- Melissa Isaacson, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- For Gavin Floyd, perfection was always the elusive goal, his biggest opponent though certainly not his biggest problem.
No, it was a lot simpler than that. Throw strikes. Don't hit batters. Avoid the home run pitch. Get over bad games, not to mention bad innings and bad pitches. Focus. Stop fighting yourself.
"I know that God has given me talent, and I just want to go out there and try to get the job done," Floyd said typically Wednesday night after a somewhat atypical performance of late, as he helped the White Sox avert a Cubs sweep with six-and-a-third shutout innings in a 7-0 victory. "I've tried to do that every start. It just hasn't been going my way. I just keep on pressing, keep on going and try to stay confident."
It certainly has not been easy; the veteran righty has become more than simply a concern for the Sox but someone to trust only as far as the occasionally decent four or five innings -- a far cry from the potential 20-game winner we thought he was his first several years with the team.
Even worse was that Floyd's stock on the trade market has been presumably falling as well. With a 4-7 record and 5.63 ERA through his first 12 starts, including eight hit batsmen in his first 10 games, preseason reports of Boston, Baltimore and Toronto being interested in acquiring Floyd has died down considerably.
The citywide anticipation of Floyd versus Randy Wells on Wednesday night was, shall we say, underwhelming. But it was important to the Sox, who had fallen out of first place in the AL Central after their loss to the Cubs on Tuesday night, and came in riding a three-game losing streak with six losses in their last seven games and 10 defeats in their last 14.
But after scoring just five runs combined in the three losses, Sox batters gave Floyd much-needed run support as back-to-back singles by Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko drove in two Sox runs with one out in the third.
Gordon Beckham knocked out Wells with a bloop single to right that drove in Alexei Ramirez with the Sox's third run in the bottom of the fourth. And a three-run home run by Beckham in the sixth tied his career high of four runs batted in, and extended Floyd's cushion to 6-0.
The only question at that point was how Floyd would let a comfortable lead get to him.
As ESPNChicago.com colleague Jon Greenberg tweeted at one point Wednesday night: "Positive attendance note for Sox: Voices in Gavin's head count for gate."
Given his history, that was always the obvious conclusion. Talented young pitcher goes from 17-8 record and an ERA of 3.84 in his second season with the Sox in '98, to 11-11, 10-13, 12-13 and 4-7 in the subsequent four years with an ERA that never dipped below 4.06 (in '09).
The 6-foot-6, 235-pounder starts talking about how he obsesses over mistakes and tries too hard to be perfect. His breaking stuff remains largely unaffected but he can't locate his fastball. He gives up too many walks, too many home runs. He's not terrible but he is terribly mediocre, which is just as maddening.
Going into Wednesday night's game, Floyd was 1-4 with a 10.38 ERA in his past six starts. After striking out nine in a loss to Houston on June 8, Floyd allowed five runs with four walks through 4 2/3 innings in St. Louis in his last start.
"It's there," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said when asked before the game if he was more frustrated when Floyd struggled with good stuff or when he just didn't have it. "Frustrating is just one of those words that's thrown around, but he's the one that has to go through it. I think that part of him pitching is the pressure of not letting people down and things like that.
"Those are probably bigger than just the frustrations, [that] he's trying to do a lot and he just needs to be himself."
Other than throwing 108 pitches against the Cubs, which demonstrated some familiar difficulty in getting ahead of the hitters, Wednesday was encouraging, something to build on as Floyd improved his record to 5-7 with his third scoreless outing of the season, allowing four hits, one walk and striking out four.
"He seemed like he was working a little bit quicker and he just located the ball much better tonight than he had the last few starts," Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "Hopefully it's a step in the right direction. He threw the ball great, and hopefully five days from now, he'll continue to get better."
Floyd retired nine Cubs in a row at one point, his performance providing a rare shred of optimism for a team coming out of a lost series to its otherwise-floundering crosstown rivals. The Sox desperately need Floyd if they want to continue to be players in the division race, just like they need John Danks and they need Phillip Humber.
"He has it in him to be consistent," Ventura said of Floyd. "The credit goes to him to wade through [his recent struggles] and pitch like he did tonight. He gave us what we needed."
Gave himself what he needed as well.
"It was frustrating," he said of his recent struggles, "but at the same time I felt like God gave me peace about it and I knew things were going to work out. I think everybody on this team believes in our pitching staff and me, and I believe in myself that good things are going to come around."
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