My favorite memory as a Sox fan (This is going to date me for some of you old-timers.) was back in June of the 2000 season. The Sox were the surprise team in the American League. They had a modest record of 37-24 at the time, and just a slim 2 game lead in the AL Central over the 5-time defending champion Indians.
The experts said it was a nice little run, but the Sox would face their first real test on a 14-game stretch against the Indians and Yankees, the first 7 of those games on the road. That road trip was the defining moment for that team. When they swept through both Cleveland and New York, they had announced to the baseball world that they weren't going anywhere; not until the playoffs, at least.
The first game back from that trip is my favorite game that I've ever attended. The Sox sold around 20,000 walk-up tickets for that game. My brother and I were two of them.
We got to the park around 2 with a cooler full of beverages, a small little grill, and a few brats. Pretty soon we had scored front row tickets, and gained a few friends thanks to our little impromptu cookout.
Even though the Sox had just taken 7 in a row from the Yanks and Tribe, it didn't look good for them on this night. They sent maligned starter Kip Wells to the mound against Cleveland's ace Bartolo Colon. The crowd came out to the park that evening not to watch another Sox victory, for that was unlikely. They showed up simply to show their appreciation for a well played road trip. This was the night that a tradition was born.
I don't even remember what I used to do as the Sox took the field in the top of the first. I probably stood up, clapped a little bit, maybe yelled at the position player nearest to me. I never really thought about it. I just did what came natural.
What came natural on that night, not just for me, but for the entire 43,000+ in attendance, was to stand and give the most enthusiastic ovation I have ever heard. The crowd built to a roar a few times prematurely in anticipation of the Sox taking the field, each time adding more fans. I think the Sox purposely held the introductions up a bit, just to take it all in. By the time PA announcer Gene Honda said the word 'your' you could no longer hear him. 43,00 loud, and it would be that way all night. We all willed the Sox to victory that night.
Kip Wells, who in previous starts routinely heard Bronx cheers when he actually found the strike zone, pitched probably his best game in a White Sox uniform, throwing 6+ innings of shutout baseball peppering the zone all night. The game was a pitchers duel for a while, before the Sox broke through with 3 runs in the 5th. Herbert Perry broke the scoreless tie with a solo-shot leading off the 5th. By the time the Sox had added two more, the crowd began taunting the Indians with the chant 'eight and a half, eight and a half,' which would mark the Sox lead on the AL Central should they hold on to win. Which, of course, they would. The 'eight and a half' chant would continue, practically uninterrupted, for the remainder of the game.
The Sox would go on to win the Central by 5 games that season. But for all intents and purposes, it was over on that night.
I'm writing this tonight because I feel much the same way about the current team right now that I did about the 2000 club on that night. They both had substantial leads on the division in mid-June. There are some obvious flaws with both clubs. But the main reason they remind me of each other is there's just something special about them. I can't tell you what it is. They just win.
That doesn't mean this race is over. There's still plenty of baseball to be played. (91 games to be exact) The Sox just have a nice working margin now. They can hit a slump, and not have to worry all that much about the teams behind them. The most important thing at this point is just to stay healthy. That 2000 teams' pitching staff had about one healthy arm in the rotation by the time September rolled around. It's taken plenty of good fortune to get to this point, and it's going to take plenty more to make it 91 more while holding the same position.
It's already been a fun season. Summer just started. It's going to be a fun one.
Want to relive the 2000 season?