Much Better Moments in White Sox History: Gordon's Big Break

Much Better Moments in White Sox History: Gordon's Big Break
Not a picture from this game // Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune

The reception for the first game retrospective was positive, and I was very appreciative for all the kind words.

But I am nothing if not untrusting, and I fear the fondness for the piece was just held over happy memories about the Blackout Game itself.  Some people are content to write interesting pieces on popular topics, but not me!

In order to test the true viability of this concept, I picked the most obscure game I could find a video of on iTunes, and man, it was pretty obscure.  But it's not a randomly chosen event, this Much Better White Sox Moment takes place just a few weeks into Hot Prospect Gordon Beckham's major league career, and captures him on the precipice of his star-making breakout.

The date is June 20th, 2009.  The 31-36 White Sox were trudging into Cincinnati, and were just a bit offensively challenged.  This was the day's lineup.

  1. LF Scott Podsednik
  2. SS Alexei Ramirez
  3. C A.J. Pierzynski
  4. 1B Paul Konerko
  5. CF Brian Anderson
  6. 2B Chris Getz
  7. 3B Gordon Beckham
  8. RF Dewayne Wise
  9. P Clayton Richard

Look at thing.  Really look at it.

But Alexei's pretty good - Pretty much his worst offensive season

Didn't AJ have a pretty good 2009? - AJ at the apex of his life and abilities, was not a #3 hitter

Paulie!!! - This is not the hyper-dominant Konerko you're thinking of.  This is the 'thanks for '05', totally-leaving-once-his-contract-expires Paulie with the floating things in his wrist, or thumb, or wherever

I've got nothing optimistic for Brian Anderson - I wouldn't think so

Getz had a good rookie year, right? - What??!  No!  You're just grasping frantically at this point!

Beckham's rookie year was sweet though, right? - Not yet, this was the 14th game of his career, and after starting out hitless for the first 4 games, he ws still feeling his way around.

Yeah, but Clayton Richard was hitting .500!  - Fine, you win.

In turn, the Reds were starting current NL ERA leader Johnny Cueto.  Cue the fireworks.

Seriously, do it, because despite every indicator to the opposite, a wild, momentous slugfest took place.  To further test your loyalty to the game retrospective idea, the following is mostly stream-of-conscious narration (not James Joyce-style, more like 'actually coherent' stream-of-conscious), because any retrospective of a random game in 2009 naturally requires a large amount of reminding the reader what the 2009 season was like.

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It's the Civil Rights Game in Cincinnati.  Both teams are wearing retro uniforms (a grayish blue for the Sox), the announcers are donning suits and speaking in respectful tones.  In other words, everything about this game is throwing me off.

After an eventless top half of the 1st, Clayton Richard--entirely ill-suited for the Great American Ballpark,--takes the mound.  The Reds announcers cannot help themselves from commenting on the White Sox ineptness in stopping the running game; citing Pierzynki's sub-20% CS rate for his career, and projecting that he's only actually thrown out 4% on the year at that point.  Mark Parent has his work cut out for him next season, especially since he doesn't have Richard's almost-balk move to help him out.

On cue, after getting two runners on, the Reds attempt a double stealwith Willy Taveras and Brandon Phillips.  Pierzynski throws a ball in the dirt to Beckham at 3rd, who reacts to it like he's some sort of  middle infielder stuck at 3rd or something, and lets it bound into left field.  Taveras scores, and Phillips slides in as wekk when AJ's efforts to block the plate are...well, pretty much absent.  One doesn't flick on a game from almost three years ago expecting to see a treatise on organizational incompetence on controlling the running game, but there ya go.

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In the top of the 2nd inning, a Chris Getz liner pops out of 1st basemen Ramon Hernandez's glove (Votto was out), and bounces off of Konerko's head as he's running.  All the ricochets in the world don't make it any harder to throw out Konerko at 2nd.  He's slow.

The Reds retro uniforms have the names underneath their numbers.  This is the sort of nihilistic subversion of the dominant culture that baseball needs more of.

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After eliciting a hideous flail from Johnny Cueto, Richard has four strikeouts through 2 innings, and is doing pretty good considering A.J. Pierzynski and Gordon Beckham combined to spot the Reds two runs on him, and every righty facing him looks like they're trying to pick which spot in the left field bleachers they like best.

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"Every one on the Reds is popping their buttons today." says the Reds announcer.

