Perhaps I'm a bit of a sap, but all this talk of rebuilding and possibly competent attempts to be competitive are kind of, well, sad. Ripe for uproarious mockery for sure, but still kind of sad. In an effort to pep things up, and being the proud owner a robust iTunes gift card, I'd though it'd be fun to go back and watch some of the more enjoyable game in White Sox history.
Like any fan worth a damn, I naturally own the Collector's set of DVDs from the '05 playoff run, and I'm sure I'll make time for that at some point given how much fun tweeting about Game 2 of the '05 World Series was, but there's a decent supply of good regular season games on iTunes that I'm looking the blaze through, and write some fun recaps of, or journals, or something that equates to reliving the better times. And if anyone knows a good place to find some regular season games from 2005--specifically September 20th--by all means let me know.
We'll start here with September 30th, 2008, the one-game playoff the White Sox played against the Twins in U.S. Cellular Field. Also known as The Blackout Game thanks to a wonderful promotional effort by Brooks Boyer, or also known as The Night John Danks Permanently Endeared Himself to the Entire Fanbase.
When I attempted to take a running diary of the game, it spanned well over 2,500 words worth of notes (and that was by the 7th inning). While I'm sure reliving one of the best nights in franchise history would be fun, I doubt it would be that fun. So let's instead focus on the principle matters.
Seeing the stadium packed with "Thunderstruck" blaring is a welcome sight, if only because hearing it played for a half-empty stadium at the R&L Carriers' New Orleans Bowl a few weeks back took a lot of fun out of the song. Gordon Beckham said recently on his Twitter feed that the players hear the song too much to really enjoy it all, and I'm definitely getting close to that, but it's still a thrill to see the whole crowd get jazzed pre-game.
I had forgotten that 2008 was the season where every player on the team thought it would be cool to dye their hair bleach blonde. Juan Uribe looks terrifying.
These lineups are lacking a lot of meat to them. The Twins were enduring down years from everyone not named Mauer, Morneau, or Span and a bottom 3 of Harris, Punto, and Gomez is hard to hide. The White Sox on the other hand, were a lineup buttressed on the now-injured Carlos Quentin, and had been banking on the addition Nick Swisher, who had slumped his way out of the lineup. Without those two, starting Ken Griffey's ghost and a man regularly identified throughout the night by Dick Stockton as "career minor-leaguer Dewayne Wise" makes things look pretty iffy.
John Danks' performance
Everyone remembers Danks tossing 8 shutout innings, and some maybe even remember him doing it on only 3 days rest. Both are pretty remarkable considering Danks' typical struggles with going deep into games (it was only the second time he went 8 innings that season), and even more so seeing as Danks did not really have the super-duper sharp outing that a clutch, legendary start would typically be associated with.
Danks pretty much subsisted off his fastball, which was pumping with adrenaline in the early going, topping out at 95 mph, and averaging a shade more in velocity than he did over the course of the season. It faded considerably over the course of the night (as could be expected), and his strikeouts were pretty front-loaded in the evening as well. That's natural, as he's not friggin' Verlander, but Danks didn't even feature his change-up with his usual abundance, giving into the urge to try to blow people away. This method noticeably worked when he threw a 94 mph heater right by Joe Mauer up-and-in for the second out of the 4th inning, but often revving up for heat caused his control to falter. Hence the 3 walks, and hence the only 4 strikeouts.
Danks seemed to fair best when he flung fastballs around the zone early in the count, and the Twins flailed themselves into outs. A.J. Pierzynski commented before the game that he liked the Twins being removed from the Metrodome, where they couldn't live off of slapping the ball off of the astroturf. Danks indeed didn't induce many groundballs, and the Twins--already not a power-hitting club--found that the ball wasn't carrying throught the air in the September night.
Memorable moments from Danks' big night:
-Blowing the previously mentioned high-and-tight heater past Mauer in the 4th, as well as the crowd erupting almost as loudly two pitches prior, when they thought Danks had Mauer swinging at a change in the dirt he barely fouled off.
-Striking out Alexei Casilla to end the 6th on a knee-buckling change-up. Danks allowed only 5 baserunners all night, and never faced more than four batters in any inning, so the 2-out walk to Denard Span made this about as close as he came to pitching out of a jam. It also came in response to about 10,000 screams of "C'mon Johnny!" caught over the field mics, so it felt like a pretty big release of pressure when the inning ended.
-Inducing a double-play to end the 8th, which elicited a moment of happy skipping to the dugout, before he realized what he was doing and settled down into a normal stride.
The offense vs. Nick Blackburn
Nick Blackburn is the lost hero of the night, as for 6 innings, he was pitching very similar to John Danks--inducing a lot of weak contact with an uncharacteristically live fastball--but doing it more efficiently. Through those 6 frames, he had thrown only 70 pitches, and had retired 8 consecutive hitters leading into his fateful matchup with Jim Thome.
Up until the 7th, there was no clear cut reason to take Danks' effort over Blackburn's just from watching them side-by-side, and the night looked headed straight toward a post-game recap consisting of confused shrugs about why the Sox couldn't square one up against a solid but very unspectacular pitcher.
Leading off the 5th, Michael Cuddyer lines a drive to left that Wise fails to cut off, allowing him to reach 2nd. One can take solace that this would have also become a double with every other White Sox left fielder ever to take the field since Dewayne Wise
Delmon Young followed it up with a Delmon Young at-bat, swung at everything, fell behind 0-2, and chased something out of the zone for a flyout to center that moved Cuddyer to 3rd with one out.
