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The 2008 White Sox: The Second Half

The drama builds to a showdown at the Metrodome

Tampa Bay Rays v Chicago White Sox
The swing of a legend. Okay, maybe not this particular swing.

The 2008 White Sox came out of the All-Star break with a one-game lead in the American League Central Division. Their success to this point was built on quality pitching (23.7 pitching fWAR, most in baseball) and a whole bunch of home runs (129, 3rd-most). Breakout performances by John Danks, Carlos Quentin, and Alexei Ramirez, among others, kept the team atop the standings despite the struggles of Nick Swisher and Paul Konerko, as well as poor defense and baserunning all around. The pitching staff also stayed remarkably healthy; all five starters threw at least 110 innings in the first half.

We now rejoin the 2008 season, already in progress.

Key Games of the Second Half

July 18: The first 8 White Sox hitters reach against the Royals via 7 singles and a hit-by-pitch, giving the team a 6-run 1st and a 9-5 win.

July 22: Ramirez, fully entrenched as the second baseman, hits his first career grand slam in a 10-0 win over Texas. His first slam comes in the second half. Remember that.

July 23: The Sox enter the bottom of the 8th down 8-5, but after they score a pair to make it 8-7, Quentin hits a 3-run homer (his second of the game) to grab the lead 10-8.

July 25: The late-game magic continues as Jermaine Dye’s home run off of Tigers closer Todd Jones turns a 5-4 deficit into a 6-5 lead in the 9th.

July 31: The Sox return to Minnesota for a crucial 4-game series against the Twins. They lose 3 out of 4, as Justin Morneau delivers multiple clutch hits and drives in 10 runs. The two teams are now tied atop the division at 60-48.

August 1: Ken Griffey Jr. makes his White Sox debut in Kansas City and delivers an RBI single in a 4-2 win. The Sox acquired the 38-year-old Kid from the Cincinnati Reds the day before for Nick Masset and Danny Richar, and he waived his 10-and-5 rights to join the Sox for one last earnest attempt at a World Series berth.

This was not welcome news for Nick Swisher, who limped through July with a .193 average and figured to see his playing time decrease. Still, he offered to give up his Dirty 30 for Griffey and switch to The Dirty 1. Griffey took number 17 instead, and he would make 32 of the remaining 55 starts in center.

August 5: Ramirez ties the game with a solo homer in the 8th, but Placido Polanco hits a 2-run homer in the 14th. Swisher responds with a 3-run shot in the bottom half to walk it off.

August 15: Octavio Dotel blows a save by giving up a pair of solo homers, and Kurt Suzuki gives the Athletics a walk-off win against D.J. Carrasco.

August 17: Ramirez’s second slam comes in a 13-1 laugher in Oakland.

August 20: The Sox wreck the Mariners 15-3, and Griffey hits his first home run in a White Sox uniform.

August 24: The Sox avoid being swept by the Rays at home when Konerko ties it with an RBI double in the 9th and Ramirez singles with the bases loaded in the 10th. After trailing briefly, they move back into a tie for first place when the Twins lose to the Angels.

September 1: Cliff Lee throws a complete game shutout against the Sox in Cleveland. In the 9th, Quentin fouls off a pitch and punches his bat, a habit of his in moments of frustration. He wakes up the next morning and finds out his wrist is broken. Quentin, with his .288/.394/.571 line, 36 home runs, and 4.7 WAR, does not play again in 2008.

September 6: The Sox manage to tie another game in the 9th inning, and Jim Thome ends the game with a home run in the 15th.

September 14: On Sunday Night Baseball, Dotel gives up a game-tying grand slam to Tigers outfielder Marcus Thames in the top of the 8th. Half an inning later, DeWayne Wise, understudy for Carlos Quentin, hits a grand slam of his own to restore the 4-run lead.

September 17: Clayton Richard faces the minimum number of Yankees through 5 innings but struggles the third time through the order. He and Mike MacDougal cough up the lead in the 7th, and Scott Linebrink allows a pair of homers for good measure.

September 20: Ramirez hits his third grand slam of the season against the Royals, tying the record for grand slams in a rookie season.

