In Which There’s No Sale

I get it. Everything costs something. The more spiritual among you might add that not all costs are financial. You would find me agreeing with them. Given the nature of the holiday this weekend it seems a good time to reflect on that. Our Jewish friends just celebrated Passover. That is a holiday that, at its core, celebrates freedom from bondage. The reason the Jews were in bondage was so they could supply cheap labor for their captors. So being Jewish carried a heavy price. And, obviously, were it not for 30 pieces of silver, there would be no Easter.

So everything has a cost.

But there comes a time then that aphorism tumbles into absurdity. Like when the Kristall Spa in Germany tried to celebrate one of the worst horrors in human history by offering a Kristallnacht spa package. Because nothing says “Hey, let’s kill innocent people who are different than us” better than laying around with cucumber slices on your eyes and some dude/chick named Inga giving you a full body massage.

What I’m saying is that some things are not well thought out.

Okay, I’ll lighten up now.

But the Cubs seem to be going out of their way to prove my point. Back on January 15th I noted that they had managed to screw up a Teddy Bear. The release was so ill timed as to be laughable. In one week they were announcing the highest ticket prices in baseball, welcoming Mashairo Tanaka to the Yankees and admitting they had no real plans to do any of the actual work on the stadium that they’d promised. Into this maelstrom they unveiled a mascot. One that they would rent for kiddy parties at $400 a pop. That’s a common rate, but you can see the disconnect.

Just FYI, if you do take your kids to meet Clark make sure they have waterproof shoes. Numerous reports state that the floor is awash in beer from drunken yahoos trying to get their pictures taken with the kid friendly darling.

In keeping with that theme they are celebrating 100 Years of Wrigley. Except that they’re not. The park was Weeghman Field from 1914 to 1926. Only then was it renamed Wrigley. And the Cubs didn’t play there until 1916. In other words, the Ricketts family pulled a random date out of some random ass and decided to sell the crap out of it. The anniversary they are celebrating, if I may completely abuse that word, is for a concrete edifice that has, at least not for two more years, nothing to do with the team. Because that seems to be working they are joining the high class world of soiled pantie sales and offering pre-worn, pseudo-antique, jerseys for sale from the upcoming “anniversary game” on April 23rd. When you read the press release, and - no - it was not written by The Onion, they do not actually list the game time. Just the cool stuff that will be available. Oh, and in keeping with their minor league vibe, all of the park staff will be wearing costumes.

Come on down and bring fucktons of cash.

In the meantime the Cubs are NOT promoting games on MLB.TV like every other major league club. Nope, they are promoting games on MiLB.TV. That would be the network for Minor League Baseball. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

Anyway, in keeping with the nostalgia theme being pimped by Clark and his passel o’ pimps, Gordon Wittenmyer hearkens back to the days of yore when the Cubs were an actual baseball team.

Alfonso Soriano spent much of his time in the Yankees’ clubhouse early Wednesday talking about his losing seasons with the Cubs and the trade to New York last summer that he thinks will give him a shot at reaching another World Series.

A few hours later, Masahiro Tanaka spent much of his postgame media time at the other end of the Yankees’ clubhouse trying to sidestep questions about what he thought of the Cubs — whether he’s glad he didn’t take their $120 million to pitch at Wrigley Field and how much better it is to play for a 27-time champion — after shutting them out.

All the while, off to the side sat left-hander CC Sabathia, a quiet reminder of a time — maybe the only time in the four decades of free agency — that the Cubs could compete with the Yankees as a top destination for big-time players with choices.

Now the Cubs don’t come close to competing with the Yankees at any level. They were shut out in both ends of a doubleheader Wednesday to fall to 4-10.

Sabathia doesn’t know how the Cubs went from penthouse to poorhouse in five years. But the top free-agent pitcher on the market in 2008-09 does know this: ‘‘I had interest in going [there], especially at that time, because they still had Derrek Lee and some of those good players. [Carlos] Zambrano was still there. It was a pretty good team.’’

Even better than the Yankees, who had just missed the playoffs and won eight fewer games than the Cubs in 2008. So much better in Sabathia’s mind that, according to team sources, he told Lee to let management know he wanted to sign with the Cubs.

Sabathia said he doesn’t remember all the details, ‘‘but I definitely talked to everybody I could. My agent did talk to the Cubs. I don’t know how far those talks went.’’

They went about as far as the Cubs’ budget, which is to say nowhere. As Sam Zell got closer to an agreement to sell the team to the Ricketts family, two years of ownership-mandated big spending on players was abruptly frozen.

That same winter, the Cubs were close to swinging a deal for San Diego Padres right-hander Jake Peavy, who had agreed to renegotiate the terms of his contract to fit the Cubs’ long-term projections and was so fired up to be coming to Chicago that he was seen singing ‘‘Go, Cubs, Go’’ in a bar near the winter meetings in Las Vegas the night before the money was frozen.

Sabathia went on to finish among the top four in Cy Young voting the next three seasons for the Yankees and helped them win the World Series in 2009.

The Cubs, meanwhile, haven’t had a winning season since 2009, and their most recent free-agent experiences include losing Tanaka to the Yankees and winding up with Edwin Jackson two winters ago after Anibal Sanchez used their pursuit as leverage to drive up interest from the Tigers.

As Sabathia sat in the Yankees’ clubhouse, he reflected on signing in New York.

‘‘If you say you want to be a winner, this is the place to come,’’ he said. ‘‘They do whatever they can every offseason to try to put the best team out on the field.’’

Which, strange to think now, describes how he once viewed the Cubs.

‘‘Yeah, at that time,’’ he said. ‘‘Picking a team as a free agent, you want to pick a place where you would think you have a chance to win for a long time. And, obviously, [Chicago] was one of the places I thought about.’’

These days, for players such as Sabathia — and, it seems, Soriano and Tanaka — the Cubs are little more than afterthoughts.

There is nothing I can add to that so let’s move on.

Last night saw the Sox send Chris Sale to the mound. He struck out 10. He had a no hitter going. And he got .... you knew this was coming .... no sale.

Our pal Scott Merkin managed not to spit lava all over his desk after the game.

Pinning the White Sox 3-1 loss to the Red Sox on Thursday night at U.S. Cellular Field on the South Siders’ bullpen would be both easy and convenient.

After all, it was Ronald Belisario (1-2) who gave up two runs in the ninth to allow Boston (7-9) to escape with a series victory.

But the way the White Sox (8-8) viewed the contest, which featured a classic pitchers’ battle between Chris Sale and Boston’s Jon Lester, it wasn’t so much a game they lost as much as the Red Sox won.

“We kept our heads high,” Sale said. “I don’t think we got outpitched or outhit. We got out-lucked.”

“Tonight, Lester was the reason,” said White Sox manager Robin Ventura of his team’s second straight loss. “We had chances and we just didn’t push them in. In the end, if you’re not going to score with that many chances, things like that happen.”

