June 2009

Crosstown Showdown: U.S. Cellular Wrap

John Danks already has earned the utmost respect from his teammates over three big-league seasons, and throwing seven scoreless innings as he did during Sunday’s 6-0 victory over the Cubs only increases that respect.

But Danks also stepped up and showed he had his teammates’ backs by hitting Ryan Freel to open the seventh. Carlos Zambrano already had hit Scott Podsednik and Dewayne Wise earlier in the game, with Wise’s situation causing words to briefly be exchanged between the two in the bottom of the sixth.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen would not go as far as to categorize Danks’ effort as a purpose pitch.

“It’s part of the game,” Guillen said. “I cannot say he hit him on purpose because that’s accusing people.”

When Danks hit Freel in the left forearm, Freel blew on the spot as if to indicate a lack of velocity or pain on impact as he ran to first. But Danks had the last laugh on this particular day.

“To be totally honest with you, I didn’t even see him,” Danks said. “He went to first base and fortunately, we were able to strand him. Whatever he did, that’s something you would have to ask him. It didn’t bother me a bit; I didn’t even see it.”

–This just in: According to a well-placed family source, Danks and Scott Linebrink combined for an all Round Rock, Texas shutout on Sunday. Linebrink, who fanned four in two perfect innings, graduated from Round Rock McNeil High School, and Danks from Round Rock High School. There’s some interesting trivia to amuse your friends.

–Danks made sure to spread the credit to catcher A.J. Pierzynski for Sunday’s victory.

“I didn’t shake A.J. once. A.J. did a great job, he always does,” Danks said. “I know that for the most part, I just have to follow his lead and try to hit his glove with whatever pitch he tells me to throw.”

Pierzynski pointed to Danks’ changeup as his outpitch against the Cubs.

“He kept getting swings and misses and weak ground balls with the changeups,” Pierzynski said.

–As Pierzynski was talking about Chris Getz’s steal of home in the clubhouse, Gary Matthews Jr. swiped home during the Angels’ game on one of the televisions on at the time.

–Guillen showed strong pregame support for the White Sox visiting clubhouse staff amidst Cubs’ allegations that there was a leak surrounding what was said during Friday’s Lou Piniella-Milton Bradley spat. Guillen also shared his thoughts on Mark DeRosa moving from Cleveland to St. Louis.

“It’s funny. Mark DeRosa was my backup (in Atlanta). Now he’s the most wanted guy in baseball,” Guillen said with a laugh. “I was the backup at shortstop and Mark was my backup. I think this guy can help a lot of people.

“He can play every position very well, he’s a great man in the clubhouse. You can play him second, third, you can hit him leadoff. He can do so many great things in baseball. I think Tony picked the right guy. I think he’s going to help him.”

–Finally, here’s Jermaine Dye’s take on the 2009 competition with the Cubs, which has one more makeup game at Wrigley Field on Sept. 3 or 10.

“This series is always great, especially for the city of Chicago and the fans and for us and the clubhouse,” Dye said. “It’s a great atmosphere.

“What a series for everyone. The city of Chicago – three great games and a lot of excitement going on. That’s what you like to see when two teams in the city are playing each other.”

–Actually, one final note. Here’s a closing aside from Wise on Zambrano hitting him after Getz swiped home.

“My thing is just go out and try to get the guy out,” Wise said. “Don’t get mad and throw at someone and hit them. Play baseball and try to get the guy out.”

Crosstown Showdown, U.S. Cellular version: Day 2

Here are a few additional tidbits from another in the long line of battles between the Cubs and White Sox, covering 13 years. When Interleague Play was invented, I have to believe this is the sort of crowd-pleasing rivalry Major League Baseball had in mind.

–In a day filled with White Sox miscues, one of the strangest ones came on a Mark Buehrle balk in the fifth inning. Alfonso Soriano opened with a bloop single to right and Ryan Theriot drew a walk. Both runners moved up a base when Buehrle went to throw over to first base but Paul Konerko was not near the base. So, Buehrle didn’t go through with the throw, which isn’t allowed while he’s still on the rubber.

The veteran southpaw took full responsibility for this particular mistake.

