This game would have been a treat for a sellout crowd in the home opener. Instead, the 21,000 or so on hand got to see what the White Sox had in mind this season.
At least after the second inning.
After falling into a 4-0 hole in the second inning (accompanied by another round of booing), Jeff Samardzija and Zach Duke held the Twins scoreless until J.B. Shuck delivered a pinch-hit, go-ahead RBI single in the eighth inning. Then David Robertson came in and struck out the side for his first save, and the White Sox' first win.
Was that so difficult?
It was easy to envision another awful day when Samardzija gave up a string of well-deserved hits, exacerbated by a Geovany Soto throwing error on a stolen base attempt that gave the Twins an extra 90 feet they probably didn't need. They scored four runs on five hits (four smoked), and Samardzija ended the inning by cursing at himself after striking out Joe Mauer.
The White Sox offense gave him a reason to hang in there. Adam LaRoche led off the second with his first homer in a Sox uniform, and it was the first of five straight opposite-field batted balls. Avisail Garcia laced a ground-rule double to right-center, Alexei Ramirez moved him to third, and Conor Gillaspie shot a single through the left side to cut the Twins' lead in half.
The Sox even managed to overcome themselves. They could only cash in one run on a bases-loaded, nobody-out situation in the third -- and it came home on a Garcia infield single off Mike Pelfrey's foot -- but Soto picked up the other run with a solo shot in the fourth to tie it.
It remained tied thanks in part to a resurgent White Sox defense. The Sox finally figured out a way to foil the running game, as Micah Johnson made an acrobatic tag on Logan Schafer for the first baserunning kill in 11 tries -- although since nothing comes easy this year, Robin Ventura needed to challenge it to make it so.
In the fifth, Alexei Ramirez maxed out his vertical to snare a Brian Dozier liner, and Melky Cabrera ran down a Mauer drive to the warning track -- the exact kind of play that gave Dayan Viciedo PTSD. Those were the kinds of outs the Sox had been missing, and they kept the inning short enough for Samardzija to last seven innings on a reasonable 113 pitches.
Zach Duke pitched around a two-out walk -- the only one issued by White Sox pitching all day -- to throw a scoreless eighth, and he picked up his first win for his effort when Minnesota's defense faltered.
The game should have been over when Ramirez hit a two-out grounder to short, but Danny Santana threw high, and Mauer couldn't catch it cleanly enough to apply the tag without the ball coming out. That extended the inning, and the Sox made him pay. Gillaspie lined a double to right to put two in scoring position, and that's when Ventura went to Shuck.
It was a curious call, as Soto had a single, homer, and a deep flyout to center in the box score, and Shuck's not a righty killer. Yet Shuck validated Ventura by lining a single to left, which was enough to score Ramirez, and nearly enough to score Gillaspie, who was gunned down at the plate on a good send by Joe McEwing. Robertson didn't need the insurance, mowing down the bottom of the Minnesota order like a top-tier closer should.
*Soto's solo shot came during a nine-pitch at-bat. He got ahead 3-0, then thought he walked on the next two pitches, and justifiably so since at least one of them was out of the zone. Good thing John Hirschbeck kept him there.
*Since the Shuck move worked, Ventura's only decision that stands out was bringing the infield in during a 1-0 game in the second inning. Throw in the intentional walks, and that's the kind of nervous managing that makes an 0-4 start look worse.
*Samardzija resisted a retaliatory plunking after Jose Abreu took one to the upper arm. Fewer baserunners seemed to work over the last seven innings.