Sale and Lester matching up in this series finale pretty much dictated a low-scoring affair, not to mention more pitches within the strike zone as compared to the 15 walks issued by the White Sox in Wednesday’s setback. These aces didn’t disappoint, with Sale hurling 5 2/3 no-hit innings and retiring 17 of the first 19 batters he faced, and Lester (2-2) setting down the first 16 he faced to start the game.

Xander Bogaerts ended Sale’s no-hit bit with a 425-foot homer in the sixth, while Tyler Flowers’ single to shallow left broke up Lester’s bid for perfection.

“It’s hard to miss when you look up there and there’s nothing but zeros,” Sale said. “It’s kind of who is going to crack first. I think I lost that one by about 490 feet.”

“Oh, I mean, it’s cool, it’s fun. It’s a heavyweight bout tonight,” Lester said. “It’s kind of who was going to make the mistake first. He did, and then I gave it right back. If you don’t like that pitching, you don’t like baseball. That was a lot of fun tonight.”

Leury Garcia followed Flowers’ single with a ground-rule double, and Adam Eaton brought home Flowers with an infield single. The White Sox were set up at first and third with one out, but Marcus Semien became one of Lester’s nine strikeout victims, and Dayan Viciedo flew out to right.

Another White Sox scoring chance came in the seventh when Adam Dunn singled to right and two outs later tried to come home from first on Alejandro De Aza’s double to right. A relay throw from Daniel Nava to Dustin Pedroia to catcher David Ross nailed Dunn and kept the game tied.

“You have to take a chance right there, especially with the way Lester’s throwing,” said Ventura of sending Dunn. “Both of those guys were great tonight. Once the no-hitters were out of the way, we had some chances and we didn’t get it done. Jon was tough. He made it tough on everybody up there.”

There wasn’t exactly much let up from Sale either. He recorded a season-high 10 strikeouts, giving him 11 double-digit career strikeout efforts and tying him with Billy Pierce for fifth most in franchise history in that category. He also set a career high with 127 pitches, winning a battle with Ryan Roberts in the seventh by striking him out after walking Mike Napoli and Ross.

Even in just the fourth start of the season, Sale didn’t seem affected by the high pitch total.

“That’s what I’m supposed to do, especially after a night like last night,” Sale said. “We have the house throwing multiple innings. You got to pick up some slack right there and do what you can.”

“I was trying to calm him down a little bit. Mixing in a couple more changeups seems to always bring him back a little bit more under control,” said Flowers of Sale, who was visibly agitated after walking Ross but calmed down to escape the inning. “I felt that was a good move, and a lot of respect from the staff to leave him in there. He battled his butt off all game, and we weren’t able to get too many runs for him. Kind of leave the game in his hands and he did a great job.”

Boston’s ninth-inning rally was highlighted by Ross’ run-scoring double off of Belisario and Jonathan Herrera’s run-scoring bunt single off of Scott Downs. Alexei Ramirez singled in the ninth against Koji Uehara (third save) to set a new franchise record of hitting in 16 straight games to start a season, but the White Sox would get no closer.

They leave a 4-3 homestand for a seven-game road trip to Texas and Detroit, starting Friday. Their confidence is intact despite the two tough setbacks.

“We’ll continue in Texas and we’ll continue to do the same thing we do,” said Eaton, who robbed David Ortiz of a home run in the first. “That’s compete every pitch and put our best foot forward.”

“Like I said, this isn’t something we should hang our heads about,” Sale said. “We played three great games. We just got out-lucked.”

I understand what Sale is saying. And I admire him for his ability to admit that he enjoyed his part of the game. It was one hell of a pitchers’ duel.

That being said, the Sox’ starters have lost two games. The rest are no decisions. Of those no decisions 6 additional losses have come from the pen. I don’t want to play the “If we even had half of those back” game because it makes me crazy. But the loss dropped the Sox into 3rd from 1st (that kind of stuff happens early in the year) and is the kind of thing that can creep into a team’s psyche.

Right now they’re as mentally strong as I can remember. What else accounts for Adam Dunn trying to beat out a throw at home? Seriously Adam, stealing bases and pushing for an extra bag are not your gig. Although, I have to admit, it was fun as hell watching you try. Had it worked, for any reason, the city would be talking about nothing else.

And that does seem to be the team this year. A play here, a play there, and thus doth the game fall.

Still, I’d rather watch them than sit through the MiL.TV team that makes Limburger smell good.

Oh, by the way, get off the damn ledge. Hawks in 6.


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In Which It’s Playoff Time

Last night, in the 14th inning, the Sox sent the legendary Leury Garcia to the mound. It was pointed out that he’d never pitched in the majors. I would add to that he never pitched in the minors, never pitched in college, never pitched in high school, never pitched in Little League and ..... oh, you get the idea. Anyway, he got the first two batters out before walking two and giving up the game winning double. While people will, rightfully, bemoan Lindstrom being given another chance I should note that Boston’s pen gave up the same amount of runs over 13 innings. Yesterday wasn’t a pitching duel by any means. By the way, the loss, due to the fun with percentages and Detroit having played fewer games than the Sox, put the Sox in first place.

I’m not sure which Cub said it during Monday’s rain delay, and it doesn’t really matter, but “something special always happens here” was the quote concerning Yankee Stadium. Yesterday certainly proved that true. For the first time since 1962 the Cubs got shut out in both games of a double header and in the process got shut out for an entire series. That’s not easy to do. The last time the Yankees shut out a team for both games of a double header was in 1967. Usually someone scratches out, at least, a run over the course of 18 innings. The Cubs were one for it no longer matters with runners in scoring position.

Today, however, we’re not here to chat baseball.

Starting tonight the Blackhawks begin their run looking for a 3rd championship in 5 years. They are already the first team in the salary cap era to win 2.

One of my favorite Ricks, this one a Telander, is already tossing around the “D” word.

You hate to say it, but the entire regular season that just whizzed by means almost nothing.

It was fun watching the Blackhawks do what they did — to hear the infectious-like-a-disease chorus to “Chelsea Dagger” again and again — but the playoffs are where history is made.

And if the Blackhawks can win the Stanley Cup this season, it will mark them as a dynasty.

It’s that simple.

You win three Cups in five seasons, including possible back-to-back Cups? You’re a dynasty. Maybe you’re not the Shangs or the Mings, but you’re more than a hiccup.

Do the Blackhawks want to play the nasty Blues in the opening round, starting in St. Louis on ­Thursday night?

It doesn’t really matter. To win the Cup, you beat whomever steps in front of you for the next two months. At some point, you’ve beaten everybody who’s beaten everybody else.

The Blackhawks have not had a losing season since 2006-07. They had losing seasons in eight of the nine years before that.

All that we can call the Dark Days. They were the final croaks of the Blackhawks in their world that was better suited to “Game of Thrones’’ shenanigans than Internet-era sports.