So, here we are. On September 23, the White Sox come into Minneapolis with an 86-69 record and a 2.5-game lead over the Twins in the AL Central, although they’ve lost their best hitter. The Twins have 6 games left to play, the Sox 7, so this series could decide the fate of these two teams. If the Sox take 2 out of 3, their magic number is 1. If they sweep, they break out the champagne. Even if they lose 2 out of 3, they still have a 1.5-game lead going into their final series with the Indians.

But if the Sox get swept? Catastrophe! Suddenly that 2.5-game lead is gone, replaced by a half-game deficit. Suddenly their backs would be against the wall, and they would have to fight for survival.

September 23: In the biggest game of his White Sox career to date, Javier Vazquez gets battered around. Jason Kubel hits a 2-run homer, and the Twins tag Vazquez for 3 more runs in the 4th. Neither Richard nor Boone Logan can stop the bleeding. Griffey’s 9th-inning home run is the only saving grace in a 9-3 loss.

September 24: Mark Buehrle and Nick Blackburn each trade a ground ball for a run early. The Twins put together a pair of scrappy runs in the 2nd via this sequence:

Infield single / Fielder’s choice / Bunt single / RBI single / Walk / RBI fielder’s choice / groundout

The Sox pull within a run in the 4th courtesy of another Griffey homer, but then inning after inning goes by without a serious threat. The offense can’t solve Blackburn, or Craig Breslow, or Boof Bonser, or Jose Mijares, or Joe Nathan. With that, all the outs are used up, and 3-2 is the final score.

The White Sox had hoped to put the final nail in the Twins’ coffin during this series, but instead the zombies are about to rise from it. Now they have to win the final game of the series just to preserve their division lead.

September 25: The Twins score a run off of Gavin Floyd in the 1st when Joe Mauer’s ground-rule double scores Denard Span. Kevin Slowey holds the Sox down until the 4th inning, when Orlando Cabrera homers to tie it up. Dye and Thome follow with a single and a double, and that’s where things get a bit wacky.

Konerko grounds out to short, but Dye is able to score from third to take the lead, and Thome moves to third. Griffey walks, and Ramirez hits an infield single to score another run and make it 3-1. A.J. Pierzynski is hit by a pitch to load the bases, bringing up Juan Uribe, now the starting third baseman with Joe Crede’s back reinjured. Uribe hits a line drive off of Slowey that deflects to the third base side. Slowey runs over, picks up the ball, and makes a wild throw to first, allowing all three runs to score for a 6-1 White Sox lead.

Of course, the Twins cannot yet be counted out. Floyd is able to make his way through the powerful heart of the Twins’ lineup with minimal damage, but it’s the Piranhas, the four speedy contact hitters batting 8-9-1-2, that start breaking through. In the bottom of the 4th, Carlos Gomez hits an RBI triple and Span follows with a double. In the 6th, Span scores Gomez with a squeeze bunt to make it 6-4.

In the 8th, Matt Thornton allows a leadoff double to pinch-hitter Brendan Harris. After Nick Punto moves Harris to third on a groundout, Ozzie Guillen calls on closer Bobby Jenks for a six-out save. On an 0-2 count, Gomez pokes a single into right field to make it 6-5, and Span comes up with one out and the tying run at first.

Span falls behind 0-2 as well, but on the next pitch he hits a sharp ground ball past Konerko and inside the bag at first. The Metrodome erupts into a frenzy, and Gomez flies around the bases as the ball trickles down the right field line. By the time the relay throw comes in, Gomez has already scored to tie the game, and Span is sliding into third.

Jenks manages to keep Span from scoring the go-ahead run and pitches a 1-2-3 9th inning. In the 10th, Punto coaxes a one-out walk and scoots to second on a groundout. Guillen has Span intentionally walked with two outs, but Jenks throws the first pitch away, sending Punto to third. Alexi Casilla comes up and promptly lines an 0-1 pitch to center. Swept.

This series was a crushing blow for the White Sox. They lost the last game in dramatic fashion, squandering a 6-1 lead in a trademark small-ball win for the Twins. Now, after leading the division for 153 days, they were looking up at Minnesota in the standings with just one series to go.

The Twins stayed in Minnesota to play the Royals, while the Sox returned home to face the Indians. The Sox also had a rained out game against the Tigers that would only be played if necessary. Nothing was over yet, but they had officially relinquished control of their destiny (for now).