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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Kansas City Blues

Big Hurt to the Rescue?

by
Guy Bacci

The Chicago White Sox are in first place and having one of the best starts in franchise history. You know this by now, unless you live in a cave, or possibly somewhere on the East Coast. So why, then, were Sox fans thrilled to have a game in late May against the Texas Rangers washed away by rain?

Because for the first time this season, the White Sox have issues. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say, their issues are finally becoming noticeable.

The offense, of course, is the biggest concern. Five everyday players are batting below .240. To put it another way, only one starter (the guy who’s had a harder time adjusting to American cuisine than American pitching) is batting over .270. On the flipside, the Texas Rangers are in a power groove like Sox teams of yore. Prior to Saturday’s rainout, the Rangers had won seven in a row and blasted seven dingers in their past two games.

Hence, Sox fans aren’t crying about one less game in Arlington.

It allows for time to ponder what a marvelous job the starting pitching has done to cover up some ugly blemishes on the Southside. With Minnesota creeping within 3.5 games on Saturday, Sox fans are left wondering if they got a little too excited a little too quickly.

In their defense, it’s hard to find fault with a team that starts 31-12. Who really cares if the entire middle of the lineup has been hovering around the Mendoza line? What does it matter that two key members of the bullpen have been absolute busts? When a team has a .721 winning percentage, whining about a few slow-starting individuals seems silly.

But June is here, and it’s no longer time to be talking about slow starts. Plain and simple, there are certain players who are having lousy seasons. Jermaine Dye, despite a few clutch homers, has looked awful. His .259 OBP is sixth worst in all of baseball amongst players with at least 125 plate appearances. Juan Uribe’s .263 mark is ninth-worst. Joe Crede is once again proving he’s no Robin Ventura, batting just .234 with four homers. Carl Everett, after a typically hot start, is down to .232.

The ugliness extends to the pen, where Dustin (dare we call him the New Mr. Zero?) Hermanson has covered up a few of his struggling teammates by tossing 21 scoreless innings. The former Mr. Zero, Shingo Takatsu, has pitched fewer innings than Neal Cotts. And the promising arm from Milwaukee, Luis Vizcaino, has a disappointing 6.46 ERA.

But the starting pitching was so staggering that none of the poor performances mattered. The bandwagon kept rolling right along.

Until it hit a slight speed bump.

Brandon McCarthy was cruising in his major league debut, beating Mark Prior by a score of 2-1 in the bottom of the sixth, when Ozzie Guillen inexplicably yanked him for the scuffling Vizcaino. A few pitches later, the Cubs were winning, and Guillen was defending his decision with another expletive-laden tirade. “I always give my pitcher the best opportunity to win the game,” he said angrily. “This kid comes from the minor leagues and did the best he could do to keep us in the game. I had a lot of confidence in my god [bleep] bullpen, and that's what I put in there. Jesus. Second-guess me after this [bleep] happens.”

There was finally a plot twist in the Sox magical run. If the script had continued as expected, McCarthy would have won his debut over the archrival Cubs. Instead, Sox fans were jolted by seeing McCarthy fail to get a victory and Guillen make such a costly mistake. For the first time, Guillen demonstrated that he might not be so lovable when things go awry. As the Sox struggled toward the end of the 2004 campaign, Guillen was humble and willing to take the blame. Suddenly, with his team winning and his contract open for negotiation, he doesn’t seem so eager to be the fall guy.

McCarthy confirmed he’s not quite ready for the big leagues by getting bombed in Texas during his next start. The Rangers slugged four homers in six innings off the rookie pitcher, sending the Sox to their fourth loss in six games—the first time they’ve experienced such a slide this season. The night before, the Sox failed to cash in on multiple scoring opportunities and tossed away a winnable game in Anaheim. Sox fans have been so scarred by the West Coast curse that they were thrilled to escape Southern California with a split, but in truth, the Sox should have easily taken three games from the Guerrero and Rodriguez-less Angels.

Right on cue, enter Frank Thomas.

He clubbed his first homer on Saturday in Charlotte’s 3-1 win, accounting for all three of the Knights’ RBIs. But he’s batting .190 with just four walks in 42 at bats. Thomas notoriously struggles coming off injuries. But how goose-bumpy would it be to have the greatest hitter in franchise history rescue the club and help lead them to a division title? If the 2005 script is supposed to follow the blueprint of the past two months, that’s precisely what will happen.

But if the baseball gods have a different fate in mind, Sox fans may wind up remembering 2005 for all the wrong reasons.

This is Chicago, after all. The line drive off Mark Prior’s elbow reminds fans across the city that they’re intertwined in a combined total of nearly two centuries of championship-less baseball.

If Sox fans are lucky, Big Hurt will have something to say about that before his time on the Southside is up.

The 2005 season depends on it.


Guy Bacci is from the north suburbs of Chicago, where he couldn't avoid growing up as a pampered and snotty Cubs fan. Luckily, he saw the light in 1985 and never looked back. He loved the hard-working, old-school tactics of Carlton Fisk, who would become his all-time favorite player. His most memorable moment was going to a Sox double-header with his grandfather, who insisted on staying all nine hours (including a long rain delay). Guy is a journalism grad from Northwestern, currently residing in Seattle, where he works as a computer programmer and freelance writer. He can be reached at guybacci@yahoo.com.

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