“Old-time hockey’’ was the theme of the William W. Wirtz/Bob Pulford era. Hunter/Gatherer era would have been better. Or “TV? What’s TV?’’ era.

Patriarch Bill Wirtz passed away on Sept. 26, 2007, and everything changed. That same year, a snot-nosed little kid named Patrick Kane joined the team. So did a teenaged, mature-beyond-his-years defenseman named Jonathan Toews.

It’s no coincidence that six months after Bill Wirtz’s death, the Blackhawks announced that, for the first time in team history, they would televise the entire 82-game regular-season schedule, plus the playoffs.

The seeds to the possible dynasty were planted, and early sprouts had broken through to the sunlight. The franchise that had been named the worst in professional sports by ESPN in 2004 would abruptly be en route to becoming perhaps the best.

That first Stanley Cup title in 2010 was a surprise, since it broke nearly a half-century drought. The one last year proved that the Blackhawks were not a one-hit wonder. Indeed, they have gone 269-129-60 in the last five seasons. Win one this season and declare this place Hockeyville, USA.

Kane and Toews were injured at the end of this season, but now they’re back. A team that sometimes seems so good that it becomes disinterested or saves itself for the frantic final minutes of close games now must know what’s up.

And that is: Your guns are all loaded, take the prize.

It’s funny to look back on photos of Kane and Toews from their rookie season. They were kids. They could pass for high school students, which they almost were. If Kane had a whisker on his face, it was lonely.

And now they have amassed so many awards, from Olympic medals to names etched on the big Cup itself, that it almost seems trivial that Kane won the Conn Smythe Trophy last year as the MVP of the playoffs and Toews won the Frank J. Selke Award as the outstanding defensive forward in the league.

How many more trophies can this pair add to their personal stashes? But more important, how many more team championships can they add?

For every dynasty, there are figures who stand out through the bright lights. You remember Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen from the Bulls’ championship dynasty; Walter Payton and Jim McMahon from the 1985 Super Bowl Bears; Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra from those old Yankees champs.

Same can be true for Kane and Toews. They have great teammates around them, from Marian Hossa to Duncan Keith to Patrick Sharp to goaltender Corey Crawford. The Bulls’ dynasty had coach Phil Jackson; the Bears had Mike Ditka; and, yes, the Hawks have Joel “Coach Q’’ ­Quenneville.

It’s all doable. Not easy. But possible. Likely even painful. There’s a bull’s-eye on the chest of every Blackhawks star. They are the defending champs, after all. As Kane said of being singled out for special treatment by the Blues, “I would expect that, even if I wasn’t coming back from injury.’’

No, it’ll be hard, very hard. And long.

But no dynasty was easy. And none was built in a day.

The Hawks have seven players from last year’s Cup winners on this team. Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson. Yes, you can call them the Magnificent 7 if you must. No, really, it’s okay. I did it. It was fun.

As Rick notes, they’re going to have to play everyone anyway so they may as well start with the Blues. For whatever it’s worth, I have the Hawks repeating.

The Hawks, odd as it sounds to people who were alive in the 90’s, are expected to do well. The Bulls, on the other hand, were written off early and often after Rose went down. I admit that I was one of the maddening crowd when it came to that opinion.

Joe Cowley says that the Bulls don’t give a rat’s ass what I think and they aren’t too fond of you either. They are all about them. And they are in the playoffs.

So it’s the Washington Wizards.

Who cares if the Bulls are going into the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs off a 91-86 overtime loss Wednesday against the Charlotte Bobcats? It’s the playoffs. It’s a No.  4 seed. It’s home-court advantage in the first round and a chance to face off against the top-seeded Indiana Pacers in Round 2.

In some ways, it’s actually pretty remarkable.

After losing star Derrick Rose on Nov. 22 after just 10 games, then trading Luol Deng in early January, this team was left for dead.

Even after losing two of their last three games, they finished with 48 victories.

“Before you start asking any questions, I would like to say I appreciate my teammates for a hard season,’’ Noah said. “We worked our [butts] off. Even though it ends on a sad note, losing to the Bobcats, overall we gave it everything we had. And there are no regrets in that. Like my boy Mike Dunleavy just told me, this is the fruit of our labor. Now we will have fun in the playoffs. I agree with him on that note.

“I’m not going to lie: This is the hardest season I think I’ve ever been a part of physically and mentally. But overall I’m just really proud of everybody, all the work that people put in. You could just tell after every practice; everybody was shooting. Everybody put in extra work to get their games in order. Now the playoffs are the icing on the cake. As competitors, that’s what you want. You want to play in the playoffs. I think we put ourselves in a pretty good position. I’m really proud to be a part of this team. Seriously, I’ve never been around a group of guys that work so hard.’’

But if they want the journey to continue, that work needs to be amped up a bit. With Game 1 against the Wizards scheduled for Sunday at the United Center, they’re getting a team that won two of three from them in the regular season.

But in the last meeting in Washington on April 5, the Bulls won 96-78, and the Wizards seemed to be allergic to physical contact.

“Tough team, man. Tough, tough team,’’ reserve big man Taj Gibson said. “They gave us so many problems in the regular season. Great shooters, great bigs in Nene and [Marcin] Gortat. John Wall is playing some great basketball; Bradley Beal is playing great, too. Their bench is even loaded up. It’s going to be tough, man.’’

Maybe, but the Bulls go in healthy. Even more important, they go in with that chip on their shoulder and experience.

“They’re definitely a tough matchup,’’ Noah said. “It’s not going to be easy. Every game will be a tough battle. But I think we’re a team that’s battle-tested. We know what it takes. It’s exciting. You never know what’s going to happen in the playoffs. I just can’t wait to compete.’’

There’s nothing I can really say here. I didn’t expect them to do this well and have no idea how well they will do in the post season. But I bet there’s one thing we can all agree on. This team, like the Hawks, will leave it all on the floor. If they lose it will be because they got beat. Plain and simple.

And if they win?

This city will go freaking nuts.


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In Which We See the Plans

As we pushed away the rubble of last season both of our baseball teams held out hopeful hands. Thanks to the money the Sox saved on the Chris Sale deal they were able to swing trades for Avisial Garcia and Adam Eaton and then sign Cuban star Jose Abreu. The team instantly got better. Not that it really could have gotten any worse. The Cubs swung for the fences in trying to land Joe Girardi to be their manager and, later Japanese pitching star Masahiro Tanaka. Along the way they asked Jeff Samardzija for a hometown discount. Not to belabor the obvious but they went 0-3.

That being said there’s no denying that there are some very intriguing players in the Cubs’ farm system. But they are years away. Javy Baez, predicted by many to be a starter now, is hitting .154 in 3A. He’s also slightly injured so it’s going to be a bit before he’s ready to take on the big leagues. And unless his defense steps up a lot he looks like a DH. Which is not good news for the Cubs. Still, there are a lot of young guys who show promise. The one thing that is starting to concern fans is the fact that payroll is diving every year and there is no sign that that trend will change. They claimed to have $120 MIL for Tanaka but have no money for anyone else. There’s a certain cognitive disconnect there that confuses fans.

