If ever there was a solitary game that could, all at once, remove the heart of a team who is just half a game out of a playoff spot... this was it. The White Sox entered this game knowing full well that they needed to take Game 1 of this series, because the Twins send Johan Santana to the mound tomorrow. The loss means, in all likelihood, the Twins will leave town with at least a half game lead in the Wild Card, and that's only if Mark Buehrle suddenly remembers how to pitch.
The game started off on such a promising note. Scratch that. Scott Podsednik was still in the leadoff spot, so it didn't start out all that well, but by the end of the first inning, things were looking up, thanks to a Jermaine Dye walk and Paul Konerko HR. The Sox continued their attack against Brad Radke in the second, pushing across another run, though it probably should have been more with one of the outs being made at home. (Thanks Joey!) Javier Vazquez even appeared to be on the cusp of his second quality start since June. Then he gave up the first HR of the year to Nick Punto, and every Sox fan on earth could feel the meltdown coming.
Javier wasn't happy about how the 1-0 pitch to Punto was called, and right on cue, his 2-0 pitch left the yard. After the HR, I was rooting so hard for Vazquez to get out of the inning without allowing another baserunner, and not becuase I wanted to brag about my pre-game prediction. The WCIU cameras had panned down to the White Sox bullpen to show the tandem of Neal Cotts and David Riske warming in the pen. As uneasy as I was with Vazquez pitching in the 6th inning of a tight game, I knew I would be even more on edge -- with good reason -- with either of those two in the game. Sure enough, Vazquez allowed the next two batters to rope the ball, and was pulled.
Until tonight, I thought the single biggest bullpen management blunder of the season by Ozzie Guillen was using Boone Logan to pitch to Travis Hafner in the 8th inning of a 1-run game in the third game of the year. Ozzie's decision to turn to Neal Cotts tonight was worse, if only for the reason that with Logan he didn't know what the kid could do. With Cotts, he knew full well what he's been doing lately.
- Cotts hasn't had an outing without allowing a hit since August 6, a span of 8 games.
- In his last 4 games against Minnesota, Cotts allowed 4 runs on 6 hits in just 3 innings.
- Justin Morneau entered the game 4-9 with a HR against Cotts.
- Cotts has allowed lefties to hit .429/.474/.686 since July 8th. That's 15/35 with 6 extra-base hits and 2 walks.
I wasn't pleased to see David Riske enter in such a tight, important game either, but his use is at least somewhat defensible. It was unfortunate that he gave up a HR to Hunter, essentially killing the Sox chance at the game, but the other likely candidate in that sitation, Brandon McCarthy, hasn't exactly been the model of consistency this season, or been particularly good at avoiding the longball, for that matter. Plus, there may be something going on with McCarthy that we don't know about. He's been conspicuously inactive for much of the last two weeks.
For the second straight game, the Sox may have seen something that hasn't happened in major league history. Yesterday it was the 5-7-3 putout. Today, it was the game-ending walk-off fan interference call, which was the right call, but just added to the It's Not Our Year vibe that has been building this season.