When the White Sox used the much-maligned solo homer to defeat the Minnesota Twins to win the AL Central back in 2008, I had hoped that would be the game the White Sox would point to when it came to any future problems with the Twins.
Talking to my dad on Sunday night, he pointed further back when asking the same question. In 2006, the White Sox were the defending World Champions and in a bitter fight to get back to the playoffs. In an attempt to motivate(?) his team, Ozzie Guillen gave the Twins an entire marketing campaign:
"I'd rather do anything in baseball than face those piranhas," Guillen had said. "They're hungry, and they show people they're hungry. I love those guys, I really do. I enjoy my team, but I love the way [the Twins] approach the game." [...]
"We're not rah-rah," he said. "That's special stuff over there. No big names, no big-money people, no big stars. But the way they go about their business is awesome.
"I call them little piranhas because ... those guys bite little by little and all of a sudden you're dead. I love it, I'm sorry.
"A better team than mine? No, but I love the way they play the game."
-- Chicago Tribune, Aug. 27, 2006
In either case, the White Sox enjoyed clear-cut bragging rights. They were the AL Central champions. They were the World Series champions. And still, in the wake of their triumphs, Ozzie Guillen still reverted to talking a terrible game when the Twins rolled into town.
The words alone don't matter. Talk is cheap, and Guillen devalues it even further with his volume, but his teams are happy to back it up, regardless.
The convenient excuses -- Johan Santana! The Metrodome! Punto! -- disappeared.
The problems remained. And they're growing in number.
It's getting worse
A couple of posts back, lastof12 and Shoeless in SC put together a handy chart of the White Sox's records against AL Central teams since 2005. I'll highlight their records against the Twins in particular:
- 2008: 9-10
- 2009: 6-12
- 2010: 5-13
- 2011: 1-7
The Sox are 7-28 against the Twins over their last 35 games, and there are no words for that.
They've lost home-field advantage
Back in 2008, both teams fiercely defended their turf. The Twins were 8-1 at the Metrodome against the Sox; the Sox were 7-2 against the Twins. A coin flip decided who would get to host Game 163, which the Twins didn't like. That was understandable -- the Twins won the season series, and the location played a big part in it.
Fast-forward three years, and I don't think the Twins would care. They're 16-3 at U.S. Cellular Field in their last 19 games.
There are no more Sox killers
In previous seasons, legitimately outstanding Twins played a big part in shutting down the Sox. Facing Santana, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer at the height of their powers was a tall task. Gardenhire also had one of the game's deepest bullpens, and they used their speed well at home. All in all, the Twins had soundly constructed teams with elite talent and a good supporting cast, and there's no particular dishonor in finishing 8-10 to those Twins over the course of a season series.
Now? Well, Santana is long gone. Morneau is out. So are Denard Span and Jason Kubel. Mauer is back, but wobbly. Their bullpen was ravaged by free agency. Ron Gardenhire is forced to fill out his lineup card with Tosonis and Buteras and Dinkelmans. Dinkelmans!
The Twins have struggled against the rest of the league. They used to make hay against the Royals, going 37-17 against Kansas City from 2008 to 2010. This year, they've eked out a 5-4 record, after losing four of the first five. Plainly put, everything has been a challenge for Minnesota -- except when the Sox come up on the calendar.
The first two times the Sox embarked on a series against the Twins, they had just about everything in their favor. Yet when Francisco Liriano comes to the Cell on the verge of losing his spot in the rotation, he ends up throwing a no-hitter.
The first half ended with the White Sox losing three of four at home to the Twins. By the end, Hawk Harrelson and Darrin Jackson were falling in line for feting, doing their damndest to sell White Sox fans on the Twins' virtues.
But if you follow enough Twins fans and bloggers on Twitter, you'll see they're not a superteam. Their first half has been saddled with injuries, strange roster and lineup decisions, terrible defense and Matt Capps. When things go bad -- and for the Twins, they saw rock bottom -- they sound an awful lot like us.
The big difference is that the Twins don't sound like the Sox when the teams meet. They show up to a gun fight with slap bracelets and still expect to win, mainly because Guillen expects them to win, too.
Forget slappy leadoff hitters -- this unrequited love has been Guillen's biggest failing as a manager. It's nonsensical at its best, and now that his teams continue to fold in the presence of the Twins regardless of the circumstances, inferiority is now ingrained in the identity.
That seems pretty toxic, doesn't it? Well, worse yet, the organization literally broadcasts this to the public. Harrelson and Jackson are essentially selling season tickets for the Twins, a team so wholesome, divine and bursting with baseball goodness that they're still 1 1/2 games behind the White Sox in the standings.
This season has exposed the depth of the White Sox's infatuation. It doesn't matter if the Sox are better, healthier, stronger, deeper, at home, division champions or World Series champions -- they'll still find a way to put their direct competitors on a pedestal. It's always been troubling, and now it's just disgusting.