The Sox currently have a payroll similar to the Cubs but Rick Hahn has stated on several occasions that he has room to move if he needs to. A couple of informed folks tell me that he could spend as much as $120 MIL this year. He may not. He could accomplish a lot via trades with the pieces he has. And he would not necessarily need to swap big league talent for prospects. A lot will depend on where this team is come July. If they’re above .500 and the Central is as tight as it looks to be then look for additions, not subtractions.

Thanks to a lot of different factors it is not as easy as buying a World Championship. Although, God knows, the Yankees are certainly trying.

Speaking of the Yankees, Paul Sullivan took a moment to see how they’re handling the ex-Cub factor.

The “Cubs Way” isn’t just a manual, it’s a way of life.

In the midst of a long-term rebuild in July, the Cubs paid the Yankees nearly $18 million to take Alfonso Soriano off their hands.

Three months later, their stealth interest in Joe Girardi helped the Yankees manager get a four-year, $16 million extension.

Now Soriano gets a chance to punish his old team, while Girardi matches wits against Rick Renteria, the eternal optimist who eventually got the Cubs’ job.

The Cubs and Yankees square off Tuesday at Yankee Stadium, starting a two-game miniseries that’s not lacking for storylines.

Both Soriano and Girardi were relaxed and smiling last weekend in New York, where the Yankees won three of four against the Red Sox.

Leaning back in a comfy chair in the huge Yankees clubhouse, Soriano said he’s happier than he’s been in years. He’s just one of a dozen multimillionaires here and enjoys blending into the background on a probable contender.

“I just want to play baseball and win, and that was not happening with the Cubs,” he said. “I was happy mostly when I played for them. But when I saw they weren’t putting out a team to win, I was like, ‘Man, this is kind of like a job now.’ I’d go to the ballpark, work, do my job and go back home.

“I didn’t enjoy it. Here it’s different. Now I’m having fun.”

Trading Soriano to the Yankees in July saved the Cubs only $6.8 million of the remaining $24.5 million on his contract, but it accomplished two objectives. It got them a talented low-level prospect in pitcher Corey Black — now in Double A after a sizzling debut at Class A Daytona — and ensured their record would be bad enough to merit a top-five draft pick in 2014.

The Cubs were only 10 games under .500 when Soriano was traded. They went 21-41 afterward, earning that coveted No. 4 pick. While the Cubs’ lineup was lost without Soriano, hitting .228 with a .295 on-base percentage and .364 slugging percentage after the trade, he took off in New York, slugging 17 homers and driving in 50 runs in 58 games.

After another poor start this season, the Cubs are 25-49 since trading Soriano, a miserable .338 winning percentage.

“They haven’t played bad,” Soriano insisted. “It looks like the bullpen has been the same (as in 2013).

“I hope they’re going in the right direction,” he said. “The city needs the Cubs to win one year.”

Girardi was the manager the Cubs hoped could take them to the finish line, and as soon as Dale Sveum was put on the hot seat last September, Girardi became the obvious choice as his successor. His contract was up, and the Cubs sought a manager they could market for the rebuild.

Girardi not only was a popular former Cub. He also won a ring as a manager in 2009 and had that “Yankees cache.”

But the talks never happened. The Yankees declined to let Girardi negotiate elsewhere, knowing of the Cubs’ interest. They quickly locked him up with a four-year extension, making Girardi the game’s second highest-paid manager.

So a Cubs-Girardi reunion never got off the ground.

“No, it never did,” he said. “I negotiated with the Yankees and I signed by (Oct. 9), and had really never gotten anywhere. It was important that we tried to get it done early, because family is extremely important to me. I know there are a lot of ties still in Chicago, but my family is ingrained here.

“This has been home for us for the last 10 to 15 years in a sense, New York, and obviously we have a lot of relationships here. I enjoy managing here, and with the opportunity they’ve given me, that’s why we stayed.”

The Cubs wound up hiring the little-known Renteria, giving up on finding a big-name manager. Though Girardi said he wouldn’t “ever shut the door” on managing the Cubs some day, that appears unlikely.

“There are other things I want to do in my life besides manage,” he said. “I enjoyed broadcasting and someday I think I’ll go back to that. I take it one year at a time. I don’t ever think, ‘I want to manage until I’m 55 or 60.’ I’ll do it as long as I still enjoy it.”

So, in essence, Girardi would go work for Fox before he set foot in Wrigley in a cute Cubbie uniform. And now that he’s surrounded by other real hitters Soriano is flourishing. I was never a big fan of dear old Alphonse but I must admit that I never realized just how much the Cubs were dependent on him. And if the loss of one player can impact them as severely as his loss did then they are more fragile than, even I, imagined.

As to the Sox Rick Hahn makes poker player envious. There’s close to the vest and then there’s surgically hidden. While word did get out that the team had wandered into the Tanaka and Abreu negotiations, it wasn’t until they’d made their initial offers that any facts came out. Also, I have been told but have not confirmed, that they had native language speakers with them in both instances. Just to ensure that nothing got lost in any translation.

They whiffed on Tanaka but nailed Abreu. Given that they felt confident in their pitching at the time they were comfortable with the results.  And while they’ll never stop hunting for pitching, it’s some genetic thing as far as I can tell, they are on the lookout for players all around. Scott Merkin says that, all that aside, they are focused on the draft right now.

You are the Chicago White Sox and have the third overall pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft.

It’s an exciting and important part of the reshaping process brought about by a 99-loss 2013 campaign that produced this high first-round selection. That reshaping engineered by general manager Rick Hahn certainly looks good through 13 games, with Adam Eaton and Jose Abreu making instant impacts, and the youthful athleticism seemingly energizing the veterans.

Getting an impact player at No. 3 becomes essential in the strengthening of the White Sox core, with a signing bonus slot of $5,721,500 and an overall Draft bonus pool of $9,509,700. So this excitement also carries with it a bit of inherent pressure, not to mention a great deal of preparation as Draft Day on June 5 sits approximately seven weeks away.

“What we thought was going to be a fun and exciting time, I think has become … the reality has set in just wanting to be sure we are as absolutely prepared as we possibly can be,” White Sox director of amateur scouting Doug Laumann said. “We are not leaving any stone unturned.

“Ultimately, by the end of the day, when it’s all said and done, it probably will boil back down to where we started. We still want to make sure we uncover every option.”

Even with only the Astros and Marlins picking in front of them, there still aren’t a great deal of certainties for the White Sox.

Chicago is likely to select a pitcher, barring something completely unforeseen. That pitcher will probably come from a group of five in left-hander Carlos Rodon from North Carolina State, right-hander Jeff Hoffman from East Carolina, right-hander Tyler Kolek from Shepherd High School in Texas, right-hander Tyler Beede from Vanderbilt and left-hander Brady Aiken from Cathedral Catholic High School in California.

