At the risk of being lumped in with one of the “weird internet creatures” Jay Mariotti claims monitor his every word, the Chicago Sun-Times’ mascara maven and noted Ozzie foe takes stock after the White Sox’s weekend sweep of the Tigers.
Crisply, with an emphatic stroke of the exclamation point, the Sox sent the cruise ship crashing off to Boston with only a 51/2-game lead, down from 10 a week ago. Floating in some sort of ozone all season, the Tigers have been stripped a bit of their growing mystique and have us asking how they’ll handle a five-game losing streak, their first mini-crisis this year. I’m still not convinced the Sox will overtake Detroit in the American League Central, recalling their struggles last month at Comerica Park, nor am I so blown away by a brief hot stretch that I’m suddenly going Hawkeroo on you, blabbering ”I’m so happy” at the end of this column and declaring the Sox the greatest team ever and a back-to-back championship cinch.
But I do know they have won nine of 12 against the Tigers, including two sweeps. And I do know rookie pitching stud Justin Verlander, who is 14-2 against everyone else but 0-3 with a 8.10 ERA against the Sox, is wondering if he’s tipping his pitches against Team Espionage. And I do know an enraged Pudge (above, 0-for-12, four strikeouts) Rodriguez was a five-game suspension waiting to happen until a cooler teammate, Carlos Guillen, intercepted him as he charged the home-plate umpire in the ninth inning.
I also know the Sox, who are 5-2 so far against three contenders on this homestand, are 40-25 against teams with winning records this season. That’s better than the Tigers, Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Cubs — do they still exist? — or any other major-league team. At the moment, the only thing wrong at U.S. Cellular Field is the OwnACondo.com ad board pressed against the fence at field level, where a liner by Detroit’s Sean Casey disappeared behind it for a ground-rule double. The problem should be fixed before it happens to the Sox and inspires another pick-a-name rant by the Blizzard.
So now, in the excruciating six-month death march that is a baseball season, Soxdom can relax a bit. Kansas City arrives for four games, after being spanked for 11 runs in the first inning in a 13-0 loss to Cleveland, while the Tigers visit Fenway Park in a series that helps the Sox no matter the result. They’d better take advantage because there are few rest stops until October. The Twins, who should fade without Francisco Liriano but somehow are hanging in, could be eradicated by the Sox in home-and-home series the next two weekends. Those games sandwich four more with the Tigers, which could be for the division lead and a rare reason to take a late-summer vacation in Detroit.
Jim Leyland would like his charges to relish the “wonderful, wonderful experience” that is a pennant race. Which is certainly a unique way of looking at having a seemingly insurmountable lead whittled way.
The Mariners didn’t get Brad Childress’ memo about rookie hazing, but that’s just as well. As Seattle falls completely out of contention, they’ve got to do something to maintain interest.
And with that in mind, perhaps the Cardinals might want to invest in some pink backpacks for their September call-ups.