This is going to sound like sour grapes, but a few innings into Monday's 4-2 White Sox winner over the Blue Jays, I started wondering if the end of Chris Sale's 10-strikeout run would be somewhat of a blessing.
I mean, I use Baseball-Reference.com Play Index more than 99-point-something percent of baseball fans, so I'm no stranger for tracking rare runs and hoping to see them become standalone accomplishments. But I thought it was odd that Sale completed the first two innings on 17 pitches, and my first response was disappointment.
Sale has faced the minimum thru 2 efficient innings. No strikeouts, tho. I thought I heard a collective crowd-groan on that foul pop-out.— Daryl Van Schouwen (@CST_soxvan) July 7, 2015
That's a little weird, right? So that's about when I decided that I shouldn't get all that wrapped up in a record I wasn't aware of a fortnight ago, even if I still held out a little hope into the later innings.
Based on the sounds from the ballpark, I'm guessing the fans were also able to set aside the record and focus on the Condor's duel with Mark Buehrle. The strikeout quest added some voltage to the proceedings early on, with the crowd getting loud even for strike two in anticipation of a strike three. But the fans sustained the energy even when the math started suggesting that a ninth consecutive 10-strikeout game was unlikely, and finally impossible.
At one point, I thought, "This is what it would sound like if and when Sale appears in a postseason game."
And so I was surprised to see the announced attendance was only 24,593.
There was a little bit of attendance shaming, most stemming from ESPN Chicago's Bulls reporter Nick Freidell.
I can't believe the White Sox couldn't even get 25,000 for Buehrle vs. Sale. I know people care about that team, but that is terrible.— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) July 7, 2015
Why should media outlets write/talk about the White Sox if they can't even get 25,000 people to come out and see Buehrle vs. Sale?— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) July 7, 2015
Which, hey, great idea. More readers for me. The last thing the Chicago media needs is more layoffs, though, so I'll be charitable and suggest that this is a bad road to go down.
But there's not much of a point in responding with reasons or excuses, because he was in the vast minority. Most of the media members made note of the mood, rather than a number:
Playoff like atmosphere here at the ballpark— Scott Merkin (@scottmerkin) July 7, 2015
Dan Hayes: "But the left-hander outdueled his former teammate with a complete-game victory in a 114-minute contest in front of a raucous crowd."
Colleen Kane: "'Every time there were two strikes everyone was making some noise,' Sale said of the crowd of 24,583. 'It was fun. It didn't work out, but I'll take this outcome over (the record) any day.'"
Daryl Van Schouwen: "Sox fans have a reservoir full of unused cheers for a team that is 37-43 after one of the more anticipated nights at the Cell. A Sale night has become something of an event. With four Sox wins in the last five games and Buehrle going, too, there was a buzz about the place that has been largely absent this year."
Jon Greenberg: "With the strikeout 'record' on the line, the Sox gave out K cards to the entire stadium, and every time he got to two strikes on a hitter, the fans roared, giving the game a playoff atmosphere despite a undersized crowd of 24,593."
But don't just take it from them:
"Yeah, I’d be lying to say it wasn’t getting me a little more amped up than I should have been,’’ Buehrle said after the White Sox rallied with three unearned runs in the eighth inning to to defeat Buehrle and the Jays 4-2 on Monday night. "Running out to the bullpen, they’re kind of cheering and coming in. Throughout the game, it was just special. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. Outstanding feeling. Just came out on the wrong end for us.’’
He said that he hoped he and Sale "gave the fans what they came for," and they did. So did the Sox, with an offense that rose to the occasion late, even if they needed a Jose Reyes error to crack the door open.
The game was reminiscent of Sale's duel with Corey Kluber in May, which was undeniable old-fashioned fun between two of the league's most dominant pitchers. But thanks to Buehrle, this one became an event, and everybody responded -- the Sox touted it well, the fans who showed up showed up, and the players made them want to come back.
That last part is the key to this whole thing, of course. The White Sox have been proactive with their pricing and promotions, but their efforts increased just in time for the team to bottom out on the field. I'd like to see what the fan response looks like when the team starts playing compelling baseball, even if erratically. Until them, keep hyping the hell out of Sale, because when he's on and has an opponent to match, there isn't a better ticket in town, even if it isn't the hottest.
Sale and Buehrle also helped keep the crowd in it by completing the game in an hour and 54 minutes -- and that included five or more minutes of challenges.
While Sale nor other Sox pitchers work as fast as Buehrle, they're on the above-average side of the pace scale, and it's part of a culture Buehrle helped instill:
As Sox manager Robin Ventura said after the game, "Grasshopper learn well, apparently." [...]
"There should be a school," Ventura said. "They have to go to Mark Buehrle school before they get to the big leagues. You just grab the ball and throw. It’s fun to watch. You enjoy it even on the other side, even though he’s part of the history here and family. Everybody should learn under him. Just grab it, throw it, don’t overthink it. You can still get through games without having to sit there and walk around the mound one time and pick up the rosin bag and do a skit. Just grab the ball and throw it."
"Watching him for a few years, you get the ball and go. Nobody likes to stand out there for three hours. Nobody. Fans, players, coaches, nobody. So get the ball and go. Another thing too: Trust your catcher and don’t shake off. Why would I not trust him? He does so much homework behind the plate, in between starts and everything. Just get it and go. Trust it."
And so did Buehrle, albeit fatalistically:
"Everybody enjoys fast games when I’m pitching but I want to enjoy a fast game when I’m watching,’’ he said.