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The 2008 White Sox: Postseason and Aftermath

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We all know how the story ends, but let’s talk about it anyway

Chicago White Sox v Tampa Bay Rays, Game 1
Welcome to Thunderdome.
Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images

The White Sox arrived in Tampa Bay having successfully fought for their survival in three straight games. By prevailing in a one-game tiebreaker against the Twins to win the AL Central, they earned a date with the Rays in the American League Division Series. The Sox come into Tropicana Field, a stadium that was built for them, to play against an expansion team making its first postseason appearance in its 11-year history.

The Rays went from the worst record in baseball one year to AL East champs the next, thanks in large part to an impressive core of hitters headlined by rookie sensation Evan Longoria. The then-Devil Rays’ first-round pick in 2006 hit .272/.343/.531 and played Gold Glove-caliber defense at third, rounding out to 5.6 WAR in just 122 games. Others, like Carlos Peña, B.J. Upton, and Akinori Iwamura, are pleasant surprises from 2007 that carried over. The rotation is unspectacular but solid and healthy, and Grant Balfour and J.P. Howell are a fearsome duo in the bullpen.

October 2: ALDS Game 1

The Rays clinched their division on September 20, so unlike the Sox, they’ve had time to line up their rotation for the playoffs. They send 26-year-old ace James Shields to the mound, while the Sox run Javier Vazquez.

Shields gets off to a good start, retiring Orlando Cabrera, DeWayne wise, and Jermaine Dye in 10 pitches. Vazquez needs only nine pitches to dispatch the Rays’ first three hitters, but Jim Thome, Paul Konerko, and Ken Griffey Jr. go down in order as well.

Longoria steps in to start the bottom of the 2nd. The first pitch the budding star sees in the postseason is a first-pitch fastball, 90 MPH, right down the middle. He jumps all over it and hits it out to left-center field, giving Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead.

Alexei Ramirez and A.J. Pierzynski hit back-to-back singles leading off the 3rd, and Juan Uribe bunts them to second and third. Cabrera fails to execute, hitting a pop-up to second. With two outs, enter DeWayne Wise, who gets an 85 MPH “fastball” and rockets it just over the right field wall for a three-run home run. In the blink of an eye, the White Sox have a 3-1 lead in Game 1 of the 2008 ALDS.

Dye follows the home run with a double over Upton’s head. This moment seems inconsequential, but it increases the Sox’s win expectancy in Game 1 to 69 percent. From this moment on, through the rest of the series and the nine seasons that follow, the White Sox will never be closer to the World Series than they are right now. Thome grounds into the shift to end the inning, and it’s all downhill from here.

In the biggest game of his White Sox career to date, Javier Vazquez gets battered around. Jason Bartlett leads off the 3rd with a single, and Iwamura follows with a triple. Upton strikes out, but Willie Aybar hits a fly ball deep enough to score Iwamura and tie the game. Longoria comes up and homers again, on a borderline eephus pitch. In just five batters, a two-run lead has returned to a one-run deficit, and the optimism has quickly died.

There isn’t much left to the story of this game, other than the top of the 7th. Down 6-3, the Sox load the bases with one out. Joe Maddon pulls Shields and sends in Balfour to face Uribe, who strikes out. Balfour throws a pitch outside to Cabrera and yells at himself in frustration, but Cabrera thinks he’s the one being yelled at. In response, he kicks up dirt at Balfour and tells him to throw the ball over the plate. Balfour, fired up by the gesture, throws nothing but fastballs and strikes out Cabrera with a 96 MPH heater.

Konerko hits a solo home run in the 9th, but the Sox lose 6-4.

October 3: ALDS Game 2

Ozzie Guillen swaps Wise for Nick Swisher and Griffey for Brian Anderson in Game 2, and throws Mark Buehrle against Scott Kazmir. The Sox score two in the top of the 1st, loading the bases with nobody out before mustering a single and a sacrifice fly. Dioner Navarro hits an RBI single in the bottom of the 2nd to make it 2-1, but a double play from Bartlett ends the inning. Buehrle cruises until the bottom of the 5th, when Iwamura hits a two-run homer to give the Rays a 3-2 lead.

