White Sox fall into tie, not panic
In a letter published in the Chicago Tribune on Sunday, Mark S. wrote: "As a Sox fan, I really get tired of them failing to win the important games. Losing to the Tigers again just shows what a joke this team is."
When asked how words such as those resonate with him, Chicago White Sox GM Kenny Williams said, "I really don't give a damn. It was just last week where we swept the Yankees. Now you're telling me those games weren't big? People -- including [probably] that same person that wrote that comment -- said those games were big before we played 'em."
Still, the White Sox entered what many were calling their "first" most important series of the season three games up on the Detroit Tigers with each game of the three-game series carrying meaning. Everything we wanted to know about the White Sox would be discovered and exposed over the weekend against the team that was threatening them like Yohan Blake was threatening Usain Bolt before the Olympics.
This was when baseball was going to see who they were, find out what they were about and discover what they were made of and why fans were either going to ride or write lack-of-faith-based letters to newspapers about them for the rest of the 162.
They lost the first game. They got spanked in the second game. Then Delmon Young broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth of Game No. 3. Na Na Na Na. You know the rest.
Going into the Tigers series: supreme optimism. "Friday night will be all about winning and losing that game," Jake Peavy said to the media prior to taking the mound in Friday's 7-4 loss.
"As a player," he said, "there's nothing more you can ask for than to play meaningful games and get in the postseason and have a chance at winning the world title."
Clarity then set in after the first two losses. But doubt and pessimism didn't.
"It is a big series because we are in the same division [as the Tigers] and we are close in wins and losses," manager Robin Ventura said when asked how he'll manage to eventually not let this series define the season. "But by no means does [this series] define anything. When there's 30 days left in a season, this doesn't define anything. You hope to play well and if you don't, you know you're still going to have to regroup."
And the ability to regroup is what the White Sox must perfect over the next month. (Next week, if we are being real about it. Hell, come Monday.) Losing not just to the Tigers (and losing the hold they had on the Central Division lead) but losing six of their past seven games has made regrouping essential.
Their "one game at a time," new, relaxed, un-Ozzie Guillen philosophy and demeanor that has gotten them further this season than they have been in the past three seasons is about to be put to the test. Never the team that seems as if it will panic, we are about to see how this team responds in "pressure" time. Say what they want and believe what they must, but every major league player and team knows that the "feel" of September baseball is unlike any in any sport. Especially with teams involved in pennant races.
Especially with teams that have been front-runners before the month began.
The announcers during the ESPN broadcast Sunday, noting how the teams have played this year, said that if things stay true to form "the Sox will go home and win and the Tigers will stay home and lose." Too bad wishful thinking isn't a strategy in sports.
Still, even with the White Sox picking the worst time to fall into a mini-slump, there's no need for them to panic or feel that they aren't the team they believed they were going into the series versus the Tigers.
They must stay true to who Ventura has turned and molded them into. Or as Chris Sale put it after his loss on Sunday, they must "[make] sure little things don't turn into big things."
Before the weekend series against the Tigers, the Chicago White Sox were the least feared team in baseball with a division lead. Rarely were they discussed outside of Chicago, rarely did they get any national attention here on ESPN.com. Their bandwagon, as I wrote in an earlier column, was empty. Small. I put it this way: Teams that are leaders in this year's pennant races have stretch limos, Hummers and Excursions as bandwagons. The White Sox: Fiats.
And to many they've now justified that only local, only die-hard fan base. They've proven in three games when it seemed to matter the most that as good as they have been all season, they might not be ready for prime time.
Just don't tell that to any of them. Not the players, not Ventura, not Williams, not the PR staff, the owner or anyone in Bridgeport wearing a black New Era. Because they will not let the results of this past series be the truth to who the White Sox are.
"Detroit was supposed to win this division by 15 games according to the 'experts,'" Williams said. "Yet, we're fighting them tooth and nail right now. I can't be more proud of our guys. And if people don't recognize that we are fighting tooth and nail and that we have won more big ball games this season than we've lost, that's their problem. We're not apologizing to anyone for competing to the best of our abilities."
The question now: Is the best of their abilities going to be enough?
This one series may have been nationally overlooked going in and locally overblown once it was over, but the White Sox for the remainder of this season may have to play above and beyond their abilities to make the final month as special as they've made the first five.
It may be panic time for White Sox fans, but it's not the end.
Or as Robin Ventura put it when answering my question about defining this season: "The season's not over on Sept. 2, it's actually over for us on Oct. 3."