Doesn't make any more sense in context, I promise you.

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Why is Bill Cosby in a baseball uniform!?!?!?  I'm thrilled that there's a Civil Rights game, but I'm starting to wonder if they had a budget surplus at the end of their allocation, and just started buying random things.

The White Sox start a two-out rally in the top of the 3rd when Scott Podsednik lines a single to left field that Johnny Gomes, er, blocks, followed by a drive to the gap by Alexei Ramirez that puts runners in scoring position for the #3 hitter, A.J. Pierzynski.  Naturally, A.J. immediately goes down 0-2, including swinging at a ball on his hip, before eventually striking out and cursing to himself as the inning ends.  Somehow, the White Sox score a lot of runs in this game.

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To start the bottom of th 3rd, Richard fields a bunt, and calmly and stoically flings the ball into right field.  Willy Taveras runs all the way to 3rd because apparently Alex Rios is manning right.

The next batter flies out softly to Scott Podsednik, who guns a throw home after Taveras that's several feet up the first base line.  Richard cuts it off, wheels and....nothing.  A.J. Pierzynski ran up to back up the play because he didn't think Richard would field it.  One could question what the point of abandoning the plate was to back up Richard when there are no runners on, but hey, I'm going to reiterate that the White Sox wind up winning this game somehow.

Apropos of nothing, the 2009 Sox had the 2nd most errors in the AL.

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For the last 5 minutes, the Reds announcers have been interviewing former Negro Leaguer Don "Groundhog" Johnson.  He sounds a little shaky, which can be expected given his age.  Then he reveals that he wasn't sure he'd make it to the game since he had a stroke 5 weeks ago.  Don "Groundhog" Johnson sounds absolutely fantastic for having had a stroke 5 weeks ago.

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Johnny Gomes scoops a low-and-in changeup just over the left field wall for a 2-run HR to make it 5-0 Cincy, still in the bottom of the 3rd. It's followed by a line drive to right by Jay Bruce that Dewayne Wise inexplicably fails to cut off, allowing Bruce to reach 2nd.  Speaking of cutting things off, the throw to the infield sails wide of Chris Getz, over Gordon Beckham's head, and all the way to Clayton Richard backing up the play.

The White Sox win this game, and three years later, some blogger writes about it as a bright moment in team history.  This is insane.

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Cueto is getting the inside strike, which is good for him, but he's still staring in the face of a mini-rally in the top of the 4th since the White Sox managed to get Brian Anderson and Chris Getz on-base consecutively.

He seems to falling off to the side a lot in the opening of Gordon Beckham's at-bat which results in count running to 2-1.  Cueto attempts to rectify this by challenging Gordon with a fastball that drifts to the inner half, and Beckham turns on it and drives the first home run of his major league career into the 2nd row in left-center field.  5-3!  Now it's a game, as the announcers reiterate seven different times.

Dewayne Wise strikes out while the camera is still focused on Beckham's pompadour in the dugout.  Even Gordon's hair seemed more triumphant in 2009.

Josh Fields pinch-hits for Clayton Richard.  Josh Fields can't catch up to plus-fastballs.

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It's the bottom of the 4th and D.J. Carrasco is in.  Stirrups!

Johnny Cueto is really upset with how awful he is at hitting.  After every misshapen swing is an angry fit that seems more capable of inducing damage than the swing that provoked it.  I find this outrage charming in a pitcher.

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Right as Hank Aaron comes into the booth in the top of the 5th, Scott Podsednik crushes a blast 7 rows out to the right field bleachers, the very next pitch after nearly hitting one out down the right field line.  The parallels here are obvious, people.

Alexei Ramirez follows it up with a line-drive single to center, as Cueto is really having quite a bit of trouble with the top of the White Sox order.  Wait, no, wait, Ramirez just got picked off of 1st.  Nevermind.

After falling behind 0-2 for the 37th consecutive at-bat, Pierzynski bends over and scoops a knee-high, inside slider out to dead center field.  This is the power of a guy who hits about 10 HR a year, hitting a ball essentially off of his foot to dead center field.  Cueto looks like he just realized someone put shrooms in his pre-game meal, the announcers blame Aaron for his presence having an influence on the game (which he manages to not be infuriated by), and Pierzynski is spotted mocking teammates in the dugout for doubting him.