Still, it’s not a bad Buehrle start, and he continues to pitch well despite a couple of blemishes that have put the Sox behind in the score. They have opportunities to score in the 6th and 7th, but take themselves out of one when Uribe leads off the 6th with a single and Anderson bunts him to second, allowing Balfour to come in for two quick outs.

In the 8th, another questionable decision allows the close game to slip away. Guillen leaves Buehrle in for the 8th inning for the fourth time through the order, Upton hits a leadoff triple, and Carl Crawford cashes in the insurance run with a single. Octavio Dotel and Matt Thornton give up two more runs with two outs, and suddenly it’s 6-2.

Now the series moves to Chicago, with the Sox facing the specter of a sweep and an early exit from the playoffs. The good news is that John Danks will be ready for Game 3 after his tiebreaker gem, so there may be hope yet.

October 5: ALDS Game 3

That hope takes an early hit when the Rays score first again. Iwamura’s RBI single in the 2nd makes it 1-0, and then a passed ball by Pierzynski puts runners at second and third. Danks is able to get Upton to fly out to end the inning, but the pressure is on the Sox to get something going to keep their postseason dreams alive.

In the bottom of the 3rd, Matt Garza issues a leadoff walk to Wise. Uribe and Cabrera are both retired, but Wise steals second on a 1-2 count to Pierzynski, and on the next pitch A.J. hits a ground ball into center field, allowing Wise to score and tie the game.

Then, in the 4th, they put on their rally caps. Thome hits the first pitch of the inning for a double and Konerko walks. Griffey hits a sharp single into right field, loading the bases with nobody out. Ramirez, master of the grand slam, comes to the plate in a crucial situation. There’s no slam this time, but he’s able to hit a fly ball to center that Thome can tag on. Upton makes a throw home, Thome scores, and the other runners both move up.

On the next pitch, Wise comes through in the clutch again, smacking a double down the left field line that scores Konerko and Griffey for a much more comfortable 4-1 lead.

Danks, meanwhile, is dealing. After the passed ball in the 2nd, he allows just a single and a walk over the next four innings, keeping the Rays to just one run. Uribe tacks on another run with a single in the 6th to make it 5-1.

Just when it looks like the Sox are on cruise control heading for a Game 4, Upton hits a two-run no-doubter to cut the lead to 5-3 in the 7th. Guillen calls for Dotel to finish the inning, and he and Thornton form the bridge for Bobby Jenks to finish it in the 9th. Jenks sets the first two Rays down, but Upton gets another hit to bring the tying run to the plate. Jenks gets to 0-2 on Carlos Peña, then freezes him with a dramatic hammer curve at the knees to end the game.

Pulling to within 2-1 in the series feels a lot better, but the Sox still have to win two more games in a row to advance.

October 6: ALDS Game 4

The second elimination game pits Gavin Floyd against Andy Sonnanstine. Once again, the Rays score an early run courtesy of an Upton home run in the 1st, which sets the tone for a game that’s never all that competitive. Sonnanstine works around a baserunner in each of the first two innings, and Upton again burns the Sox with another solo home run in the 3rd.

Floyd hasn’t had much trouble outside of Upton so far, but he unravels quickly in the 4th. Crawford draws a leadoff walk, and Cliff Floyd works the count full before lacing a double to left. Crawford’s speed enables him to score from first, and Cliff Floyd advances to third on the throw home, then scores on a single by Navarro.

With the game now 4-0, Guillen has to make a quick change just to give the Sox a chance. He calls for Clayton Richard, who’s taken to the role of mop-up man after 3.1 shutout innings in Game 1. Richard uses six pitches to get three outs, allowing the Sox offense to get to work.

