With Labor Day in the rearview mirror, it goes without saying that every inning of every game is an important one for teams still in the hunt for the postseason.
For the White Sox and their slim one-game lead in the A.L. Central, thanks to the outstanding pitching and welcome clutch hitting by Gordon Beckham and Paul Konerko in last night's 4-2 victory over the Twins, it is certainly the case.
Tonight, in the first of 28 big games down the stretch until the Sox regular season ends October 3, one of the season's most pleasant surprises, Jose Quintana, tries to recapture the pitching magic he's lost in his last two starts.
Heading into his August 25 start against the Mariners with a 5-2 record and 2.76 ERA, Quintana went just 5 2/3 innings against Seattle, giving up three earned runs, five hits and four walks. In his next start, on August 30 in Baltimore vs. the Orioles, he made it through just 3 2/3 innings, allowing five runs, seven hits, a walk and suffered the loss.
It's not so much that he hasn't been credited with a win and his ERA his risen to 3.17, it's the fact that the native Colombian just doesn't look like the same poised pitcher who came of nowhere to give the Sox a dependable starter.
At one point in the season, Quintana's contributions may have been a luxury. But no more. With John Danks long gone, Gavin Floyd on the DL and Philip Humber now a long man in the bullpen, the Sox have enlisted the help of newly-acquired Francisco Liriano, one-time reliever Hector Santiago, who was impressive last night in winning his first major league start, and human yo-yo Dylan Axelrod to shore up the rotation. The bottom line is that the South Siders are in desperate need of Quintana bouncing back.
So tonight is not just another game for Sox as they struggle to hold on to their A.L. advantage. And it's not just another night for Jose Quintana, who needs to convince his teammates that his last two outings were just a couple of speed bumps on the road to the playoffs.