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Thursday, September 30, 2004

For every season there are a few moments that you tend to remember much more than others. I thought I would explore some of my favorite, or not so favorite, memories from the season that has almost passed us by.
  • Opening Day -- Filled with the anticipation of what could be, the Sox take on the Royals at Kaufman Stadium. Mark Buehrle pitches a good game, Lee and Sandy Alomar homer. Then they turn the game over to the bullpen. Leading 7-3 heading to the bottom of the 9th, I was more nervous than I had ever been with a 4-run lead before. My nervosa proves prophetic as Koch and Marte combine to allow 6 runs in 1/3 of an inning bring the Royals "magic" back for just one more game.

  • Deja Vu -- Jon Garland is pitching well into the 7th inning when he allows 3-runs to cross the plate on 2 HR's. The Sox still lead the Royals by 1 when Jon left the game in line for the win. Cue Billy Koch. With the Sox holding a 3-run lead in the top of the ninth, Koch enters the game. He promptly surrenders 4 runs before recording his second out. This time, however, the offense has his back. Maggs walks, Thomas reaches on an error, and Carlos walks to load the bases for Pauly. Konerko comes through with a clutch single to tie it up. Joe Crede hits a 'single' that bounces into the right field seats thanks to the 5 infielders KC was forced to play with an a bases loaded, no out, situation. Sox win in dramatic fashion 10-9

  • Deja Vu, all over again -- The Sox get their second straight walk-off victory against the Royals. More than any other single at-bat this season, the 10th inning Magglio Ordonez v. DJ Carasco at-bat sticks in my mind. Maggs got himself in an 0-2 hole by watching two very hittable pitches. On the third pitch he takes a low spinning slider that was thrown right at his knees and golfs the inside pitch into the right field bleachers. Vintage Magglio; hitting a "pitcher's pitch", and hitting it hard. Vlad Guerrero is the only other player in the game who 1) would have swung at that pitch, and 2) would have been able to clear the outfield wall when he made contact with it.

  • Rained on -- The Yankees come to visit for the only time this season. The weather is nasty with a rain delay to start the game, but the outcome is nastier. Mark Buehlre falls asleep on the first play, forgetting to cover the bag, letting Jeter reach first on a "single." When reigning AL MVP Alex Rodriguez laid down a bunt single in the first, I knew the game was over. Buehrle only last 2 innings, giving up 8 runs. The Sox would rally, but could never quite overcome the big deficit, getting within 1 run twice, before finally losing 11-8.

  • Shingo Time -- It wasn't his first save, but it was the first time I had the pleasure of watching Shingo pitch in person. Seated near the bullpen, I had the treat of watching him warm-up early, then come in to pitch a perfect 10th to get his 1st Major League victory. The game was the first of a double-header, and when Shingo was on the receiving end of the customary beer shower he had no idea what was going on. Shingo's interpreter was back in Japan dealing with visa issues.

    Joe Crede provided the offense, with a 2-run HR early, and the game-winning sacrifice fly. It was the third time of the young season that Crede had a walk-off game-winning-RBI.

  • A bit hazy -- This game wasn't all that memorable, but it is noteworthy. The Sox tagged, future AL Cy Young winner, Johan Santana for 7 runs on 10 hits in three innings, while stomping the Twins, taking 3-of-4 in Minnesota. The Sox move into a tie with the Twins for first in the AL Central.

  • Buehrle's Streak -- Over the course of three straight home starts Mark Buehrle blanked three different opponents, 15-0, 11-0, and 9-0. I was in attendance for each game. 35-0, total domination. The final game of the streak, when combined with Esteban Loaiza's 4-0 victory, marked back-to-back shutouts of the Texas Rangers, who were the best hitting team in baseball at the time. Buehrle would go on to be named AL pitcher of the month for May.

  • Ouch --

  • Road Tripped -- The Sox visited the West coast for a short 5 game stretch vs. the A's and M's, and to me, more than the Hunter/Burke affair, this was the turning point in the season. Two games blown by Koch, one in "walk"-off fashion, and two extra innings losses. The Sox should have returned home from this trip being at least 10 games over .500, instead they limped back to Chicago just 6 over. Koch had given the organization no choice, he needed to be traded. It wouldn't be long.

  • Unlikely Heroes -- Timo Perez, Miguel Olivo, and Kelly Dransfeldt combined for the game-tying and game-winning RBI's in a come from behind victory in Florida. Shingo came on in the 10th for his second straight 1-2-3 save, thus clearing the way for Billy Koch to be traded to the Fish at the end of the series. Sometime during this series Frank supposedly injured his foot/ankle, but continued to play through it. This series also marked the last Quality Start by Esteban Loaiza on the season, which is noteworthy because he had about 100IP with an ERA under 4 at that point. Say what you want about the Contreras deal, but it would be difficult to find a worse pitcher in baseball than Loaiza since that start.