“I screwed up. It was totally my fault. Not Konerko, (bench coach) Joey (Cora) or (catcher) A.J. (Pierzynski),” Buehrle said. “I was thinking it was a timing play when A.J. gave me the sign. Then, instead of stepping off, I threw it.”

Buehrle believes the balk actually helped the White Sox stay out of a big inning. Milton Bradley’s ensuing line out might not have ended up with shortstop Alexei Ramirez if the middle infield was playing double-play depth with runners on first and second.

As for Buehrle’s effort on the mound, allowing three earned runs on six hits over 5 2/3 innings, he said that he felt great.

“Obviously, I lost something in that last inning,” said Buehrle, who has a 5.40 ERA in his last three starts at home. “But overall, I felt pretty good.”

–Both manager Ozzie Guillen and general manager Ken Williams have talked about the Cubs-White Sox series being the biggest one either team is going to play if they don’t make the playoffs. The two teams aren’t exactly juggernauts at this point, but the Cubs sit just 3 games out in the National League Central and the White Sox now are just 5 back in the AL Central.

So, Buehrle certainly isn’t ready to pronounce these five games, with one postponement to be made up in September, as the highlight of the season.

“Well, I don’t want to sit there and think that now,” Buehrle said. “There are still two or three months left in the season. I’m not thinking that right now. I just want to go out there and try to win games to get to the playoffs.”

–The scariest moment for Gordon Beckham on Saturday was not hitting in the ninth inning against Cubs reliever Jose Ascanio, with the game on the line. It was seeing Jim Thome and A.J. Pierzynski coming at him at full speed, as the celebration began after his game-winning hit.

“When you see Thome is at full sprint, you know something is up,” said Beckham with a laugh. “It was a lot of fun.”

“Good, good. Just so he remembers that,” Thome said. “No, we were having a little fun with him. It was good.”

–Best guesses for the White Sox All-Star candidates would be Buehrle, reliever Matt Thornton or right fielder Jermaine Dye. But it’s hard to overlook Scott Podsednik, who has been as important to this team staying afloat as anyone on the roster.

–The White Sox are 10-6 in Interleague Play, with two games remaining. Bobby Jenks earned his first career Interleague win on Saturday.

Crosstown Showdown: U.S. Cellular Field version

Here are a few additional tidbits from the Cubs 5-4 victory over the White Sox on Friday, a competitive and entertaining affair, which sadly is sure to be overshadowed by the dugout outburst from one Cubs outfielder.

–Paul Konerko had his 118-game errorless streak come to an end in the seventh inning, when he bobbled Mike Fontenot’s chopper as Konerko was moving toward second and then couldn’t get the ball to Jose Contreras covering at first base. Geovany Soto followed with a three-run blast to left-center that proved to be the game-winner.

Konerko is an extremely underrated defensive player at first base, and was given the out by one reporter on the miscue coming off of a bad hop. Instead, Konerko explained the thought process on the play.

“That play, it’s one where, as a first baseman, you’ve got kind of a choice when that ball is hit,” Konerko said. “If you just pull up, you can go back to the bag and just get an easy out at first, and then you have a guy at second.

“Then, if there’s a broken-bat hit, you feel sick.You aggressively go after it, and you know it’s kind of a do or die, and I died there. But it’s aggressive. You’re going to make errors. I’d rather make them hard and aggressive like that than laying back. No worries there.

“I wish I would have made it,” Konerko said. “I feel bad when I make an error like that behind Jose because he was pitching so well. I thought he was having a really good day. He threw the ball really well today and battled. You’re sick in that respect, but you’re going to make errors. If I can make them all like that, I’ll be happy.”

Meanwhile, the White Sox might have put a bigger scare into Kevin Gregg in the ninth if not for a great play by Derrek Lee. Pinch-hitter Dewayne Wise hit a shot to Lee, who made a diving stop and flipped to Gregg covering first base, with Gregg beating Wise by half a step for the inning’s second out.

— Ozzie Guillen pinch-hit Josh Fields for Gordon Beckham with two outs in the ninth inning because he wanted to go for the tie with the White Sox trailing by one and down to their last bullet.