The game is tied.  This game is somehow tied.  In fact, the White Sox should be winning if not for Ramirez.  What the H, baseball?

After a bouncer squeezes through the middle for a Brian Anderson single, Dusty Baker pulls Johnny Cueto (warning signs don't get much clearer than that), and appears to replace him with an 11 year-old wearing a hat 8 sizes too big.  Hey, I loved Rookie of the Year too, but I don't know if this fella can keep the game tied, Dusty.

Oh wait, it's Daniel Ray Herrera.  Baseball Reference has him listed at 5' 6", 165 lbs, which seems generous.  Now he's facing Chris Getz.  This is all very cute.

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The ageless Jerry Hairston Jr. reaches base to lead off the bottom of the 5th when a ball rolls by Chris Getz for the third error of the game for the White Sox.  The Reds announcers are now split between commenting that the Sox look lethargic on defense, and praising their fight for rallying against Johnny Cueto.  The 2009 White Sox defended like they were throwing the game, but simultaneously refused to quit in light of that fact.

The much-maligned Pierzynski guns down Jerry Hairston, Jr. as he tries to nab 2nd.  Legitimately, too.  Strong throw, on the money, to the 1st base side.  This is a 33 year-old Jerry Hairston, Jr. who went 7 of 11 on the basepaths in 2009, but he's also the type of player who has a green light when Pierzynski comes to town.

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Dewayne Wise, owner of a career .209/.252/.287 triple slash against lefties, gets a one-out double against Daniel Ray Herrera in the top of the 6th, who in his career has held lefties to a .215/.280/.308 line.  Reds fans might have been served to take this as a sign of impending doom.

Or a batter later, when Herrera walked Scott Podsednik.

Dusty Baker yanked his malfunctioning LOOGY so that White Sox fans could have a Nick Masset sighting.  Masset came in the game sporting a 1.38 ERA, which as any Sox fan would be quick to point out, doesn't pass the smell test.

Sure enough, the first pitch Masset throws is a meaty 92 mph fastball belt-high and over the plate that Alexei Ramirez launches over the left field wall, just inside the foul pole to make it 8-5 White Sox.  The announcers' horror that the pitch was not a hung slider, but just a really, really hittable fastball, brings back warm Masset memories.

That Ramirez kid really has some pop when he gets into one, no?

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Octavio Dotel is one out away from getting through the bottom of the 6th without a strikeout, walk, or home run.  This, is something*.

*Dotel is Adam Dunn-like in his proclivity to the three true outcomes

Dotel allows a ground rule double just short of the center field wall to anonymous pinch-hitter Chris Dickerson, and nearly plunks Willy Taveras.  He's really trying, guys.

Taveras punches a single to right, and with two outs, the Reds try to score the fleet-footed Dickerson from 2nd, only to have him gunned down by Dewayne Wise.  Wise's throw is strong, but to the first base side, prompting Pierzynski to reach out to his right and sweep back around for the tag just in time.  He's having a very impressive evening.

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Paul Konerko, Brian Anderson, and Chris Getz all ground out in the top of the 7th.  Surely you can imagine this happening without much description.

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The Reds pitching coach is named Dick Pole.  I'm just a journalist here.

Octavio Dotel walks the leadoff man Hairston in the bottom of the 7th, and only now has his outing officially started.  Dotel's high leg kick allows Hairston to steal 2nd without a throw from Pierzynski.  Everyone is snapping back to normal at once, including Chris Getz, who just had a Brandon Philips liner ricochet off his extended glove into right field and put runners on the corners with no one out.  Getz isn't a bad fielder, but he is short.

Manager Ozzie Guillen responds to the mini-crisis with Matt Thornton, and Baker responds in kind with right-handed pinch-hitter Wilkin Castillo.  Thornton induces a weak flare to center, but it drops in front of Anderson, who is then so nonchalant in getting the ball back--combined with Chris Getz missing the tag--that Castillo slides in safely for a double.  Holy crap, this is 2011 again.  It's also 8-6.

A Ramon Hernandez grounder fits through the hole between short and 3rd to score Philips, but the throw gets back in time to hold Castillo at 3rd.  The throw also flies clear over Pierzynski's head and is barely stopped by Thornton, but this is a 'result-over-process' night for the White Sox defense if there's ever been one.

Thornton is now tasked with holding an 8-7 lead with no one out, and runners at the corners.  He starts by fanning a still quite raw Jay Bruce, induces a shallow pop-up from Ryan Hannigan, and a groundout from Adam Rosales.  The Reds are going to regret this*.

