Danks and Thome Seal White Sox Division Title
It is fitting that by the slimmest of margins -- one pitch -- the Chicago White Sox defeated the Minnesota Twins 1-0 in game 163 of the season to crown the Sox division champions and send them to the playoffs against the Tampa Bay Rays. All season long, the Sox and Twins alternated between showing flashes of brilliance and playing unimpressive baseball. And ... for the first time in 102 years, both Chicago baseball teams will be in post-season play.
I got my ticket to game 163 by waiting for the tickets to go on sale online after the Sox defeated the Detroit Tigers in a make up game on Monday, tying the Twins and extending the season by one game for a winner-take-all playoff. As soon as the tickets were available, I jumped in and was able to snag a lower level seat. I did not want to be up high since the temperature was supposed to drop into the 40's during the game.
As I drove through Kankakee on my way up to Chicago, I swore that my cat was in the car with me. Yuck - the smell of cat pee flooded the car. I confirmed this same rank air exists in Kankakee since I smelled the same cat pee smell on my return trip. Does Kankakee always smell that bad? Also, I thought I blew a hole in my muffler when the Mustang started making this terrible noise. I couldn't see a helicopter above me and the road was smooth, so I thought the noise came from my car. When the sound disappeared a short time later, it became apparent that someone else had an exhaust problem. It must have been incredibly loud in order for me to think that it was my own car.
I got to the game 1 1/2 hours before the start. I watched a little Twins batting practice and noticed that one player whom I did not recognize (not that I would recognize many of the enemy anyway) was flipping several bp balls to fans. That was a very nice gesture, and it kept the fans from shouting some of the usual junk they will shout at opposing players.
My seat was in the first row of section 156 -- directly behind the Sox bullpen in left field. Watching John Danks warming up, we knew that he was ready for a great game. He was popping the ball in AJ Pierzynski's mitt and was hitting the corners on almost every pitch. Later in the game, we all watched the pitchers warming up very carefully. Geez - how can anyone have the reflexes to hit a major league fastball?
The game itself was fantastic -- and way too close. A great throw by Ken Griffey, Jr. nailed a Twins runner at the plate, John Danks pitched a great game, and Jim Thome's 461 foot blast off a high change up was the only score in the contest. It even took a nice diving catch by defensive replacement Brian Anderson to seal the victory. I heard an unconfirmed report that Bobby Jenks's final pitch was clocked at 100 mph by TBS.
The game atmosphere was fantastic. The fans were into the game 100%, and there were high fives at every important juncture. The electricity was unbelievable. The fans stayed for quite some time after the game, and those of us close to the field were treated to a champagne shower by some players who came out from the clubhouse to celebrate with the fans. It doesn't get any better than that.
Listen to Chicago sports talk radio on the way home made the two-hour drive go by quickly, and I even had a fun time ordering food at a Burger King drive through. When told that there was no Dr. Pepper left, I howled "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO" and had the workers laughing their butts off. But hey -- it scored me a free piece of pie!
This game was a good reminder that games are won on the field, not by reputation or by roster. Sports Illustrated picked the White Sox to finish third in the American League Central, and picked the Twins to finish last! All everyone heard about in spring training was how the Detroit Tigers were packed with players and how Cleveland would make a strong run against the Tigers. Yeah, well ...
My congratulations to the Minnesota Twins and their fan
s. They gave it a good run, and the division title, after 163 games, was really decided by one pitch. Had the game been played in Minnesota instead of Chicago, I imagine my mood would be quite different this morning. Although there seems to be no love lost between the Sox and the Twins, the Twins stand as an excellent example of a well-run professional sports franchise. They will be back.
As for the White Sox -- bring on Tampa Bay! Actually, the Sox go into the series without well-rested starting pitchers. Javier Vazquez, who will start game one, has been terrible in his last several starts. He can hopefully get into the fifth or sixth inning before the bullpen is needed.
Although the White Sox are the underdogs against the Rays, I would not be totally surprised to see them win two, or possibly even the series. Let's play ball!