“Besides that, the on-base percentage is a lot different,” Guillen said. “Fields had a good at-bat and gave us a chance to get somebody on base, and Beckham has struggled lately.”

Fields drew a walk, after being down in the count at 1-2, before Scott Podsednik took a called third strike that appeared to be a bit outside on a 2-2 pitch for the game’s final out.

— Nobody on the Cubs asked me, but here’s a lineup idea presented by my brother, Jeff, once Aramis Ramirez returns. Move Alfonso Soriano to second base and put Jake Fox in left field. It’s hard to imagine Fox’s big bat going to the Minors or the bench.

And remember, he’s another proud producer from the University of Michigan pipeline.

–Jose Contreras has allowed eight home runs in his last three starts against the Cubs. He also suffered from back spasms during Friday’s game but stayed in the game after the discomfort dissipated.

“I felt a little pinch,” said Contreras through interpreter and White Sox director of public relations Lou Hernandez. “I had to lower myself a little bit to throw the forkball, but luckily it was nothing. It was just a little pinch at that moment.”

–Sight not seen by the masses: As Guillen was exiting his postgame press conference in the U.S. Cellular Field Conference and Learning Center, he paused briefly to exchange hugs and a few words with Lou Piniella outside the Cubs clubhouse, before Piniella went into his meeting with the media.

–And finally, one comment from Konerko on getting a look at any of Milton Bradley’s dugout outburst.

“Not at all. Well, I shouldn’t say not at all,” Konerko said. “I saw some guys move down in the tunnel. I didn’t know why. I didn’t even know who it had to do with. And that was it. And then you kind of caught wind of it later in the game.

“That’s all I know. You tell me. I’m sure I’ll find out. I’m sure some one will let us know. But yeah, it’s not our business.”

–Actually, one final note. Remember, the White Sox lost the first game of the series in Milwaukee and Cincinnati and at home against the Dodgers, but they came back to win all three series. They are 9-7 overall in Interleague Play.


Guillen sounds a warning to Ramirez

Alexei Ramirez finished 0-for3 with one walk and one flawless chance in the field at shortstop during Friday’s 5-4 loss suffered by the White Sox to the Cubs. The talented infielder actually was more the topic of conversation before Friday’s game, as manager Ozzie Guillen once again talked about his displeasure with Ramirez’s occasional perceived defensive laziness.

Even with that displeasure clearly out in the open, Guillen didn’t bench Ramirez or have any sort of talk with him following Thursday’s two-error effort in the White Sox 13-inning victory over the Dodgers.

“I’ve talked to him already. I don’t think there’s a reason to do it
[now]. I should, just to get it out of my system,” Guillen said. “But I’m going to let
him go because I might say the wrong thing to him and all of a sudden
we might create a monster.

“I hope he reads the paper. My coaching staff
will take care of that and we’ll see after that. It’s not because I
hate the kid, it’s not because I’m picking on him. You all saw the way
he went about his business after he made an out. I want him to be the
best shortstop he can be.”

Guillen explained that he doesn’t expect Ramirez to win batting titles or RBI titles, so aside from making the All-Star team, the Gold Glove stands as the only individual honor he could earn.

“Well, play like a Gold Glover,” Guillen said. “When I made a statement in
January that this kid should be one of the best shortstops in the game,
one of the best shortstops for the White Sox, I meant it. I meant it
because I’ve seen it. That’s why it’s my job, Joey Cora’s job, to get
this kid in the right place for the rest of his career.”

As for the potential benching, Guillen said he gives days off to players that deserve a day off.

“And I make it clear, I never criticize my players for an error, a bad pitch, give up a home run,” Guillen said. “But when you don’t give me your best effort, that’s not going to work with me, I don’t care who you are. I don’t care what you do, how much money you make or if you’re a Hall of Famer. If you don’t give me your best effort, that thing is not going to work.

“One thing about it, I don’t care if he hates me or if he loves me, but this kid has an unbelievable future. This kid can be one of the best in the game. My job is to get him there.

“How I’m going to do it, we’ll see how, but I learned that from Bobby Cox,” Guillen said. “When Bobby Cox told Andruw Jones right in his face, ‘I [benched] you because you’re better than that and you’re going to be a superstar.’ I think this kid has the same tools to be [a star]. If he doesn’t play the game right, he’s going to have a tough time playing for me.”