*This = 'Playing Adam Rosales'.

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Beckham starts off his at-bat in the top of the 8th--in a game where he's homered--against Arthur Rhodes--a lefty--by bunting.

"When you see this kid swing against a 94-95 mph fastball, you can see why everyone likes him" says one announcer of Beckham.

"He's definitely got the bat speed" says the other.

/breaks glass, starts eating it.

Beckham falls behind 1-2, fouls a pitch off, works it up to a full count, then earns a walk.

/puts hot sauce on broken glass, eats more.

Overall, I would say that seeing Beckham near the height of his powers from a time not so long ago has been revealing and encouraging, but stomaching that last plate appearance and realizing how far he's fallen was just brutal.

In to face the glut of lefties, Rhodes botches fielding a bunt from lefty Dewayne Wise, strikes out Jim Thome, before allowing an RBI single from Scott Podsednik.  Rhodes failed, but did so very uniquely.

Ramirez drills a grounder down the 3rd base line for an RBI double to make it a 10-7 game.  If there's been one constant in going back and watching old games, it's been announcers not employed by the White Sox drooling over Alexei Ramirez.  Whether it be for his speed, athleticism, or the fact that he had four hits and 8 total bases in this game, his play jumps out to the unbiased observer.

Podsednik gets caught in a rundown trying to come home, is chased back to 3rd, is seemingly tagged 20 feet before making it there, and when he gets back to 3rd base, Alexei Ramirez is already there and is ruled out.  This glorious triumph looks all kinds of messed up.

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Scott Linebrink enters in the bottom of the 8th.  Even knowing the end result of the game, it's hard to mask the concern.

Oh phew, reality didn't change.

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Watching Gordon Beckham strike out on three pitches against Jared Burton in the top of the 9th admittedly wasn't as impressive as some of the other things he did on the day, but at least it didn't involve a long whiff on a hittable fastball down the pipe.

Dewayne Wise shortens up on a changeup down and out of the zone and lines into right for the White Sox 15th hit of the game.  The lineup at the start of the game produced 15 hits.  Even though both Thome and Dye pinch-hit in the game, they received no help.  Sometimes you catch lightning in a bottle, and sometimes lightning strikes your stereo system, it starts to talk and becomes your best friend.  This was closer to the latter scenario.

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Still rocking a horrific-looking dyed-blond beard, Bobby Jenks enters the game in the bottom of the 9th and eviscerates the first two batters with power-curves.

Not looking to face the same fate with two strikes, Jay Bruce leaps at a first-pitch fastball for solo-shot HR to right field, prompting Jenks to curse angrily into his glove.  The next batter, Ryan Hannigan lines a single to right and puts the tying run at the plate.

Jenks is apoplectic at this point, and I admit I miss this player, the furiously determined and somewhat terrifying version of Bobby Jenks, who wasn't gravely ill.

The next batter is the utterly hopeless Adam Rosales, who stares helplessly at another power curve to end the game.

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10 runs, 15 hits, 4 home runs and 4 errors for the 2009 Chicago White Sox in Cincinnati.

It would pretty hard to dismiss notions of this game as a fluke.  The lineup was half-filled with AAAA roster-filler, they relied upon a gonzo night from the dying embers of Scott Podsednik, and probably fielded a bit more like a drunken high school team than was usual for them at the time.  Still, their bright, promising future double play combination shined brightly, reaching base 6 times combined and knocking home 7 runs.  With their superlative shortstop Alexei Ramirez, and hitting dynamo Gordon Beckham entrenched with a starting spot, the White Sox promised to be competitive and feisty for years to come.

Then other stuff happened.

 

 

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  • It wouldn't be a Civil Rights Game if it came easy--if it didn't include moments of discontinuity and hopelessness--and if we didn't encounter a Dick Pole or two standing in the way. Despite this victory however, whether or not we've made any real progress since the Civil Rights Game remains an open ended question.

    Enjoyable post.

  • In reply to Ham N Egger:

    We've probably taken a step back, seeing as a bunch of people now think Bill Cosby played in the Negro Leagues.

  • In reply to James Fegan:

    Or worse, that Bill Cosby is a civil rights leader.

    He was the original Phat Albert though. Although Cosby's Albert was plain old Fat.

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