After a thrilling and enjoyable three-game sweep of the New York Yankees, the White Sox returned to normal by losing three of four to the Minnesota Twins over the weekend, and at U.S. Cellular Field to boot.
And to think -- the Sox were a little lucky to come away with even one win. They needed some poor outfield play, with an assist from a low sun blinding the left fielder, in order to rally for the lone victory on Saturday.
Oswaldo Arcia and Alejandro De Aza had to contend with a formidable sun field because of the irregular 3:05 p.m. start time, a.k.a. Fox's exclusive broadcast window. Ron Gardenhire isn't a fan:
"These 3 o'clock games, for sightlines, are absolutely terrible," Gardenhire said. "The shadows are brutal, and the ball -- you can't see spin. ... If people had to go and stand there and see the shadows, how tough it is ... "
Oswaldo Arcia fought the sun as he tried to make a sliding catch on Conor Gillaspie's sinking liner in the fifth inning, and he nearly dropped a fly ball by Alexei Ramirez. It was just as bad at the plate, Gardenhire said, and got so bad between 4:30-5 p.m., the lights were turned on in U.S. Cellular Field.
"No excuses, it was tough both ways," Gardenhire said. "But they really need to fix that part of the game."
Out-of-town baseball fans like myself also have a problem with Fox's broadcast times, but not because of sun and shadows, but because we can't see the game at all. And like Gardenhire, the start time posed a particular problem for me on Saturday:
I MISSED JOSH PHEGLEY'S FIRST WALK.
You know, I always figured that Philip Humber's perfect game would be the most noteworthy White Sox event the Fox Saturday blackout prohibited me from witnessing live. Now I'm not so sure.
(Exaggeration? Maybe, but Humber's perfect game pretty much cursed him to the point that I wonder if he wishes Brian Runge said Brendan Ryan checked his swing. And even Runge didn't survive the perfecto.)
Seriously, I'd been anticipating Phegley's walk, and not just because he hadn't drawn one. As you'll see below, a long year- or career-starting drought is nothing new. In this case, though, Phegley really hadn't given himself a chance to see four pitches out of the strike zone. Even an intentional walk could've ended with a ball in play.
So of course, he drew that first walk in what for him is the most unlikely way possible -- taking two strikes, then watching four straight out of the zone.
Phegley had to take six consecutive pitches without swinging. That's remarkable, because he'd never taken more than three consecutive pitches of any kind (and he's only done that six times in 85 plate appearances now). His combination of aggressive hacking and decent plate coverage made it difficult for him to get to any kind of three-ball count (four total), and top baseball men suggest it's kinda hard to walk if that's the case.
Somehow, Phegley worked the most demanding first walk by a recent White Sox player who took forever to draw one. Granted, Mike Pelfrey helped him out by starting all four of his misses off the plate, so Phegley really didn't even have to stop himself from offering at them. But he's swung at worse.
It used to be fun celebrating these events, but they've kinda lost their charm due to frequency. Phegley is the fourth White Sox hitter in the last four years to start a season with a walk drought of 80 plate appearances or longer. Putting it another way, the Sox own four of the 10 longest season-starting walk droughts since 2010.
It's kind of arbitrary -- for instance, A.J. Pierzynski has an active streak of 133 PA without a walk, but it's in the middle of the year, so he's not on the list. But the season-starting filter appeals to me because we're trying to find out if a player if capable of even walking once, and it takes so long that it becomes its own story.
At least Phegley closed his chapter, so we can compare it to the other three prolonged droughts. Phegley managed to make his the shortest, even though his previous lack of close calls suggested it could've gone on forever.
Josh Phegley, 2013
- Drought: First 81 plate appearances of career
- First walk: Aug. 10
Count: 3-2 (six pitches)
- Number of three-ball counts before walk: Four
Jeff Keppinger, 2013
- Drought: First 140 plate appearances of his White Sox career
- First walk: May 16.
- Count: 3-0
- Number of three-ball counts: Eight
We already devoted plenty of time and attention to Keppinger's inability to walk this year, and it was fitting that an extreme drought ended in such an absurd fashion -- on four pitches with the bases loaded to drive in the go-ahead run. On top of that, it was the third straight walk issused by Angels reliever Michael Kohn, so Keppinger had a couple reasons to resist all temptation to swing until Kohn forced the issue. Kohn never did.
Brent Morel, 2011
- Drought: First 117 plate appearances of his 2011 season.
- First walk: May 30.
- Count: 3-0
- Number of three-ball counts: Nine
Morel drew his first walk off the most qualified pitcher on this list, Boston's Jon Lester. It was rather random, as Lester retired Gordon Beckham on two pitches, walked Morel on four, and then started Juan Pierre with two strikes. But it happened, and at the time, it was the longest season-starting walk drought in White Sox history, surpassing Mike Colbern's mark of 108 in 1978.
Dayan Viciedo, 2010
- Drought: First 82 plate appearances of his career.
- First walk: Sept. 7
- Count: 3-1
- Number of three-ball counts: Eight
Closing out the ninth inning of a big Tigers victory, Detroit reliever Robbie Weinhardt struck out the first two batters he faced. Up came pinch-hitting Viciedo, who had not drawn a walk in his first 81 plate appearances over his first big-league stint.
He had just rejoined the team as a September call-up, and he picked up where he left off, starting his 82nd plate appearance with a line drive that just missed the right-field line. Then Weinhardt didn't throw him anything close, and the streak was suddenly and surprisingly over.
In these times, a White Sox hitter can go a month and a half without walking and nobody blinks. But back in Viciedo's day, failing to walk was a big deal. His sense of relief and joy is palpable:
Using Viciedo's reaction as a baseline, Phegley should've marked the occasion with at least one fist pump, Morel could've used a cartwheel, and Keppinger needed sparklers and a stars-and-stripes top hat.