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Flashback: April 2008

Bear witness as a breakout unfolds

Minneosta Twins v Chicago White Sox
Jerry Owens is on the DL, so this guy’s filling in.

This post is the first in a monthly expansion of the 2008 retrospective series that I did in January. This year commemorates the 10th anniversary of that surprising team that revived the mojo of 2005 with a revamped lineup and a rejuvenated pitching staff.

Have a look at the introductory post for a summary of how this team came together. For as much as Kenny Williams is known for “going for it” every season, what he managed to pull off in 2007 and 2008 was a covert retooling that took an aging, deteriorating team and injected a lot of young blood and talent. Over the course of 14 months, Williams traded for John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Carlos Quentin, Orlando Cabrera, and Nick Swisher, and signed Alexei Ramirez out of Cuba.

This left the team with a logjam in the outfield; Swisher was best suited for a corner, and took over left field because Jermaine Dye remained in right. Jerry Owens was also returning to fill the speedster role vacated by Scott Podsednik, and would take on the primary duties in center. Ramirez was a wild card; he had a strong spring (.358/.375/.582) but nowhere to play in the infield or outfield. Quentin, meanwhile, would have to bide his time in Triple-A.

The Sox decided they couldn’t leave Ramirez off the roster, so they brought him along as a bench bat. Unfortunately, Owens strained his groin in Spring Training and hit the disabled list, meaning that Ramirez became the Opening Day center fielder, and Quentin took the fourth outfielder spot.

March 31-April 3, at Cleveland

On Opening Day, Jim Thome hit a two-run homer in the 1st, but Mark Buehrle got knocked around like a pinball on a bumper, as the Indians put up a 7-spot in the 2nd inning. Nick Masset pitched 4 ⅓ brilliant innings of relief, allowing the Sox to come all the way back and tie the game in the 7th, courtesy of a Paul Konerko 2-run double. Unfortunately, Casey Blake hit a bases-clearing double against Octavio Dotel in the 8th.

In the second game, the Sox were stymied by Fausto Carmona (now known as Roberto Hernandez) while Javier Vazquez was not nearly as sharp. They managed to salvage the finale when Joe Crede hit a tie-breaking solo shot in the 8th inning.

Quentin also made his first start and went 1-for-4. After just two games, Ozzie Guillen had decided to start Quentin instead of Ramirez, shifting Swisher from left to center.

April 4-6, at Detroit

The Tigers, who had just acquired Miguel Cabrera, were the favorites to win the American League Central Division in 2008, yet they had been swept by the Royals at home in their opening series. The offenses traded blows against Jose Contreras and Nate Robertson, including Quentin’s first home run in the 2nd. A.J. Pierzynski broke a 5-5 tie in the 7th with a 3-run bomb.

Gavin Floyd took the mound in the second game and fell behind 3-0, but the Sox rallied for 4 runs in the 6th. Quentin tied the game with an RBI single, and Crede took the lead with a sacrifice fly. Bobby Jenks locked down his third save in 5 games.

The two teams then squared off on Sunday Night Baseball, Buehrle against Justin Verlander. Swisher hit a towering leadoff home run just inside the pole. The Sox tagged Verlander for 9 runs (only 4 of which were earned) and pummeled the Tigers 13-2. The sweep put the Sox at 4-2, while the powerful Tigers fell to 0-6.

April 7-9, vs. Minnesota

In the home opener, the White Sox once again came from behind late. Dye tied the game with a single in the bottom of the 7th, setting the stage for Crede’s go-ahead grand slam. The second game was rained out, and the third was a 12-3 stinker by Danks.

April 11-13, vs. Detroit

Dontrelle Willis made it just three batters into the first game before slipping on the mound and hyperextending his knee, sidelining him for 6 weeks. The Sox still lost 5-2.

On Saturday afternoon, Floyd took a no-hitter into the 8th inning before Edgar Renteria shot a single through the right side of the infield. Cabrera’s first home run of the year was the only offense for either side until the Sox put up a 6-spot in the 8th. The finale was a similarly lopsided 11-0 affair, thanks to 7 shutout innings from Vazquez and grand slams by both Konerko and Crede.

April 14-15, vs. Oakland

Greg Smith shut down the White Sox offense through 7 innings. Quentin went 0-for-4, dropping his season line to a mortal .222/.333/.361. It was at this point that the 25-year-old slugger was about to take off. In his next game against the A’s, he drew a walk and hit a 3-run home run in a 4-1 win.

April 16-17, at Baltimore

In the first game, Thome hit a 3-run home run three batters into the game. Contreras made sure it was all the Sox needed, going 7 strong for the win. Quentin hit a pair of home runs in the next game, but Bobby Jenks blew a 2-run lead in the 9th and Boone Logan gave up a walk-off hit to Adam Jones in the 10th.

April 18-20, at Tampa Bay

The Sox managed to take 2 out of 3 from the Rays thanks to excellent pitching by Vazquez and Danks. Thome hit another 3-run homer, this time hitting one of the back catwalks at Tropicana Field.

April 22-24, vs. New York Yankees

The first game was going fine until Contreras left the game in the 7th. Logan faced one batter and loaded the bases before Dotel blew a 3-2 lead by surrendering a grand slam to Bobby Abreu. The second game was more of a garden-variety loss, with Vazquez giving up 6 runs to the potent Yankees offense. Thankfully, the Sox avoided a sweep in the third game, when Crede singled to score Quentin for the winning run in the bottom of the 9th.

This moved the Sox to a 12-9 record, giving them a 2.5 game lead in an AL Central where every other team had started off sub-.500.

April 25-27, vs. Baltimore

The Sox couldn’t solve Brian Burres in the opener of this 4-game series with the Orioles. Burres threw 8 scoreless innings, but the Sox spoiled the shutout with a run off Matt Albers in the 9th. They pulled off another walk-off the next night, as Brian Anderson hit a bases-loaded single. Quentin went 2-for-3 with a walk, and by this point was hitting .268/.409/.549.

The next game was another White Sox winner, 6-1, as Contreras outdueled Jeremy Guthrie. Quentin went 2-for-2 with a walk and a hit-by-pitch.

The finale went into extra innings when Jenks blew another save. Scott Linebrink gave up a home run in the 11th, but Juan Uribe answered with a home run of his own. After the top of the 12th, the game entered its second rain delay and didn’t come out. The teams would eventually finish the game in Baltimore, with the Sox as the home team. Including that make-up, Quentin went 4-for-6 with a walk.

April 29-30, at Minnesota

The Sox entered the house of horrors that was the Metrodome for the first time in 2008 and promptly lost a pair of games via death by a thousand papercuts. In the second game, Quentin hit his 7th home run; at the end of April, he was hitting .302/.434/.616, having spent two straight weeks tearing the cover off the ball.

The focus on Carlos Quentin and his breakout as a hitter came very early in that 2008 season, and while there were other storylines—Crede’s return to prominence, Danks and Floyd’s early promise—none was as captivating. After Williams had made it a point to acquire Quentin in the offseason, he looked like a genius when the hefty outfielder flipped a switch somewhere and just started mashing. Quentin had hit 7 home runs and walked about as much as he struck out. He was supposed to be an injury replacement, a fourth outfielder, and yet he had spent the first month carrying the struggling offense and establishing himself as a force in the middle of the White Sox lineup.

The Sox had finished April with a 14-13 record, and still held a one-game lead over Minnesota. Meanwhile, Ramirez had been relegated to the bench and was seeing very little in the way of playing time. One couldn’t help but wonder if and when he would have his own breakout, and how far away that might be.