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I've been preparing for this day for some time. Ever since I decided that exhaustive reviews of every player wasn't worth it this year since I've been doing post-mortems on 2011 since late August, I knew the White Sox would offer up some nothing days.
To that end, I've cued up this post on the most "dramatic" moments of the 2011 White Sox season.
I put that word in quotation marks because while other writers have penned their list of most memorable moments, they are human, and susceptible to factors like narrative, bias, and the dreaded 'context'.
Instead, I have chosen simply to tally up the largest shifts in Win Probability Added over the course of the entire year. WPA knows no history, keeps no kin, and doesn't factor in things like dread, a sense of inevitability or, observations like "Sergio looks like he's giving birth out there". It just sits silently, and judges the swings in game outcome.
I thought of titling this "The Largest Shifts in Win Probability of the White Sox 2011 Season", but then I thought "there goes a post destined to die an anonymous death".
First, let's go for the positive swings. That way, you can read these top 5 moments, stop immediately, and go to work with a smile on your face. One condition, though: you can never return home. Ever. The bottom 5 moments are waiting for you there and you must run away.
5. Game 24: Tuesday, April 26th - Paul Konerko gives White Sox 3-2 lead in 8th with a 2-run HR in New York. 44% WPA
This is, of course, better known as The Brent Lillibridge game, and those two catches are the next two most important moments of the game, but the Yankees were 2 outs away from sending out Mariano Rivera before Konerko redeemed a great night of pitching and defense with a bomb to left that flipped the script.
4. Game 11: Tuesday, April 12th - Alexei Ramirez cranks a walkoff HR in the 10th inning to defeat the A's 6-5. 46% WPA
Walkoff home runs are a lot like love-making, in the sense that "Great, now I can finally get the hell out of here" is not the best thing to hear in the immediate aftermath. But after the Sox bloodied A's starter Trevor Cahill, only to have the lead spoiled by Tony Pena's existence and then have their big boppers (at the time, it was thought that Dunn fit this category) blow a scoring opportunity in the 6th, when Alexei broke out his homer hands with 2 outs in the 10th, there were audible sighs of relief as everyone raced away to some place inhabitable by humans.
3. Game 86: Monday, July 4th - Adam Dunn lofts a go-ahead 2-R HR in the bottom of the 8th in a 5-4 win over the Royals. 46% WPA
The balk-off game. While cruel jokes might insinuate that the balk Dunn was witness to for the win in the 9th was his most valuable plate appearance all season (at 36% WPA, it was certainly a contender), it actually came an inning earlier, and was totally legit. Well, as legit as a wall-scraper in U.S. Cellular Field can ever hope to be.
2. Game 77: Friday, June 24th - A.J. Pierzynski and Mark Teahen both hit game-tying HRs vs. Nationals. 49% and 48% WPA.
What could be more 2011 White Sox than having one of the biggest moments of the season come in a loss? How about having two of them?
The White Sox necessitated the first HR by suddenly trusting a tie ball-game to Brian Bruney. After he spotted a 3-run advantage to Washington, Teahen cranked a 3-run HR in the 9th off of Drew Storen. With things looking even worse in the 12th, down a run with two outs and an 0-2 count, A.J. Pierzynski laced a line drive into the right field stands to tie it once more.
In the 14th, the Nationals broke out for 3 more runs thanks to an inexplicable throwing error, confirming what had long since been suspected; that everyone had just wasted their time.
Did I mention I was at this game? Yeah, I totally was. Whole thing. Yeah.
On the one hand, who gets to see two awesome home runs like that? On the other hand, it was like spending a whole day opening Christmas presents, only for Dad to douse them in lighter fluid, flick a match, then laugh as they burn.
1. Game 5: Wednesday, April 6th - Carlos Quentin caps stirring 2-out, 9th inning rally with a go-ahead 2-run double off Joakim Soria in a 7-6 win over the Royals. 67% WPA
Is there any greater tragedy of 2011 than that future generations will not know this epic? Down three runs in the 9th, with two outs, the White Sox had five straight batters reach base off of All-Star closer Joakim Soria, capped by a 2-run double by Quentin, who absolutely murdered the ball in April.
CQ hits the thing on an 0-2 count, Lillibridge scores all the way from 1st on a close play at the plate, and Quentin lets out a guttural yell as he pulls into 3rd. The Royals actually tied the game in the 9th, and the thing wasn't settled until the Sox broke through for 3 runs in the 12th. The win put the White Sox at 3-2 for the season.
3-2! That's a .600 winning percentage! We had such dreams.
Now for the negative swings. Not only will these moments bring back chilling, awful memories, but they disproportionately make White Sox relievers look like morons. Nowhere on this list is a Adam Dunn strikeout, and Alex Rios groundout to short, or A.J. Pierzynski three-hopping a ball to 2nd. Nowhere!
Also, I wrote this part weeks removed from the first part. Check for the changes in tone and format!