Postgame commentary

The White Sox will honor the 50th anniversary of the 1959 World Series team, a group that lost to the Dodgers, prior to Thursday’s series finale. Luis Aparicio, Jim Rivera, Billy Pierce and Jim Landis are some of the players from that team scheduled to be in attendance.

But leave it to Ozzie Guillen to lend his interesting, yet somewhat bizarre, and always humorous take on the planned ceremony.

“They’re still alive?” said Guillen with a laugh, drawing a laugh from the media during his press conference following Wednesday’s 10-7 win. “I see Billy everyday. Every time I see Billy, he’s Mr. White Sox.

“I think what they did was nice. I hope they invite me when they celebrate the 2005 team. If I keep managing this ballclub, pretty soon I’m not going to be alive, but it’s always nice to see those people back in uniform, back in town.

“But we see those guys every time,” Guillen said. “Just name it. We see them everywhere. We sign autographs at the zoo, they’re behind us. That doesn’t surprise me.”

–Asked to describe how Josh Fields has handled his move from starting third baseman to utility player, team captain Paul Konerko offered the following analysis.

“Classy. Awesome. Hard-worker. Does all that is asked of him,” Konerko said. “It was nice to see him rewarded tonight.”

Fields earned a start at third base on Thursday with his three-hit, two home run effort on Wednesday.

“Dads say it as far back as in Little League: Hit and you play,” Field said. “I felt good about my at-bats and my swing.”

–I was asked this question tonight during the game, and I’m looking for a little help from the White Sox fan base in finding an answer.

Jared Mitchell, who was the Outstanding Player at the College World Series and the White Sox top pick in the 2009 First-Year Player, has won a football and baseball title at LSU. How many other collegiate players can make that same claim? I’ll hang up and listen for your responses.

While the White Sox had to be thrilled by Mitchell’s performance, No. 1 Texas fan John Danks didn’t seem all too excited about the Longhorns’ loss.

Going Deep

The six home runs hit by the White Sox against the Dodgers on Wednesday night were the most hit by the team since they knocked out six on June 8, 2004 against Philadelphia. As a full service blog, here’s how the home runs broke down during that particular 14-11 victory, in which the legendary Amaury Telemaco suffered the loss.

–Paul Konerko and Juan Uribe each hit two.
–Frank Thomas hit one off of Telemaco
–Carlos Lee went deep off of Ryan Madson

Also of note that night, Mark Buehrle earned the victory and Mike Jackson gave up five runs in one inning of relief.

On Wednesday, the home runs belong to Josh Fields, Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye, Jayson Nix, Alexei Ramirez and Josh Fields again.

Crosstown Showdown: Round 2

The White Sox lineup should be extremely small-ball focused in Friday night’s series opener against the Reds.

Jim Thome once again will be out of action, as the White Sox move on to their third and final three-game Interleague set without a designated hitter at a National League ballpark. This run will end up covering just eight games, due to Tuesday’s postponement.

Carlos Quentin continues to be sidelined during his recovery from plantar fasciitis in his left foot, and now it looks as if Jermaine Dye will rest on Friday as he battles through an ongoing left calf strain.

“I might not play him tomorrow, give him some rest [for his left calf], see how that feels,” said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen of Dye. “Hopefully, with a day off he’ll feel better, but we’re going by ear. We gave him back-to-back days off and that didn’t help him. I have to be careful with him. If Dye goes down, Quentin is already down, it will be tough on us.”

–Without productiviy from Gavin Floyd and Alexei Ramirez that somewhat resembles last year’s breakout performances, the White Sox probably won’t be playoff contenders. So, despite Thursday’s tough loss, the team has to be encouraged with the signs of resurgence from both.

Ramirez homered for the second straight game and had two hits, after going 4-for-25 in his last six games.

“We’re looking for that,” said Guillen of Ramirez’s effort. “He’s had a tough year this year, a really tough year. Hopefully little by little, he’s getting some big hits for us.”

