Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Red Sox vs. White Sox: Chicago Dreaming

Despite being brutalized by food poisoning the night before the flight I toughed it out and headed to Chicago this past weekend to enjoy the Sox in the city of the current World Champion White Sox. I went with two goals in mind. One, to watch the Sox play, and hopefully win, and two, to hurl insults at Ozzie Guillen until he charged the stands with a bat and started beating men, women and children to death indiscriminately until he reached my row. I achieved only goal number one, after my wily ticket shyster failed to come through with the third row seats I was promised. I had a great time, but I really had my heart set on being the straw that snapped Ozzie's fragile psyche.

The first thing you notice about some White Sox fans is that they are a bit like the geek Nouveau Riche here in the Bay Area. After years of punishment they're suddenly on top of the world, and they have no idea how to handle it. Unfortunately, in some cases their best guess seems to have been to act like Yankee fans, which makes for some uncomfortable conversations. This bad-apple subset by and large does not have much baseball knowledge. One guy said, in talking about how great it is to enjoy baseball for a world champion team, and I quote: "It's awesome sitting in the car on the way home listening to Podsednik hitting bombs". Granted, when Clement is pitching everybody has a chance, but still. There is no response to this statement that doesn't begin with the phrase "what is wrong with you?" I was unimpressed.

Nevertheless, by and large the people of Chicago are fantastic, and me and my Chitown-native friends had a blast. Especially watching the games Friday night and Saturday. Well, I had a blast; they got loaded and pretended it wasn't on.

After Lester's first couple of innings Friday night I was sure it was going to be the blowout we'd been keeping one eye open for - he had zero command of the strike zone. Zero. In fact, I've come around to thinking that he is so wild when he pitches that it is helping him. It's not like he's nibbling at the corners and hitters are waiting on one that misses just in their wheelhouse. He is missing by so much that when he throws a strike they are too stunned to hit it. By the time he settles in hitters haven't seen enough quality pitches to get a read on him, because in their first at-bat the ball was all over the place. Does this make sense? Not really, but it amuses me.

At any rate, Lester got the job done for 6 and MDC, Timlin and surprisingly Tavarez (trying to shake the Anti-Christ moniker) finished strong. The oddity of the game for me is that Brendan McCarthy, who pitched the 8th and part of the 9th for Chicago, gave up two dingers. This is the same Brendan McCarth who 3-hit the Sox last year. He was up in the zone this time, and it hurt him. I still think the kid has the stuff to be an impact pitcher if he stays healthy with his Ichabod Crane physique.

Saturday's day game, now referred to as the Burn Fest, was one of those wins where Red Sox fans were super-pissed for the first five innings, and White Sox fans were super-pissed the rest of the time. The watershed moment of the game of course was the Chisox failing to score with the bases loaded and nobody out in the 7th. Javier Lopez came in to K slugger Jim Thome and Hansen earned his socks by getting Konerko and Dye with some pretty sick pitches. This was good because it was Lopez who was traded to the Sox for David Riske, the same David Riske that took the loss for Chicago. This is one of those Muntz-ian "HAH-HAH!" moments we occasionally enjoy in life.

I missed Sunday's game while in the air (or most of it) but as everyone knows it turned into a very unnecessary 19-inning deathmatch featuring blown saves by both Papelbon and Timlin, and an eventual, predictable loss for Rudy "The Once and Former Anti-Christ" Seanez. Seanez is so unpredictable that you could use his ERA as an encryption key and feel pretty safe. On the more predictable side, Varitek went 0 for 8 in that game, bringing his two-game total in Chicago to 0-for-12. He was not singing "My Kind Of Town" on the flight home, methinks.

The Catcher position has become a bit of an issue for the Sox. Varitek is truly struggling at the plate. His numbers for the past week (small sample size, but these are shockingly bad):

28 3 2 12 0.167 0.488

No bueno. Naturally the strikeouts are the most appalling thing - he's striking out nearly 50% of the time. In fact, this line is positively Gorman Thomas-esque: feast or famine, and mostly famine.

Of his three hits, two were solo home runs, accounting for his two RBIs. One has to assume the guy is just gassed, but as grim as these numbers are, Tek has been in a consistent, prolonged, and pretty powerless slump for most of the season (see graph).

I'm not a professional scout, but to me it looks like his swing has just gotten insanely long, and slow. But then, it always looked a little like that. Perhaps he's just not seeing the ball well, or has suddenly aged 6 years.

On the other side of the bench we have the white spray-painted outline of Doug Mirabelli's corpse. Obviously, Dougie can't hit anything. On Saturday, apparently because he is an unconscionable tool, AJ Piersctgzinski was calling for Garcia to throw fastballs right down the gut how Dougie likes them, and Mirabelli was swinging right through them. He later singled up the middle off Riske just to piss GM Ken Williams and Ozzie Guillen off, and I respect that, but he is basically done. After the game Ozzie called him "fat, gay-looking, and a probably into tupperware", or something like that.

Also the thing with Dougie is the pitch-calling, if it can be called that. As I mentioned earlier, the reason Sox fans were pissed off through the first five innings (or maybe this was just me) was because Mirabelli was either making, or letting, Beckett throw almost nothing but fastballs for the first 5 innings. I mean nothing but fastballs. This may have been partly because it was a very hot day and Beckett is prone to blisters, but it was pretty tough to watch the White Sox sit dead-red on every pitch and get what they were looking for. He had pretty good location, but zero margin for error, especially since he didn't own the plate. For some bizarre reason they will not let him throw inside. If he is going to throw nothing but heat, there has to be some fear there. Plus, who knows, as a bonus one might get away and bean AJ Piersczhzynski.

All in all a good trip for me and the Sox, assuming noone has incurred a lasting ding from the marathon game. Going into the ASB with a couple games in the bag isn't a terrible place to be, even if you have no #5 starter, your catcher is aging faster than the average Drosophila melanogaster, and two of your bullpen relief have been called the Anti-Christ. In fact, it's good times.

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