Laumann and White Sox assistant scouting director Nick Hostetler have seen these pitchers at least two or three times each, and they will see them again leading up to the Draft. Hahn, executive vice president Ken Williams, assistant general manager Buddy Bell and assistant to the general manager Jeremy Haber also have watched these potential selections in action and they will all do so again.

“Between the six of us, one of us will be at almost every start that each pitcher has left,” Hostetler said. “It has been huge for us to have eyes on every start.

“I made a comment to Doug that Rick is one of the smartest men I know, Kenny played in the big leagues and went to Stanford, and Buddy has won more Gold Gloves than I’ve owned fielding gloves. Their input has been tremendous for us.”

The making of this pick will be a collaborative process, much the same as many other key moves executed throughout the organization. Laumann is the man in charge, and he is coming off of an excellent 2013 Draft class that included shortstop Tim Anderson (first-round pick), right-hander Tyler Danish (second), right-hander Brad Goldberg (10th), outfielder Jacob May (third) and third baseman Trey Michalczewski (seventh), to name a few.

Finding the best player available, or possibly best pitcher in this instance, continues to be the White Sox challenge, and having many voices asking the right questions can only sharpen that focus.

“Honestly, it’s very similar to how a lot of these decisions are made,” Hahn said. “We get in a room, we get a lot of opinions. We express our opinions honestly and openly in that room, and then as a group, we try to come to the best conclusion.

“Doug and his staff are the ones on a weekly basis seeing all these guys, and it’s incumbent on them to put them in the best order. Kenny, Buddy, myself, we want to see them. It’s an important decision, and there’s a fair amount of video work as well as in-person work that gets done.

“We do that in large part so that we are educated, so that we get in the room and have a healthy debate,” Hahn said. “None of these—free-agent signing or a big league trade or a Minor League callup or the Draft—is about any individual going out front and saying, ‘This is me, I did this.’ It’s about, ideally, having a variety of opinions, well-informed opinions, and then coming to the best conclusion as a group.”

Picks made by the Astros and Marlins will influence the White Sox selection more than any voice in their Draft room. Rodon has long been thought of as the No. 1 selection, but what if Houston goes in another direction? What if No. 3 comes around and Kolek and Rodon, who could potentially help Chicago’s rotation in 2015, are both available?

Those questions more than likely will be explored, as well as paying a great deal of attention to the rest of the selections.

You are the Chicago White Sox and know the importance of this year’s Draft, even beyond that high-profile third selection.

“One thing everybody wants to focus on is the first pick and rightfully so, when that amount is allotted,” Hostetler said. “But I’ve got to be honest. As a department and staff, we are just as focused on two, three, four, five and six.

“Put all your eggs in one pick and worry about just the first, and then you leave yourself short in other places. We’ve done a good job as a staff, from Doug to our amateur scouts, understanding our focus is getting the best possible player in each round regardless of position and high school or college. That first pick is where the shine is, but where you make your Draft is after that pick.”

What amazes me is the draft boards for baseball teams. There will be numerous options for the first 5 rounds. Then, and only then, do they see what’s left. Obviously, as Scott noted, if something falls to you that you didn’t expect you pounce on it.

And so it goes.


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In Which We Discuss Unsere Kämpfe

Saturday our two baseball teams got murderized. Carlos Villanueva (Cubs) and Felipe Paulino (Sox) combined to give up a total of 15 runs to the other guys. That is not a good day at the office when you’re on their team. Instead of writing about that yesterday I decided to see how each team would come back. After all, the Cubs stood poised to win their first Series since 9/11 last year. And the Sox stood poised to win more games in one week against the Indians than they’d won all last year.

In other words it seemed like a good test to gauge the pulse of each team.

And, all in all, I would say that was a good call.

Starting on the North Side, the Cubs trotted out Edwin Jackson to secure the win. Well, that was the idea anyway. The reality was rain delays, blown leads and another lost series.

Carrie Muskat has the whole story.

Rain interrupted Edwin Jackson’s outing on Sunday, but it didn’t seem to bother him, and the right-hander’s effort earned kudos from Cubs manager Rick Renteria.

Matt Carpenter drove in three runs, including a tie-breaking sacrifice fly in the fourth, to lift the Cardinals to a 6-4 victory over the Cubs and take the series.

The Cubs lost leads twice in the game, but Renteria praised Jackson’s resiliency.

“It doesn’t matter,” Renteria said of the blown leads. “He went out there and ground it out. We’re still in a limited ‘pen situation and he ate up innings for us.”

The Cubs added right-handed reliever Blake Parker on Sunday, and the bullpen was still feeling the effects of extra-inning games over first two weeks. An off-day Monday will help.

“After your team scores, you definitely want to come out and have a clean inning, but you just have to be aggressive—that’s a good hitting team,” Jackson said. “When you have opportunities to put guys away, you have to put guys away. That’s pretty much what it boils down to.”

Michael Wacha struck out eight over 6 1/3 innings and picked up the win despite serving up Anthony Rizzo’s two-run homer in the first. Rizzo gave the Cubs the lead with one out when he hit his second home run of the season, launching the first pitch from Wacha into the Cardinals’ bullpen in right to drive in Justin Ruggiano, who had singled.

Jackson, making his third start, needed 26 pitches to get through the first, and threw another 30 in the second. He walked Allen Craig to open the second and Jhonny Peralta singled. Two outs later, both scored on Matt Carpenter’s single to tie the game and Kolten Wong followed with a RBI single.

The problem in the second inning, Jackson said, was not just walking Craig, but that he fell behind too many hitters.

“It’s just a matter of making pitches and attacking the strike zone,” Jackson said. “If I make those pitches [when the count’s 1-2], that definitely changes the outcome of the game.”

Yadier Molina singled to open the Cardinals third, and then rain stopped play for 46 minutes. Jackson returned after the delay, and finished the third efficiently, and kept going. After throwing 59 pitches prior to the rain, Jackson needed 55 to get through his last four innings.

Jackson kept his right arm wrapped during the delay, and said the time passed quickly. He didn’t throw, didn’t change jerseys.

“I just tried to keep the same mind frame and stay ready for whenever the rain delay was over,” Jackson said.

He’s had to wait an hour during a game in the past.

“He went out there and ground it out,” Renteria said. “We did everything we could to keep his arm warm. We knew the window that was available for us. He’s a veteran and he’s been out there before and I think he’s got a will and a strong body and he was able to go out and do it.”

Jackson led the National League in losses last season and says he feels better this season.

“I feel good, I feel like I’m in a rhythm,” he said. “You come out, make a pitch and get out of the inning clean, and it changes the whole game. From the third inning on, they scored one run [off me]. ... I feel good. I feel I can go out and make them put the ball in play. It’s a grind. You continue to battle and keep a positive mind frame. I don’t feel anything similar to last year now.”

