Late-inning collapses take backseat to other collapses

In one way, the 2011 White Sox actually did themselves a favor by distracting themselves completely out of the race in September.

By going 11-17 in the season's final month, they may have lost most of the dignity they had -- but in the process, they diminished the significance of the bullpen and its accomplices for its horrific early-season failures. I think pain is easier to tolerate when the causes are more general ("If only Adam Dunn weren't the worst hitter in baseball history...") than specific ("If only Juan Pierre could've caught a few more flyballs in April...").

In the process, it sent me scrambling to Baseball-Reference.com, throwing my night out of whack (in a pleasant way).

When the White Sox held a lead at the start of the ninth inning, they went 70-8. That might sound good, if it weren't terrible. For a little context:

  • The Detroit Tigers went 83-0 in such situations, which is good for a 10 1/2 game difference in and of itself.
  • The 2010 White Sox went 76-3 last year when leading to begin the ninth.

And the most interesting number of all...

  • The last South Side team to lose at least eight games after holding a lead to start the ninth? The 1957 White Sox.

For whatever reason, it made roughly the same amount of impact. The Yankees went a respectable 82-4 when holding a lead entering the ninth inning, but the White Sox scuffled their way to a 79-9 mark. The Sox finished eight losses behind the Yankees on the season, and this accounts for five of them. Ninth-inning nightmares accounted for roughly the same percentage of the overall deficit.

But like the 2011 White Sox, the 1957 team had a bigger problem -- they couldn't beat the Yankees. The White Sox went 8-14 against New York, while winning the season series against every other team.

What's weirder is that blown saves didn't really account for much of their Yankee problems. The Sox only lost a ninth-inning lead in one of those 14 losses, but they made it memorable. A 4-1 lead turned into a 6-4 loss thanks to a pinch-hit grand slam to Moose Skowron of all people.

That one hurt. Had the Sox closed that game out, they would have swept a doubleheader and pulled within one game of the Yankees. Instead, they fell three games back, and never could draw any closer. So the next time anybody here sees Moose, ask him if he remembers taking Jim Wilson deep at Comiskey Park on July 14, 1957.

By the way, can anybody guess the last time the White Sox went undefeated when leading after eight innings? This wouldn't have been in my top 15 guesses, but it was 1997. And thank goodness that happened, because a sizable chunk of the Sox's 66-0 record that year was the result of Matt Karchner pumping up his trade value.

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