If history hinges on small events, then the fate of the AL Central could have changed with five minor decisions.
I'm a fan of alternate history. My Kindle is loaded with books like Phillip K. Dick's "Man in the High Castle." In that book, Anton Cermak does not take the bullet meant for FDR, and the isolationist John Nance Garner takes over as President. Eventually, the US is conquered by the Nazis and the Japanese.
Alternate historians believe that history hinges on small events. Tape on the door at the Watergate complex led to the resignation of President Nixon. Jackie Kennedy's sudden appearance at the front door of the Kennedy's Florida compound in December of 1960 kept an anti-Catholic conspiracy theorist from detonating a suicide bomb. I took that same approach to my analysis of the 2012 White Sox season. The Tigers won the division by three games. I looked for four Sox losses in which small events turned the tide.
If Robin went down the road not taken...
If that play was made...
If Brent Morel delivered in the clutch....
...the Sox would have been in the playoffs and the American League Champion Tigers would be booking tee times.
Before I jump into the list - some rules:
- The Sox had a plausible chance of winning. Blowouts are still blowouts. Also - the Sox don't suddenly solve Bruce Chen.
- I looked for situations where the game found the wrong guy. In April/May, there were plenty of games that came down to Morel or Will Ohman. Both would be gone by June.
- I wanted to avoid situations like "and then Paulie hit a walkoff homer!" Too easy.
With that in mind...enjoy the alternate history of the 2012 Chicago White Sox.
Prime Universe Score: Orioles 3, White Sox 2.
Alternate Universe Score: White Sox 4, Orioles 3.
The Sox trailed the Orioles 3-2 heading into the bottom of the ninth at U.S. Cellular Field. Jim Johnson gave up a leadoff walk to Alex Rios. Alexei Ramirez then gave up an out by bunting Rios over to second. J.J. Hardy misplayed a Dayan Viciedo grounder to short. With runners on the corners and one out, Kosuke Fukudome lined out to third. Johnson walked Alejandro De Aza, leaving it up to Brent Morel. Morel hit a line drive over the head of a leaping Wilson Betemit, scoring Rios and pinch runner Brent Lillibridge. It was the first walkoff win of the year. Brent Morel's heroics took the heat off of Venutra for calling for Ramirez to bunt in the first place.
Prime Universe Score: Athletics 5, White Sox 4 (14 innings)
Alternate Universe Score: White Sox 4, Athletics 2
The inning started off with Jerry Blevins giving up a double to Adam Dunn. Brent Lillibridge was brought in as a pinch runner (in the Prime Universe, he's picked off of second). Blevins intentionally walks Paul Konerko, who is replaced by pinch runner Gordon Beckham. A.J. Pierzynski pops out to short. Rios hits a hot shot past third baseman Eric Sogard scoring Brent Lillibridge. With one out, Gordon Beckham is held at third (he was gunned down at home in real life). Dayan Viciedo hits a weak grounder to shortstop cliff Pennington, scoring Beckham. Nate Jones shuts ‘em down in order in the bottom of the 13th. The Sox take two of three in Oakland ... on a roll after Phillip Humber's perfect game the previous Saturday.
Prime Universe Score: Dodgers 7, White Sox 6
Alternate Universe Score: White Sox 6, Dodgers 2
This was a dominant pitching performance from Chris Sale, made even more memorable by the play-by-play of the ageless Vin Scully. The Sox were at Dodger Stadium for the first time since 2008, and the fans listening to the Dodgers broadcast were delighted when Scully called Sale "Mr. Bones."
Things got a little hairy in the bottom of the sixth when Sale led off the inning with a walk to Jerry Hairston Jr. That was followed by a single from A.J. Ellis. But, Orlando Hudson was able to jump and field a Juan Uribe ground ball that took a wicked hop. He turned a double play. Sale struck out Tony Gwynn Jr. to end the threat. The Dodgers would tack on one more run thanks to a Matt Thornton wild pitch in the bottom of the eighth.
Prime Universe Score: Dodgers 2, White Sox 1
Alternate Universe Score: White Sox 1, Dodgers 0
Jose Quintana is feeling it this afternoon. He's pitching a six-hit shutout. Ventura thought about bringing in Addison Reed to close out the game, but he decided to let Quintana go the distance. His faith is rewarded with a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth. The Sox sweep the Dodgers in L.A.
Prime Universe Score: Royals 2, White Sox 1 (10 innings)
Alternate Universe Score: White Sox 1, Royals 0.
With runners on first and second and one out in the bottom of the ninth of a scoreless game, Alexei Ramirez hits a single to left field. Joe McEwing decides to test the arm of Alex Gordon. The throw is on the money, but Alejandro De Aza slides below the tag to win the ballgame.
With that win, the Sox are 79-64, with a comfortable six-game lead in the AL Central heading into that week's crucial series against the Tigers. The Sox win the next game, giving the South Siders an 80-60 record, and a seven-game cushion with 22 games left to play. The Tigers would take care of business, and the Sox would go on a nosedive in the second half of September. But they had enough to clinch the AL Central on October 1 with an 11-0 win over Cleveland. The baseball pundits are bearish on the Sox chances in the postseason, but they all agree that Robin Ventura guided a remarkable turnaround on the South Side of Chicago.