The White Sox come into the final series of the 2008 season trailing the Twins by a half-game after a devastating sweep at the Metrodome. If they can’t find a way to get back to winning against the Indians, chances are they’ll be going home, because the Twins are at home against the bottom-dwelling Royals. If the Sox manage to stay within half a game of Minnesota (up or down), they’ll play a makeup game against the Tigers on Monday.
The Indians Series
September 26: John Danks is staked to a 4-2 lead when Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski homer in the 2nd, but the Indians retake the lead in the 5th. With the Sox trailing 5-4, D.J. Carrasco enters the game and gives up a grand slam to Ryan Garko. The Sox rally but ultimately fall 11-8. Fortunately, the Royals get the Sox off the hook, scoring 6 runs off Francisco Liriano to beat the Twins 8-1.
September 27: Shin-Soo Choo and Jermaine Dye start by trading homers in the first. Then, in the biggest game of his White Sox career to date, Javier Vazquez gets battered around. Six straight Indians reach against Vazquez in the 5th, and all of them come around to score, with Asdrubal Cabrera and Jamey Carroll delivering big doubles that drive in five.
In the 8th, the Sox claw back from 8-2 to 8-6, capped by a 2-run homer by Konerko. Scott Linebrink comes on to keep the game close and gives up 4 runs in one-third of an inning, 3 of which score on Matt Thornton’s watch. Fortunately, the Royals get the Sox off the hook, as Ryan Shealy hits a go-ahead bloop single in the 7th and Joakim Soria gets a big double play from Joe Mauer. The Twins lose 4-2, and the Sox remain half a game back despite two more embarrassing losses.
September 28: Jhonny Peralta leads off the 2nd inning with a home run, but Konerko responds with his third long ball in as many games. The next four White Sox batters reach, leading to two more runs and a 3-1 lead. Mark Buehrle dances in and out of trouble all afternoon; none of his 7 innings go 1-2-3, but he induces 4 double plays and picks off a runner. Buehrle scatters 9 hits and a walk, allowing only one run. Dye adds a 2-run single for insurance, and Thornton and Bobby Jenks slam the door and snap the 5-game losing streak.
After the game, which took only 2 hours 29 minutes, the Sox and their fans turn to the scoreboard. The makeup game against the Tigers is inevitable at this point, but if the Twins lose, the Sox could clinch the division by beating the Tigers. If they win, the Sox need to win again just to force a tiebreaker.
Alas, the Twins do not lie down this time. Scott Baker shuts down the Royals for 7 innings on the way to a 6-0 win. The Twins finish at 88-74. The Sox, after 161 games, are 87-74. The Tigers come to town to try and play spoiler.
September 29: Game 162
Maybe the Tigers hoped they wouldn’t even have to play this game. Maybe they relish the opportunity to play one more game together and try to singlehandedly knock a team out of playoff contention. Either way, they’re ready to play, and they’re sending a familiar face to the mound. Freddy Garcia makes just his third start of 2008 after missing over a year with shoulder problems. Sox starter Gavin Floyd, whom Garcia was traded for two years ago, is 16-8 with a 3.91 ERA in just over 200 innings.
Floyd pitches around a hit-by-pitch to record a scoreless first, and Garcia immediately exhibits command issues, walking the first two batters. Dye hits a ground ball up the middle to score a quick run, but from there, Garcia settles in to retire 12 of the next 13 batters. The Tigers tie the game on a Brandon Inge double in the 5th and put runners on the corners with nobody out, but a pair of strikeouts and a groundout get Floyd out of a big jam.
In the 6th inning, Ryan Raburn bats with a runner at second and two outs. He taps an 0-1 pitch back toward the mound, and Floyd jumps off the mound to field it. He rushes the throw and pulls it wide, allowing Miguel Cabrera to score for a 2-1 Detroit lead.
Floyd gets out of the inning without further damage, but suddenly things are feeling pretty bleak. Garcia is absolutely dealing and has just been given his first lead of the day. The Sox need to try to mount a rally if they’re going to even get a shot at the Twins.
DeWayne Wise leads off the bottom of the 6th against Garcia and works the count full, then takes the 3-2 pitch, which is called just outside for ball four. On the 0-1 pitch to Dye, Wise takes off and successfully steals second. Now the Tigers’ trainer and manager Jim Leyland come to the mound, indicating that something might be wrong with Garcia. A couple minutes later, Garcia leaves the game in the middle of the at-bat. Unfortunate as the injury is, getting him out of the game is a big opportunity given how well he’s pitched.
Armando Galarraga comes in to face Dye with a 1-1 count. His first pitch is a sinker in the dirt that gets away from Dusty Ryan, allowing Wise to advance to third. Galarraga gets a strike on the outside corner before missing with a slider to take the count to 3-2. On the payoff pitch, Galarraga goes back to the slider, but misses badly low and outside, and again Ryan cannot block it. Wise scores easily as the ball bounces around, Dye heads to first, and the game is tied again, just like that.
Leyland immediately comes out with the hook and calls to the bullpen for left-hander Bobby Seay to face Jim Thome. Seay throws yet another wild pitch, allowing Dye into second, before striking out Thome. He then intentionally walks Konerko to regain the platoon advantage against Ken Griffey Jr., but walks Griffey on four pitches to load the bases. With the game tied 2-2 in the 6th inning and nothing left to play for, Leyland goes to his fourth pitcher of the inning, former White Sox right-hander Gary Glover.
Glover comes on to face the number seven hitter, second baseman Alexei Ramirez. Ramirez has already tied a rookie record by hitting three grand slams this season, all in the second half. However, compared to his red-hot summer, hitting just .200/.265/.378 for the month before this game. Still, it feels like a good time for a big moment. The Sox have a golden opportunity to take the lead against the Tigers and secure a tiebreaker. First things first, they need to take advantage of this bases-loaded situation.
First pitch: Cue Homer Hands.
Ramirez’s fourth grand slam gives the Sox a 6-2 lead, and they coast to an 8-2 win to bring their record to 88-74.
With the White Sox and Twins tied for the American League Central Division lead after 162 games, it will take a one-game playoff to decide who will take the crown. It’s John Danks against Nick Blackburn tomorrow. Wear black!