With the 2012 White Sox potentially imploding, let’s take a look back at another White Sox team that appeared to be imploding down the stretch but, with a string of 3 straight wins after 5 straight losses (including a sweep by the Twins), the 2008 White Sox managed to right the ship just in time.
Those White Sox entered September with a 0.5 game lead over the Twins. Over the next two weeks, the Twins would draw even briefly but couldn’t overtake the White Sox, whose lead would fluctuate as high as 2.5 games but never more than that. After a Sunday doubleheader sweep of the Tigers at the Cell, the White Sox had gone 6-6 so far in September. On September 15, they embarked on a 10 game road trip that would begin with four games with the Yankees and end with three games in the Metrodome.
The road trip was a disaster. The Yankees took three of four and, while they managed to win two of three in Kansas City, the trip to Minnesota was a bloodbath. The Twins won all three in the Terrordome, including a gut-wrenching 7-6 come-from-behind extra-innings win in the finale.
Limping back home for their final homestand, and now behind the Twins in the standings for the first time since August 23, the White Sox promptly lost the first two games to the Indians. But the Twins, facing the Royals at home, also lost their first two games. This set up drama on the final (scheduled) regular season game day.
The White Sox had to at least match what the Twins did to stay alive. Both games started just after 1pm so the scoreboard watchers would be giving their necks a workout. Mark Buehrle started so it was likely that his quick pace would put the White Sox game ahead in innings as the games went on. Both teams, however, took early leads and then piled on in the late innings to secure comfortable wins. The Twins still clung to 0.5 game lead.
The Tigers were also scoreboard watching, probably hoping for a White Sox loss and a Twins win so that they could begin their offseason. But they now had to come to Chicago to make-up a game that was rained out earlier in the month.
One might have expected the Tigers to be listless on September 29, 2008. But the team didn’t just roll over to the White Sox in their must-win game. Freddy Garcia was on the mound for the Tigers and, after two injury-ravaged seasons, was keen on showcasing himself for teams in the market for pitching that offseson.
But then Garcia settled in and retired 15 of the next 16 batters he faced. Jim Leyland saw that Freddy was cruising, had thrown a pittance of pitches and the Tigers had just taken a 2-1 lead on a Gavin Floyd throwing error in the top of the inning. So Leyland let Garcia go out for the 6th inning – something he hadn’t done in Garcia’s only two other starts.
Garcia walked Wise to leadoff the inning, who promptly stole second base. That was enough for Leyland and he removed Garcia in favor of Armando Galarraga. It was a fateful decision.
The famous "Wild Pitch Offense" of the White Sox came to life. Galarraga threw a wild pitch that advanced Wise to third. He then threw another one in the process of walking Dye that allowed Wise to score. The game was now back level.
Leyland then decided to play match-ups and brought in Bobby Seay to face Jim Thome. Seay then threw a wild pitch that moved Dye to second. While Seay was successful in retiring Thome, Leyland perhaps got too cute. With first base open, he ordered the intentional walk of Paul Konerko, bringing Ken Griffey Jr. to the plate with runners on first and second and one out. Seay walked Griffey to load the bases.
Which wasn't a good idea because the man now at the plate, Alexei Ramirez, was a grand slam machine in 2008. Leyland went to right-hander Gary Glover. Who gave Ramirez a cookie the Cuban turned into his fourth grand slam of the season - both a major league rookie record and a White Sox team record.
With the game now a more comfortable 6-2, Ozzie Guillen went into protect-the-lead-for-the-next-three-innings mode. He pulled Floyd in favor of Matt Thornton and removed Griffey in center field for Brian Anderson. A combination of Thornton and Octavio Dotel worked a largely uneventful seventh against the top of the Tigers order.
Scott Linebrink pitched the 8th, striking out the side around a Ryan Raburn single. In the bottom half of the inning, the White Sox looked like they were going to be stuck with "just" a four run lead heading into the ninth. But Ramirez got some two-out offense started with a single and Aquino Lopez couldn't shut the door.
With an 8-2 lead, Guillen had the luxury of saving the rest of his bullpen for what was now another must-win game the next night. D.J. Carrasco came on to finish the game and quickly retired the three batters he faced, two by strikeout.
The White Sox had won a coin toss way back on September 12 to determine who would host a potential Game 163. I remember jumping online after the end of the Tigers game to buy tickets for the tiebreaker game and managing to get some pretty good seats in the upper deck right behind home plate.
At that point, the White Sox were a rather crappy 11-15 for the month of September. But, perhaps like the 2012 White Sox, they came to life at just the right time on September 28. While the tension isn't nearly as thick as three straight must-win games, let's see if this year's White Sox can pull victory out of what looks like almost assured self-inflicted defeat.