Floyd lost his chance for a second straight victory due to a rare late-inning bullpen malfunction, as Curtis Granderson’s two-run, ninth-inning home run off of Bobby Jenks cost Floyd last Thursday. Floyd has given up three runs or less in each of his last six starts, working at least seven innings in all but one.

He would trade in Thursday’s stellar mound work for a victory.

“To not win as a team, I think that’s the most disappointing thing,” Floyd said. “I want those (bullpen) guys in there every single time. It just didn’t work out for them. We’re going to bounce back.”

–With all the talk over the past week concerning the Cubs hitting woes, don’t lose sight of back-to-back great efforts from Floyd and John Danks. As has been said many times before, ultimately this team goes as far as it’s pitching and defense.

— Josh Fields pinch-hit for Floyd in the eighth inning of Thursday’s loss and drew a walk off of Sean Marshall. Since June 9, Fields has just 11 plate appearances and once again could find himself as the odd-man out when Quentin gets healthy. Guillen addressed that issue prior to Thursday’s contest.

“I don’t think we’re going to make a move yet,” Guillen said. “We still got to wait for (Bartolo) Colon and see how he is, how he feels.

“That’s the tough move we’re going to make. Josh Fields is still with us. Unfortunately, I could not give him enough playing time. I got to wait to see if I can give Paul a rest at first base and if he can help a little bit by DHing, but I try to do the best I can to accommodate his situation, but it’s tough right now.”

When asked if Fields needed to play full-time somewhere at this stage of his career, even in the Minors, Guillen provided the following response.

“We don’t have that conversation yet,” Guillen said. “Fields never brought it up. Kenny never brought it up to me. Right now, we’re playing well. When you’re playing well, you don’t want to make any moves. You want to leave the team the way it is. Right now it’s not in our plans.”

–White Sox fans have to be smiling over the development of young players such as Chris Getz and Gordon Beckham, not to mention the next step up being taken by Brian Anderson in center. The team appears to have formed a youthful core to keep it strong in the present and for years to come.

–Check out Guillen’s take on the wholesale lineup changes Cubs manager Lou Piniella suggested were coming after Wednesday’s loss.

“”He made one, he put (Anders) Blanco in,” said Guillen with a laugh

And the beat goes on?

As Wayne Messmer belted out the National Anthem prior to the start of Thursday’s battle between the Cubs and White Sox, a few rows of seats were noticeably empty behind the White Sox dugout at Wrigley Field. Those areas pretty much filled in by the time the White Sox were done hitting in the top of the first, but this particular scenario represents just one small reason from the first two days of this series to give pause for thought as to whether the all-Chicago competition is as electric as it once was.

“Yeah. I thought it was down a little bit,” said White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, when asked after Wednesday’s victory whether the capacity crowd seemed a bit more subdued. “I think maybe the fact that we play them six times a year, once here and one there, and we played them like 10 times in Spring Training this year.

“It’s still fun to come here and still a great atmosphere, still fun games to be in. It just seemed like there wasn’t as much energy as there has been in the past for this series.”

The White Sox and Cubs actually played five times during Spring Training, including a two-game excursion to Cashman Field in Las Vegas. Other ideas presented by White Sox players for the series being toned down ranged from Tuesday’s rainout offering a bit of a buzz-kill to these games serving as just the second mid-week series in the 13-year history of the competition.

“D (Derrek) Lee and and I were talking at first, and we were saying how once you’ve been in it for a few years, it’s not downplayed but a little more mellow because you’ve already been through it,” White Sox center fielder Brian Anderson said of the rivalry. “I’m sure if you ask Gordon (Beckham), especially getting like eight ground balls in a row yesterday, he’s probably all into it.”

Regardless of a possible slight drop in the fever pitch, the White Sox players agree it’s still the best show in town and potentially the best rivalry in Interleague Play.

“There’s a better atmosphere here then any regular mid-week game, for sure,” White Sox pitcher John Danks said.

“Only a few people in this town root for both teams,” White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. “If you’re a Cub fan, you’re a Cub fan. That’s the way it is. Like I say, a few people do that, they don’t care and root for both teams. But as long as we’re given an opportunity to play this game, it’s going to be a rivalry.”