Wacha also stayed in the game after the delay, and with two outs in the Chicago fourth, Junior Lake singled off the right-hander, Mike Olt was hit on the left hand by a pitch, and Welington Castillo delivered an RBI single to tie the game.

Peter Bourjos tripled to lead off the Cardinals fourth and scored one out later on Carpenter’s sacrifice fly. Peralta added an RBI double in the eighth, and another run scored from third on Bourjos’ fielder’s choice. Bourjos hit the ball to third baseman Olt, who bobbled the ball, then threw home, but pulled Castillo off the plate. Olt was charged with an error.

Lake tripled with one out in the ninth and scored on Olt’s single off Trevor Rosenthal.

The Cubs may have lost the series but leave St. Louis feeling good about themselves.

“We definitely have a lot of fight in us,” Jackson said. “Win, lose or draw, we don’t have a group of guys who are going to give up. We’re going to go out and battle. We may come up short sometimes, but we’re going to go out and give 110 percent on the field. As a team, thats all you want. If we keep fighting like we did today, we’re going to win a lot of ballgames.”

The Cubs got off to a rough start last April, but have a new manager and some new faces on the roster. Still, does it feel anything like last year?

“I don’t think so,” Jackson said. “I feel there’s a different attitude in here.”

Renteria has talked about his team’s fighting spirit early in the season, and repeated that Sunday.

“If we keep fighting like that and we don’t quit—[Saturday] was the only game where I could tell you that I thought [they stopped battling] and maybe one game at home against Pittsburgh,” Renteria said. “Every day, we’re in it to the end.”

The Cubs still have yet to win a series this season.

“I think if we keep pushing, at some point, it’s got to turn,” Renteria said. “If we were playing really bad baseball, I’d go, ‘Gosh, I’d be really concerned.’ The reality is they’re showing a lot of fight, guys are picking each other up, they’re going out every single day to try to win a ballgame and today was no different.

“I guarantee you they weren’t very comfortable in that [Cardinals] dugout,” he said.

Umm, blown leads don’t matter? Has the bar been set so low that they no longer even pretend to try? Yes, the pen has been ridden hard lately. But it isn’t like they’ve been coming in in the 4th every game. With a day off today there was no reason to keep them as bench warmers.

Anyway, Jackson’s correct. If he threw more strikes he would have a better count on hitters.

This just in, people who breathe tend to live longer than those who don’t.

Well, as long as we’re stating the obvious ......

On the South Side the Sox trotted out Jose Quintana. And despite the delays, and the fact that he ran his pitch count into the ether, he came away with a no decision. Or, as he told Scott Merkin, with a team victory.

A long red scratch on the left side of Alexei Ramirez’s forehead was visible during his media session following the White Sox 4-3 victory over the Indians on Sunday at U.S. Cellular Field.

Ramirez certainly wasn’t complaining or feeling any pain, for that matter. Call it a welcomed battle scar.

Ramirez’s walk-off home run against Cleveland closer John Axford (0-1), coming with one out and Jordan Danks on second, turned a potential heartbreaking loss into an uplifting victory and sent the shortstop into a helmet-slapping, frenzied celebration as he crossed home plate. The White Sox (7-6) claimed a series victory from the Indians by taking three of four contests.

This Cleveland team beat the White Sox in 17 of 19 games last year while enjoying walk-off long ball moments of its own from Jason Giambi and Carlos Santana. So in the mind of White Sox manager Robin Ventura, his crew had definitely earned this moment.

“Last year, they probably won it just like that, you know, that team. It’s nice for us to be able to do this,” Ventura said. “The feeling is even though you’re down, you feel like you can come back. That’s a very good feeling to have, offensively.”

“You could tell there’s a good environment there. Everybody is pulling for each other,” said Ramirez through translator and White Sox manager of cultural development Lino Diaz. “Hitters are doing the job. We felt like we could come back.”

Trailing by one run after Cleveland rallied for two in the top of the ninth against closer Matt Lindstrom (1-1), Danks fought back from a 1-2 hole and drew a six-pitch walk to lead off against Axford. He swiped second but didn’t have to run nearly as hard when Ramirez cleared the left-field fence on Axford’s first pitch.

“It was the call,” said Axford of the 93-mph fastball turned around by Ramirez. “Throw a fastball in, and I just left it up there and he cleared out and got a good piece of it.”

“Everybody knows me as an aggressive hitter,” said Ramirez, who extended his season-opening hitting streak to 13 games with a third-inning single. “I’m going to go looking for a good pitch to hit, and when I get it, I’m going to swing at it. That’s what happened. I got a good pitch. He’s a really good pitcher and he just left me a pitch up there, and I was able to put a good swing on it.”

While Ramirez was the hero with the bat, Jose Quintana definitely gets the nod on the mound for the White Sox. The southpaw threw a career-high 121 pitches while working around a pair of rain delays, the second of which lasted 45 minutes. But even after all of that quality work, Quintana finished with yet another no-decision.

Quintana allowed one run on five hits over six innings, striking out six and walking two. Michael Brantley’s home run in the fourth, coming before the second wave of rain, stood as the only run allowed by Quintana.

Jason Kipnis doubled to open the sixth and stayed at second when Conor Gillaspie made a diving stop down the third-base line on Santana’s hard-hit grounder to hold Santana to a single. Ryan Raburn’s long flyout to center moved Kipnis to third, but he had to hold there when Quintana not only knocked down Brantley’s hot shot but had the presence of mind to get the force at second on Santana.

Yan Gomes struck out for the third time to end the frame, with the usually sedate Quintana letting out a scream of emotion over the escape.

“That inning started with a double,” Quintana said. “I want to throw a good pitch in a good spot, and when I yelled [after] the strikeout, I was really happy with that.”

“He battled, even with the rain delay and having to go back out there,” said Ventura of Quintana. “He had a lot of pitches today. It didn’t necessarily seem that way, just because it seemed like he was in control the whole time.”

A fourth-inning infield single from Dayan Viciedo scored Gillaspie with the White Sox first run off of Cleveland starter Corey Kluber. Gillaspie extended his hitting streak to a career-high 11 games.

Marcus Semien homered with one out in the eighth to give the White Sox a 2-1 lead that looked like it would provide the margin of victory. Semien’s blast also came off of Kluber, who matched Quintana by yielding just two runs over 7 1/3 innings and 97 pitches, while striking out six.

Kluber was still in line to take the loss until Lindstrom blew his second save in three tries, with two unearned Cleveland runs coming home in the ninth, sparked by Jose Abreu’s inning-opening error on Brantley’s grounder and capped by Lindstrom’s wild pitch that plated a go-ahead run.

The game was delayed for one hour and 15 minutes due to the threat of rain before the first pitch, but the conditions were relatively dry until the fourth. Dry, but cold, as the temperature dipped from a comfortable 68 degrees in the morning to 48 at first pitch. By the time Ramirez connected off Axford, he wasn’t worried about the forecast.