The mid-inning interview with Ozzie Guillen suffers from continuity issues, as Danks is seen wandering around in the background when theoretically he's out on the mound. Guillen amusingly admits that Danks is throwing better than he thought he would, while Buehrle pelts him with sunflower seeds off-camera. Ozzie says something garbled about "Miami pays" that seems cryptic now. Oh well, there's no time to dwell on it when the great Brendan Harris is at the plate.
Stockton clears it up that Guillen was iterating that he'd been in Florida either way at the end of the game, at his home in Miami, or in Tampa for Game 1. A statline for Danks comes up reading 4 1/3 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 68 pitches. That's a lot of weak contact.
Danks uses a fantastic cutter to get ahead 0-2 on Harris, but is ultimately too wild to close out the count, nearly throwing it behind Pierzynski (who naturally tried to fake Cuddyer into thinking it had gotten past), and missing a foot outside with a 95 mph fastball.
It's hard to see Cuddyer's decision to run on Harris short pop to center as anything but recklessly aggressive. Griffey doesn't get super-loaded up for the throw, but he doesn't need to in order to hit Pierzynski on one-hop. Interesting part is, the throw leads Pierzynski out toward the 3rd base side, and he has to stretch his arm out toward Cuddyer right as the collision occurs. It's rather lucky that Pierzynski was able to move with the impact enough to avoid getting his arm sheared off. Good thing it wasn't Kubel...or Jose Mijares.
Blackburn comes out for the 7th very noticeably without his control. He wastes two breakers in the dirt, grooves a fastball up in the zone for a strike, tries another that gets fouled off, then tosses the fattest changeup of the night in the same location. It doesn't show any dip till it lands in the shrubbery in center.
As the stadium reels and shakes in response to Thome's clout, the camera catches every stage of Thome's hug-filled reception in the dugout. Moments like this just seem to last longer than the normal lull between at-bats for some reason, as if so everyong can drink it in. Oh wait, Mauer went out for a mound-visit, that's the reason why.
A replay of Thome's clout shows it landing on the centerfield concourse, over the shrubbery, actually. That's just...so damn far.
And really, that's best. If you're going to win the game on a single home run, after an entire night of otherwise not making solid contact, have that one home run be so massive that it seems like it should count for two.
SPOTTED: Swisher on the bench wearing a hoodie.
Some people will look upon A.J. Pierzynski standing at the top step trying to rev up the crowd in reaction to Thome's blast as a memorable reaction, but I would focus on Herm Schneider slapping AJ's belly as more of an indelible image.
A moment I forgot--possibly because he didn't score and was immediately pinch-ran for afterword--but Griffey got into a pitch two batters later. It dipped and one-hopped the wall instead of clearing it because The Kid was a ghost of his former self, but yeah, pretty good night for a legendary player who was for the most part not particularly effective in his White Sox tenure. Juan Uribe was pretty close to delivering the loudest cheer of the night. His drive to left came close to breaking the game open later in the 7th, but hung up just a bit too long, relegating the proceedings back to a pitcher's duel.
To start the inning, Ron Gardenhire pulled out Jason Kubel in response to finally having a right-handed pitcher to unleash him on. Between Jenks flashing 99 mph heat and a knee-buckling curve, Kubel couldn't have been much more emphatically dispatched. When Jenks is in trouble, it can pretty quickly be identified. Topping out at 95 mph, missing too badly with his curve to the point that it's useless...his "Ohhh crap" moments come fairly early in the inning.
And then there was this night, where it was instantly clear that Jenks was going to be fine.
Just before the final at-bat, the cameras caught a glimpse of Ozzie emphatically waiving his outfielders in. It was a little unconventional given that there were two outs, and there would seem to be a focus on taking away the double, but Casilla had pop-gun power and Guillen knew it. He just looked a little extra prophetic when Casilla popped the first pitch into shallow center.
The audio on the telecast I downloaded had the announcer feed on very low volume, making it easily overwhelmed by crowd noise, which was ideal for a game like this. From the time Anderson laid out and squeezed the final out until about a minute after, Dick Stockton was practically inaudible, lost in screaming and images of Sox players disjointedly hurling themselves into one another. One could make an argument that this is the best way to win a division.
Throughout the night, the announcers marveled at Alexei Ramirez' athleticism in the field, and talked him up as a "future superstar". It was a pretty incisive observation on the part of Harold Reynolds, given that Ramirez spent most of 2008 having his share of troubles adjusting to 2nd base, but he was steadfast in that Ramirez was capable of playing anywhere. Curiously enough, also while in the midst of his super-raw, hack-happy rookie season, Ramirez walked twice.
Right in the middle of the first shots of the celebration was a man in full White Sox uniform with "Bourgeois" written on his back, which begged the question..."Who?". The man was Jason Bourgeois, who was a 26 year-old infielder who had received a September call-up, and gone 1-3 on the year. He never played a game for the White Sox organization again.
At the top of the 7th, Joe Mauer tried to bunt for a base hit. The Twins deserved to lose this game.
Tags: A.J. Pierzynski, alexi casilla, baseball, Bobby Jenks, brendan harris, Brian Anderson, carlos gomez, Carlos Quentin, Delmon Young, denard span, DeWayne Wise, dick stockton, Gordon Beckham, jason bourgeois, jermaine dye, Jim Thome, Joe Mauer, John Danks, justin morneau, Justin Verlander, ken griffey jr., Mark Buehrle, michael cuddyer, Minnesota Twins, nick blackburn, nick punto, nick swisher, Ozzie Guillen, Toby Hall, White Sox