reduced to a four-game battle to see who can get a foothold on second place (the 71-70 White Sox are a half-game ahead of the Wahoos entering Thursdays action).
A bright spot
After 167 career games in the minor leagues, Dylan Axelrod made his major league debut in relief of Danks and threw two scoreless innings, striking out two with two walks and a hit. In the seventh inning, he came on and retired his first batter, Butera, when Ramirez made an outstanding diving play on a short pop to center, and his last on a strikeout that froze Repko to end the eighth.
It was just great getting out there for the first time and getting my feet wet, Axelrod said. I had a great time.
The hurler, who Baseball America said had the best control in the White Sox organization entering the 2011 season, fought a bit with nerves as well.
The first inning, I was a little juiced up and excited, he said. The second inning I felt good, normal It was fun getting that first strikeout. The first out, Alexei made a great play on. And B-Mo making a diving play to end the inning, just all a lot of highlights for me.
Jake Peavy, whose time with the San Diego Padres overlapped that of Axelrod and is represented by the young hurlers uncle, was thrilled to see the righthander fly through his debut. And Axelrod impressed the man who matters mosthis manager.
I was very surprised, Guillen said of Axelrods debut. He threw strikes. If you throw strikes you can pitch for me, I dont care if you get lit up. You throw strikes and youre around the plate and make people make contact, thats a good thing. Its a great chance for him. Coming all the way from where he came from to be in the big leagues is a nice thing to see, and he had a good game today.
Axelrod, who credited bullpen coach Juan Nieves for advice in treating the game as a normal one, was please to know that he earned kudos from his feisty skipper.
Thats good to hear, the hurler said if Ozzies praise. Thats what Ive always done, and plan to continue that in the majors.
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information.