And he didn’t worry about a few celebratory knocks on his noggin after coming through with his second career walk-off homer.

“At that time, I didn’t feel any cold at all,” Ramirez said. “That was a great moment. The most important thing is we won the game.”

“With the way things have been going lately, no game’s over just because we’re down a run,” Danks said. “Especially going into the ninth.”

When Ramirez hit his home run he spread his arms wide, like an airplane, and ran around the bases. He looked like every kid who’s ever made propeller noises. Actually, he just looked like every kid who’s ever played the game. It was a look of pure joy.

And it was fun to watch.

All the more so now that this team keeps putting last year’s demons deeper underground and further to the rear.


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In Which We Saw Progress

As the Jay the Joke world tour continues to search for the best car washes things have been happening around here too. My buddy has been traveling a lot for business so yesterday he snagged his son out of school and took him golfing. Like any good 11 year old his son beat him by 4 strokes. And, no, dad is not one who lets his kids win.

That concludes our local sports round up.

Oh, wait, there’s a lot of blank space here. I guess I’ll keep writing.

See any cute squirrels lately? Me neither. Otherwise how’ve you been? Oh, that’s good. I worry about you from time to time. It must be hard being you in public. All the shunning and stuff. Well, good for you sticking to your guns. You certainly am who you am as they say. And, no, I’m not going to make fun of you for paying $10 to see Big Foot’s corpse. How could you have known it was a fake? It’s not like you believe in rational thought or any silly shit like that. Well, look at the time, I’d better be going.

Hmm, more blank space.

What else can I write about?

Here’s a quick high five to my pal Evan Altman over at Chicago Insider. His pal, Tom Loxas, wrote a great article about how the Cubs could end up dumping Samardzija for below trade value. Don’t worry Cubs fans, Tom’s one of you so he’s drinking the Kool-Aid of power hitting youth. After all, who needs pitching when you have a power hitting second baseman in 3A?

Oh well, let’s just do this. I’ve been writing about how the Cubs are managed by the front office. Based on some decisions I’ve seen my guess is that Crane Kenny is deeply involved. Carrie Muskat reports that they stuck to that plan yesterday as well. However the results were shockingly unfamiliar.

They won.

The Cubs finally scored a few runs for Jeff Samardzija, won an extra-inning game, and delivered in the clutch on Friday night. The only question is who’s the closer, although manager Rick Renteria said it isn’t a matter worth debating.

Welington Castillo smacked a three-run homer with two outs in the 11th inning to lift the Cubs to a 6-3 victory over the Cardinals, who had rallied with two runs in the ninth off Jose Veras in front of 43,903 at Busch Stadium.

Veras, who was booed at Wrigley Field in his first appearance April 6 when he gave up two runs, is now 0-2 in save situations. Last year, the Cubs began the season with Carlos Marmol as the closer, then switched after one week to Kyuji Fujikawa. An elbow injury sidelined the Japanese pitcher, who needed Tommy John surgery. The Cubs eventually signed Kevin Gregg.

“It was a shaky outing but he’s still our guy,” Renteria said of Veras. “His stuff is there. I think he gets a little excited and he starts pulling some pitches and he overthrows pitches and he just has to find his rhythm.

“I don’t know how many times he’s actually closed for us now—maybe a couple times this season in 10 games,” Renteria said. “It’s too early to decide anything like that.”

The Cubs had a 3-1 lead going into the bottom of the ninth when Yadier Molina singled to lead off against Veras, who then hit Allen Craig with a pitch, which Renteria challenged, only to have the call upheld. Molina and Craig moved up on a sacrifice, and Molina scored on a passed ball charged to Castillo.

Veras then hit Peter Bourjos and walked Daniel Descalso to load the bases for Matt Carpenter, who hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game.

“What happened to him has happened to anybody,” Castillo said of Veras. “I just talked to him and said, ‘Keep your head up and just go hard the next day you have the opportunity.’ He’s working really hard, but sometimes stuff like that, he just doesn’t know what to do with that kind of stuff. I talked to him, and said, ‘Get your head up, get the ball tomorrow and get a save.’”

Nate Schierholtz doubled to lead off the Chicago 11th against Trevor Rosenthal and moved up on Ryan Sweeney’s sacrifice. Starlin Castro was intentionally walked, and the Cubs had a play on when Ryan Kalish popped up to Molina on a bunt attempt.

“We just didn’t execute,” Renteria said of Kalish’s at-bat.

Castillo came through, launching a 1-1 pitch into the left-center seats for his second home run of the season.

“Welington got a good fastball, got a pitch up to hit and did a nice job with it,” Renteria said. “I don’t think he was thinking too much in terms of innings. I think he just wanted to get in there and do his job and he got a good pitch to handle, and he drove it out of the ballpark.”

“I was looking fastball,” Castillo said. “I know he throws really hard, so I just waited for something over the plate that I could drive and I put my best swing on it.”

It may have been the 11th inning, but Castillo wasn’t tired, and he told himself not to give up.

“I was talking to myself, ‘Just don’t give up, don’t give up, just go hard, go 100 percent, even if you’re body feels tired,’” he said.

The Cubs finally scored some runs for Samardzija, but couldn’t give him the win. In 14 innings in Samardzija’s first two starts this season, the Cubs had failed to score, and they were held scoreless through six on Friday. The streak could be extended even further as the right-hander lost, 4-0, in his last start of the season, Sept. 29, against the Cardinals. He went six innings in that game.

“When we took him out, he said, ‘Hey, pinch-hit for me and get me the runs,’ and we did,” Renteria said of Samardzija.

“You keep pitching and keep giving your team a chance to come out and give you runs—I learned my lesson when I was in the bullpen,” Samardzija said. “You go out and have quick innings and come back in, and a lot of times, you get some runs.”

After striking out Bourjos to end the seventh, Samardzija seemed to moonwalk off the mound. He was just caught up in the moment.

“That’s a great team we’re playing against,” Samardzija said of the Cardinals. “When you do have success against a team like that, which is coming off World Series wins and getting to the World Series and the history they have and the lineup they have, it feels good, and there’s really no other way to put it.

“I like to compete, and if I’m going to compete, I like to compete against the best, and that’s the Cardinals,” he said. “Over the past five years, you can’t say there’s a better team in the league. I was happy to do my job.”

The Cardinals took a 1-0 lead in the second on Molina’s RBI single, and the Cubs tied the game in the seventh on Sweeney’s RBI single off starter Joe Kelly.

Pinch-hitter Justin Ruggiano singled to open the Chicago eighth, moved up on Emilio Bonifacio’s sacrifice, and reached third on pinch-hitter Mike Olt’s single. Lefty Kevin Siegrist threw six straight fastballs to Anthony Rizzo, who then choked up on the bat and flared a curve to right to score Ruggiano. Olt scored on Schierholtz’s single to left.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny had Rosenthal bat for himself in the 10th with two on and two outs even though he had Pete Kozma on the bench.