  • Perfection Wasted -- This game was a train wreck waiting to happen. I had been out enjoying a beautiful spring day, so I missed the first few innings. When I turned on the TV and saw it was the 3rd with 0 0 0 on the scoreboard I knew something special was happening. Hawk did a nice job of pointing it out when they left the 5th, alluding to the perfect game in progress by saying Garland has yet to allow a baserunner. When the 6th inning rolled around Garland walked the bases loaded, losing the perfect game. He then gave up the first Expos hit of the game, scoring two, losing the lead in the process. He settled back down until the 9th, when he gave up a 2-run walk-off HR to future BoSox Orlando Cabrera.

  • Cross-Town Classics -- When the Cubs came to USCF for their annual three day visit, the Sox had just placed Scott Schoeneweis on the DL. That coupled with ever present revolving door fifth starter plan left the Sox in dire need of someone to step up bigtime. Sox dropped the opener due in large part to fielding woes. The second game featured Cubs ace Zambrano vs. Cleveland/Baltimore punching bag Felix Diaz. Diaz pitched an great game, and thanks to the red-hot Paul Konerko, the Sox had just enough offensive fire power to topple the Northsiders. Game three featured more of the Sox smokin' offense, with Konerko again leading the way to victory. Konerko finished the series with 9RBI.

    Less than an hour after the series finale, Kenny Williams announced the blockbuster trade of Olivo/Reed/Morse for Garcia/Davis/$$$. The effect on the team was immediate, as it was announced that Garcia would throw his first game in a sox uniform against the Twins in just a few days.

  • Sweepage -- With their newly acquired "ace" the Sox headed north for a showdown with Twins. The finale of the series was by far the best game. Jon Garland outdueled Johan Santana, who allowed just 3 hits, but one was a 2-run HR off the bat of Carlos lee, and the sox road the plane back to Chicago with a 2 game lead on the Twinkies for first place in the AL Central. Sadly, it would be the largest lead the sox would hold all season.

    Over the span of the last 6 games the Sox had faced Prior, Zambrano, Maddux, Radke, Silva, and Santana, winning against the last 5. The results may have been good, but there were lasting effects from having to face such a string of quality starting pitching. In the first six games of July, the sox failed to score more than 2 runs in any one game.

  • Sweepage II -- When the sox returned back to Chicago the Cubs were waiting for them at their home on the Northside. The Sox got shut down by Zambrano, Maddux, and Glendon Rusch. The series featured a somewhat controversial shortened game where the sox were left to play a 30+ minute inning in the pouring rain, without the tarp being pulled out, before being called for "field issues."

  • Breakin' in first -- At the All-star break the Sox were tied with the twinkies at the top of the AL Central. Their lone representative in the mid-summer classic was, future Yankee, Esteban Loaiza. I handed out grades at the break for both position players and pitchers. Looking back on them I probably should have been more harsh, but they were in first place at the time, so it was hard to complain.

  • Shutouts: Part II -- Mark Buehrle and Freddy Garcia helped propel the Sox to back-to-back shutouts of the best hitting team in baseball for the second time on the year. This time the victim was the Cleveland Indians. The shutouts marked the beginning of a 22 game stretch against the AL Central. The Sox took the first 4 games of that stretch, but only managed to win a total of 9 games during it.

  • Sweepage III: Turning Point? -- With the Sox having won the last 5 straight games versus that team from up north, and trailing them by only a half game in the standings, the Twins came into Chicago and blitzed the sox. Thankfully, I was out of town and didn't see a minute of this series. Many people point to the Jamie Burke/Torii Hunter collision as a turning point in the Sox season. I don't see it. The Sox batted .210 as a team for the month of July, an overwhelming majority of which was prior to "the hit." Maybe it was just because I didn't see it live, but I don't think you can blame the turn around of a season on one play between two guys with girl's names.

  • Beantown -- In the middle of August, with the Twins showing signs of weakness, the sox traveled to Boston and played their most fundamentally sound series of the season. Aaron Rowand's 2 HR's lifted the Sox past the BoSox in game one of what would come to feel like a playoff atmosphere. All three games in the series were decided by one run. The solid all-around play gave the temporary impression that the Sox would be able to make a late season run by playing sound fundamental baseball. The next weekend, the BoSox flew into Chicago, and swept the ChiSox right out of their own park.

  • Arow the Hero -- Aaron Rowand follows Joe Borchard's 2-run HR in the 10th with one of his own, then hits an infield single in the 12th that scores Borchard from second on a great baserunning play. Go here and then click "Aaron Rowand's clutch night" to watch over 2 minutes of Arow highlights from that night. It's the best call of the season by hawk outside of the classic Com'on Timo! Com'on Timo! Com'on Timo!

There aren't a lot of highlights after the All-Star break, either that or I just got tired after typing 2000 words. Even though the season didn't turn out for the best, I had a good time reliving the entire season in brief highlights. Did I miss your favorite moment? Drop a comment and let me know.

In case you cared
Scott Schoeneweies was activated from the DL. -- I wonder when Robert Person will be available.