5. Game 114:Monday, August 8th - Jesse Crain throws a go-ahead 3-run HR to the one guy in the Orioles lineup who actually needs to be avoided; J.J. Hardy. -45% WPA
Actually, everything worked out fine here. Crain threw a meatball to Hardy in the bottom of the 7th to send Camden Yards into a frenzy and finalize the gradual blowing of a 4-run lead. However, the very next inning the Sox rallied and went ahead on an Alex Rios RBI single. There's video of that too, if you don't believe me. Watch it, you'll need the pick-me-up for later down this list.
What? The 5th worst moment of the season happened in a game they won anyway?!? The 2011 White Sox must've been great!
4. Game 54: Saturday, May 28th - Crain gives up a deep drive to left to Juan Rivera with the bases juiced. Pierre goes back...back...back...back...leaps inexplicably with back to ball, crashes into sign while ball rolls away and everyone scores, giving the Blue Jays an 8-6 lead. My birthday is ruined. -46% WPA
I was hoping the 14-inning Memorial Day weekend jerk-around with the Jays would make the list.
Not only did it feature the 10-pitch high-tension battle between Crain and Rivera that ended in nonsensical Pierre fielding, it also contained a 35% swing when a Paul Konerko bloop double tied the game with 2 outs in the 9th, and another 36% swing on Corey Patterson's 14th inning walkoff--which came off of Gavin Floyd by the way.
What an absolute leap into madness this game was.
3. Game 136: Saturday, September 3rd - Sergio Santos throws season-murdering walkoff HR to Miguel Cabrera. Pestilence and acid falls from sky as Miggy circles bases, and the Tigers all but eliminate the White Sox. -46% WPA
Why does this moment get 3rd when it's the same amount of swing as the #4 entry? It's because it seems like it should be twice as bad as 46%, and the reason it seems that way is because it is. The game-tying HR Santos threw just two batters prior to Cabrera by Ryan Raburn also registered as -46% WPA.
Sergio entered the inning with a 92% chance of getting out of there with a win, and gave it all back in two perfectly equal portions. Once again, more proof that sharing is terrible.
2. Game 7: Friday, April 8th - Matt Thornton--apparently still not sure why the game hadn't ended yet--throws a 3-run HR to Dan Johnson to give the Rays a 9-7 lead, capping off a 5-run 9th. -54% WPA
The sole representative of the early-season late-inning woes. Matt Thornton entered the inning with a 7-4 lead, and allowed a leadoff single before striking out Felipe Lopez.
Then Matt got two more outs to end the game...only neither actually became outs, they became horrible, horrible unerasable blunders.
An Alexei Ramirez throwing error sapped away the first out, and Juan Pierre's to-this-day-mind-boggling drop of a soft pop fly was the second. Afterward, Thornton pitched like an understandably confused man, allowing a sharp single, then the game-deciding bomb to Dan Johnson.
About Dan Johnson; that home run, and those 3 RBI, were his only entries in either of those categories all season until game 162, when a 2-out, game-tying HR kept the Rays' season going.
It also ruined an otherwise fun Friday night. The White Sox cranked out 3 HRs off James Shields, including bombs from Beckham and Teahen. John Danks had recorded back-to-back strikeouts to escape a jam in the 6th, while Crain successfully escaped the 7th with only a run after being airdropped into a bases loaded, nobody out jam. The Sox entered the 9th fresh off of getting two insurance runs in the 8th, and it really felt like the worst was over...
1. Game 66: Friday, June 10th - Sergio Santos completes 2-out implosion with a go-ahead, bases-clearing double to Oakland's Scott Sizemore. -69% WPA
Entering with a 5-3 lead against a moribund A's offense, Sergio got an easy couple of outs, then completely fell apart. His control departed abruptly as he walked two batters and hit another, his normally dominant slider was way too far off to entice any swings, and Sizemore's drive was just the inevitable death blow.
And this is where win probability can fail. All Sergio needed was one more out, so statistically the White Sox were golden, but anyone in the stadium could sense the absolute doom of the situation, thousands were pulling their hair out and damning Ozzie Guillen's trademark trust of his pitchers.
After the double, Guillen acquiesced to the demands of the situation; he gave us Lucas Harrell.
Tags: A.J. Pierzynski, Alex Rios, Alexei Ramirez, Baltimore Orioles, baseball, Brent Lillibridge, brian bruney, Carlos Quentin, dan johnson, Detroit Tigers, drew storen, felipe lopez, Gavin Floyd, james shields, jesse crain, joakim soria, John Danks, Juan Pierre, juan rivera, Kansas City Royals, Mark Teahen, Matt Thornton, miguel cabrera, New York Yankees, Oakland A's, Paul Konerko, philip humber, rafael soriano, ryan raburn, scott sizemore, Sergio Santos, tampa bay rays, Tony Pena, toronto blue jays, Trevor Cahill, U.S. Cellular Field, Washington Nationals, White Sox