Crosstown Showdown: Round 1

It’s sometimes easy to forget the managerial acumen possessed by Ozzie Guillen.

That aspect of the overall person that is Guillen often gets lost when he’s telling humorous stories about buying T-shirts that make fun of him on the streets near Wrigley Field, not to mention the other comical yarns he spins on a daily basis. But anyone who watched the White Sox in action during Wednesday’s 4-1 victory over the Cubs understands his sharp and aggressive managerial mindset and how the White Sox take their cue from their leader.

I’m not saying Guillen outmanaged Lou Piniella. In all honesty, I’m not sure if Houdini could have produced a win for the Cubs on Wednesday with as listless as that lineup looks. But the non station-to-station game played by the Whtie Sox is the sort of game Guillen would prefer to see from his team every day.

–I’m just throwing this out there and I want to see how many, if any, of you agree.

If a vote was taken today, would Scott Podsednik be the White Sox Most Valuable Player? That’s where I would throw my support, although a case could be made for everyone from Paul Konerko to Jermaine Dye to A.J. Pierzynski to Mark Buehrle. But Podsednik has changed the dynamic of this lineup.

He reached base three more times on Wednesday, having now reached base in 32 of his last 34 games, and Podsednik is hitting .315.

— Slowly but surely, the White Sox have put together what looks to be a solid bottom part of the batting order. That group includes Chris Getz, Brian Anderson and Gordon Beckham. On Wednesday, the trio reached base six combined times.

“I think we are playing well,” Beckham said. “We’ve all done something in the last couple of games. It helps that our older guys don’t always have to do it. They don’t always have to have the big hits.”

All three have helped out defensively, with Anderson still standing as one of the best with the glove in the American League at his position.

— Here’s Podsednik’s take on the importance of doing the little things in victory.

“That’s what we haven’t been doing in series before this one,” Podsednik said. “That’s what we needed to clean up a little bit: The way we handled the bats, getting guys over, getting guys in with less than two outs. So, the team that takes the field and is able to do those things consistently is going to be able to win games.”

–Guillen had these words of encouragement for Cubs fans after another tough home loss.

“They’ve got a good ballclub,” Guillen said. “If I had to bet, with all respect to St. Louis, Milwaukee and all those teams, the Cubs are going to be in the pennant race.

“Just people in Chicago relax. Quit panicking. Worry about something else. Worry about your family, the kids going back to school and having good grades. Don’t worry about the Cubs, they’ll be fine.”

On Tuesday night, Guillen predicted the Cubs would win the National League Central by 10 games.

All about Ozzie

As me and my media bretheren were milling around the White Sox clubhouse Wednesday morning, Ozzie Guillen called me into his office to show off a new shirt he had purchased.

The shirt read, “Ozzie mows Wrigley,” and had Guillen on a riding motor super-imposed into a rendering of Wrigley Field. He apparently bought the shirt off of some street t-shirt vendor, with many other politically incorrect options to be had, I’m sure. Actually, I’ve seen many of them.

Guillen laughed at the joke on the shirt, poking fun at his dislike for the visiting facilities at Wrigley Field. But he also told the vendor that while he might mow Wrigley Field, he’s not standing out in the rain selling t-shirts like this guy was on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Guillen had an equally humorous take when asked about the lack of outbursts coming from him and Cubs manager Lou Piniella this season. Are they getting calmer as they advance in years?

“Well, I think Lou is getting old and I’m getting poor. I’m broke. Every year I donate too much money to Major League Baseball,” said Guillen, drawing his daily laugh from the media. “I don’t think we need it.

“One thing I follow in baseball is Lou’s press conference. I never miss them, I never do. I think they’re fun.”

Guillen had harsh words for his team following last Monday’s first-game loss to the Tigers during a home doubleheader. The White Sox seem to have responded to his challenge.

“I say what I have to say the day we played poorly, I say that because of the way we were playing,” Guillen said. “Right now, I don’t think we have to do it. When we have to do it, we’re going out and doing it.

“Sometimes, it’s like when your parents, day in and day out, they are all over you, and then all of a sudden the kids just start making fun of you and don’t listen to you. You have to pick your spots when to say stuff, and how.”