Konerko hits a solo home run in the bottom of the 4th, but the Rays get the run right back with a single, a groundout, and another single. The Sox, just as they were in the regular season, are restricted to scoring via the long ball. Dye hits one in the bottom of the 6th, but again the bases are empty, and the score moves to 5-2. Again, the Rays immediately get the run back.

Time is quickly running out. Howell and Balfour team up to get through the 7th and 8th while Thornton and Scott Linebrink labor through the Rays’ lineup. Soon it’s the bottom of the 9th, and the Sox need a minor miracle to overcome a four-run deficit. Balfour stays on the mound to face Thome, Konerko, and Griffey.

Thome grounds an 0-1 pitch to the second baseman’s spot, where the shortstop Bartlett fields and throws him out. Konerko chases a 2-2 fastball outside and hits a fly ball to right, an easy play for Gabe Gross. The Sox are down to their final out, but there’s no suspense the way we’ve experienced it all season. Before Griffey sees a pitch, before the inning even starts, it’s pretty clear that this postseason experience isn’t going to be the tense back-and-forth we got for six months. This is the way the season ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.

Balfour falls behind 2-0 and then proceeds to throw nothing but two-seamers on the outside corner. Swing and a miss, strike one. Fouled off, strike two. Swing and a miss, strike three. Balfour, with the Fastball, in the Cell.

The Rays storm the field, and the White Sox get to experience what the Red Sox, Angels, and Astros did three years ago: a pile of gray uniforms celebrating in their ballpark.


So that brings this story to a close. The ending is happier than the words above, because as Miley Cyrus said, it’s the climb. Even if 2008 didn’t end with the White Sox hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy, it still gave us a lot of great memories. The Blackout Game is one of the franchise’s great moments, and many of you shared your stories about that game in the comments.

So whatever happened to that 2008 team?

Epilogue

Nick Swisher’s down season caused his intense personality to grate on everyone. He certainly clashed with a clubhouse led by hard-nosed soft-talkers like Paul Konerko, and so the Sox decided to cut ties with a player they now viewed as toxic. On November 13, they traded Swisher and Kanekoa Texeira to the New York Yankees for basically nothing, a.k.a. Wilson Betemit, Jeffrey Marquez, and Jhonny Nuñez. Betemit floundered as the starting third baseman for two months before Gordon Beckham arrived, and Swisher returned to his old self, posting 2.9 WAR and winning a World Series in his first year in New York.

Orlando Cabrera left for Oakland in free agency. His status as a Type A free agent gave the Sox two compensation draft picks, which they used to select Josh Phegley and Trayce Thompson.

Alexei Ramirez slid over to shortstop in 2009, and while he never replicated his 2008 second-half success, he eventually became one of the best defenders in baseball.

DeWayne Wise won a Spring Training battle for the center field job and became the team’s new leadoff hitter, but separated his shoulder making a diving catch in Detroit. He missed the next two months, leading the Sox to bring back Scott Podsednik. Wise returned in a part-time role, and on July 23, he robbed Gabe Kapler of a home run in the 9th inning to preserve Mark Buehrle’s perfect game.

The Sox sent Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan to the Braves on December 4, and in return received Brent Lillibridge, Tyler Flowers, and two others.

Ken Griffey Jr. returned to the Mariners for an emotional reunion in the twilight of his career. He performed well enough as a DH in 2009 that Seattle brought him back for another go, but 2010 went so poorly (.184/.250/.204) that he retired midseason.

John Danks and Gavin Floyd anchored the rotation for the next four years. Danks went down to a shoulder injury in 2012 and was never the same, and Floyd’s career was derailed by Tommy John Surgery a year later.

The White Sox continued their perennial efforts to compete with a series of bold moves, including trading for Jake Peavy, claiming Alex Rios off waivers, and signing Adam Dunn. Unfortunately, none of it was enough. Now, it’s 2018, and we’re still waiting for the next White Sox postseason appearance. But when that day comes—when these talented young players mature into a playoff team—we’re going to talk about it for a long time.