Full disclosure: I was born in 1987, which limits the reach of my memory.
However, my earliest, and still strongest memory of the pain of a late-season collapse is Mark Langston of the California Angels sitting in the dugout with his head in his hands. He had just been pulled after a disastrous four-run 7th inning in a one-game playoff with the Seattle Mariners being played to decide the 1995 AL West. A nine-game September losing streak had brought Langston back to the Kingdome, and the worst-case scenario had unfolded.
The White Sox blew a game of their lead in the standing sto the Royals Wednesday night, and it's of course high time to be anxious, but I do not have a Mark Langston-moment for the White Sox to force up my throat at this time.
There was the herculean effort needed to drag an injured and ruined 2008 squad into a one-game playoff that had a few near-disasters, there was the god-awful second half of 2006, and there was the would-be playoff run of 1994 that was stolen away by the strike.
But a late-season collapse? With less than 20 games left in the season? This franchise has typically been pretty good about making their intentions known.
The 2003 Sox were two games up over the Twins 144 games through the season (we're 148 games into 2012), but their descent can be easily pinned on losing five-straight head-to-head matchups. The Sox are equally incapable of against this year's Tigers, but they have also already weathered that part of their season already, and come out on the other side. Esteban Loiza's meltdown in Minneapolis was hard to watch and destroyed his Cy Young chances, but no one following the 2003 White Sox wasn't factoring in the final three games in the Metrodome into their expectations for the team.
But that was really it, for a long time. If anything, looking for a collapse in the White Sox history just reveals how bereft of hope most of the 90's were. Even the 1990 team that restored hope to the franchise was never closer than eight games from 1st in the final month. The 1972 team had a 1.5 game lead at the end of August that they held for all of four days, and I'm sure posting three-straight 90-win seasons in the middle of the 60's with no reward didn't make anyone very happy, but there's not much material for anyone still alive.
Any sense of dread felt watching the White Sox tiptoe toward a division banner is thus, fairly organic. They produce some of it themselves--the starting pitching is dragging its way to the finish, the closer has been put on a plan to save him from himself, and the offense is regressing hard from a season spent near the top of all of baseball in producing with runners in scoring position.
Another part of it is the rarity of the opportunity--the Sox are four years removed from a playoff birth, old as dirt, and desperately in need of this accomplishment to validate their GM and the direction he's taken with the franchise--so maybe this two-game lead deserves to be hemmed-and-hawed over more than usual.
The odds, and history, are on the White Sox side, though. And they've never let us down before, mostly because they usually don't bother getting us up.