“Trevor had a very efficient inning, throwing six pitches the previous inning,” Matheny said. “He’s arguably our best guy in the ‘pen. We had an opportunity to get him back out there and start off the next inning with Bourjos, Descalso and then the top of the order, we like throwing our best guy out there and thinking it’s going to get us a zero to get us a chance to get back in.”

The Cubs know all about missed opportunities. They played two extra-inning games against the Pirates in their opening series and lost both. They could’ve folded against the Cardinals.

“We needed this one real bad,” Castillo said.

“We know we’re going to play a lot of close games and we’re ready for that,” Samardzija said. “The more close games you win, the more confidence you build, and then you see yourself winning by four, five, six runs. You have to start somewhere. If we have to start this off by scraping off some one-run victories, then so be it.

“Anything you can do to get confidence going and just the team going in the right direction, that’s what it takes, and sometimes it takes a game like this ... to prove we belong here and we’ll be here for awhile.”

Jose Vera is NOT trade bait. He’s just bait. He has no more business closing a major league game than I have working as a stripper. As to the rest, read the quotes again. “We needed this ...” “You have to start somewhere ....” and so on. The polite word, “beleaguered” comes to mind. That’s my nice way of saying they don’t believe they can win these games, they just thank God for those rare moments when they do. That’s not a good sign for a team that just played its 10th game. There’s 152 more to go.

I predict open weeping by April. And that’s from the team.

THE PLAN does seem to be taking shape. When they trade Samardzija Castillo will follow shortly thereafter. Why keep a good catcher if you don’t have any good pitchers? Wood will be on the next bus and then God knows what will happen. According to my sources the team is actively shopping 7 players. See you in 2020 Cubs fans.

On the South Side they sent their version of Cy Young to the mound. Unfortunately he channeled the October 1911 version of the legendary pitcher.  Oh well, not every day is perfect. Even so, he got the win. Scott Merkin says it may have been ugly, but it was a good way for this team to put last year further into the rear view mirror.

Chris Sale had a perfect but unwanted view of the White Sox balanced and suddenly high-powered offense during a 9-6 victory over the Indians Friday night at U.S. Cellular Field.

It was unwanted because the White Sox ace made a rare early exit after just five innings and 105 pitches. So, he watched Adam Eaton get on base in four straight plate appearances and Conor Gillaspie set a career-high with four RBIs, among the many highlights.

For a man who ranked second in the American League in lowest run support during the 2013 season (3.19 RSA), Sale certainly liked what he witnessed. Sale shares a similar opinion with pretty much every White Sox fan through the first 11 games of the ‘14 campaign.

“Yeah, the feel from this year is completely different,” said Sale, who has won each of his first three starts. “We’re battling, we’re fighting.”

“These guys, they just kind of have some jump when they come out,” said White Sox manager Robin Ventura of his offense. “They just feel like they’re going to score.”

Sale not only welcomed the run support, but also any sort of victory against the Indians (5-6). The Cy Young candidate posted a dismal 0-4 record with an 8.61 ERA over four starts against the Indians in 2013, so he has already surpassed that win total with one trip to the mound.

Friday’s win gives the White Sox (6-5) two straight victories over Cleveland in this four-game series, matching last year’s entire win total over 19 head-to-head contests between the two clubs. Sale put at least two runners on base in the first, second and fifth, but by recent Cleveland standards, this was a masterpiece.

“That could be one of the worst outings for Sale, not statistically or anything like that, but as far as his feel and his comfort out there,” said White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers of his batterymate, who struck out five, walked two and gave up just three runs. “He really didn’t seem to have that all day.”

“Fastball command was not nearly where I wanted it to be, breaking ball was not really sharp, couldn’t really command that,” Sale said. “It was a combination of a lot of things, not finding a rhythm, not getting into a groove and really doing what I’m supposed to do.”

The White Sox grabbed a 3-0 lead after four innings courtesy of Eaton’s run-scoring double off of Carlos Carrasco (0-2), Gillaspie’s sacrifice fly and Alejandro De Aza’s single bringing home Adam Dunn. Alexei Ramirez singled to start a two-run rally in the third, giving the White Sox shortstop hits in all 11 games this year.

Cleveland didn’t take long to tie the game, with three runs in the fifth coming on four hits from the first four hitters, including Asdrubal Cabrera’s two-run double and Nick Swisher’s run-scoring single. For every punch the Indians threw, though, the White Sox had a counter punch.

“Just a great look at the team,” Eaton said. “They fought back. We fought back and we continued to fight. It’s good to see this team continue to fight. It’s a good team win.”

Four of the nine walks issued by five Cleveland pitchers produced two runs in the fifth on just one hit to break the 3-3 tie. Gillaspie’s two-run, two-out double scored two more in the sixth.

Marcus Semien reached base in three straight plate appearances with two walks and a hit, while Dunn reached base in four straight with a single, double and two free passes. Eaton stood at the heart of this attack, as he has all season, with two hits, two walks and three runs scored.

This latest effort from the feisty leadoff man caused Sale to pull out the superlatives before the season’s second week has even been completed.

“I know I have a very biased opinion,” Sale said. “But I think Adam Eaton is the most exciting player in baseball, in terms of every time he gets up to the plate, something is going to happen, whether it’s a close play, a bunt single, a double in the gap or a stolen base.”

When apprised of Sale’s compliment, Eaton smiled and followed an “oh, geez” with a “save it” for Sale, whom he in turn called the most exciting player. The White Sox are having the sort of fun that was missing from almost all of last season.

Jake Petricka, Maikel Cleto and Donnie Veal closed out the last four innings, giving Sale and the White Sox a victory on a night where they were far from perfect, but never gave up or gave in. Resiliency has become the watchword for Ventura’s crew.

“If you compete every pitch, it doesn’t matter what the score is,” Eaton said. “You go out with your best effort and you compete, good things are going to happen. When you throw away at-bats, that’s when games get away from you.”

“Sale’s a really good pitcher,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “And we did a pretty good job to fight back in that game, but it’s just hard to keep coming back. We’ve got to put up a zero at some point.”

Semien is making things interesting. Initially his defense consisted of waving at the balls as they rolled by. But now he’s buckled down and, if he’s not a highlight reel, he’s not a gaping hole in the infield either. He’s giving Ventura a comfort zone at second and the team some options as the season rolls on. The pen seems to have reduced the types of pitches each pitcher throws (as predicted here a week ago) and things seem to be settling down.

Hahn is not actively shopping anyone but he, like any good GM, has a working cell phone and some wiggle room. If they do addition by subtraction it will be a real addition, like the Garcia trade last year.

Speaking of Avisial Garcia, my sports doc friends tell me the surgery he’s going to have is common and he should resume basic baseball activities in the fall and be 100% by spring training.

They also bought me a drink.

If you’ve never paid to see Big Foot’s corpse, you can buy me a drink too.


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