In the moments after Paul Konerko's 3-run bomb on Wednesday to put the White Sox up for good in the 8th brought me to the brink of breaking my personal rule of "no yelling a stream of gleeful expletives while at work", I once again bathed in waves of gratitude to Konerko for bailing the White Sox out of an otherwise poorly played game with a big-time home run. Then I thought to myself, "Hasn't Paulie bailed us out of an inordinate amount of otherwise poorly played games with big-time home runs?"
Yes. Yes he has. Rather than dwell on the White Sox having to claw their way through three games with the Indians (at least they won), or the Twins' adamant refusal to lose to inferior competition, why not a review of every big, game-saving home run the team's Offensive MVP has contributed this year.
April 24th vs. Seattle Mariners
Konerko hits a solo home run in the 9th to bring the score to 4-3. It's not exactly a walk-off, but it got the scoring started in an inning that Alex Rios finished with a walk-off winner. It was the first sign that the Sox had a half-decent combination of 3-4 hitters, and the first hint for Seattle that David Aardsma wasn't very good.
April 25th vs. Seattle Mariners
Konerko continued an flat-out awful weekend for the Seattle bullpen by going deep off Brandon League for a solo shot to give the White Sox a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the 8th; rewarding John Danks for being the only superb starter for the first month of the season, and setting up Bobby Jenks for the save....back when a one-run Bobby Jenks save didn't seem like too much to ask. It was one of those high, towering fly balls that took 10 seconds to get out and would have been an easy flyout in Comerica Park, but hey uh....White Sox baseball!
April 29th at Texas Rangers
Given that the White Sox were leading 4-3 when he started, Konerko's two HRs in the 8th and 9th don't register as clutch dingers, but they wound up being the difference in a 7-5 game that Bobby Jenks seemed to actively be trying lose in the 9th. This was perhaps the peak of the "everyone on the team except Paulie and Rios might be dead, washed-up, or paid off" period.
June 24th vs. Atlanta Braves
Paulie breaks a scoreless tie pitching duel between Gavin Floyd and Derek Lowe with an 8th inning, 2-run shot that provides the only scoring of the game, and makes the base that Juan Pierre stole just before the blast a complete waste of everyone's time. The game sealed a sweep of the 1st-place Braves and did a lot to legitimize the team as being for real. Pierre clenching his fists and yelling as he trotted to 3rd is a lasting memory.
June 26th vs. Chicago Cubs
Breaking apart a pitcher's duel yet again, Paul took a 1-2 fastball deep into the left field bleachers to put the Sox up on their north side rivals 3-2 in the bottom of the 8th. The shot sealed the game and the Crosstown Cup, and demonstrated beautifully Konerko's approach to hitting. Cubs rookie Andrew Cashner threw two consecutive high fastballs right by Paulie, making him look foolish; but erred in trying it a 3rd consecutive time. A mistake pitch to a mistake hitter.
July 28th vs. Seattle Mariners
In hindsight, I'm counting a lot of home runs hit against the dreadful Seattle Mariners as important. But Paulie's 5th inning blast off starter Jason Vargas tied the game at 5, and also made a new contest out of what initially seemed like a game doomed by Buehrle's early-inning struggles. After the White Sox eeked out a 6-5 come from behind win, Ozzie called it one of the biggest games of the year. To be fair to Ozzie, the White Sox hadn't reeled off that many traumatic losses to the Twins yet. Also, it was a fairly big offensive effort against a red-hot starter, and Konerko's third home run in as many games...and he hit one the next night too.
August 9th at Baltimore Orioles
Alright, so the White Sox dropped this game 3-2 in extras; but Paulie's 9th inning solo shot to tie the game and force said extra frames, momentarily suggested that the White Sox could pull themselves out of their inexplicable Baltimore tailspin and salvage a series split. If only he had come to bat again.
September 1st at Cleveland Indians
If home runs were measured in importance by how much they made Hawk's voice crack, then surely Wednesday's 8th inning, two-run deficit to one-run lead game transformer ranks right up at the top. A cynical man might claim that the game was ours once Cleveland's bullpen became involved, but Paul's gift for seizing the moment seems to be just as strong as Juan Uribe's fervor for defending his property.
Perhaps when you hit 33 home runs, hitting 8 super-clutch ones is a matter of statistical probability, but I know what I'll remember most about Konerko's incredible return to dominance are these moments of transcendence where he's reached out and snatched victories out of thin air. He's been as good of a reason as any to watch baseball this season.
Am I waxing poetic on the details in order to prepare myself emotionally for the White Sox losing the division? Hhheeellllllllllllll yeah, I am.