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Flashback: May 2008

A West Coast swing, six with Cleveland — and a tenuous division lead holding

Minnesota Twins v Chicago White Sox
Momentum Shift: I know what you’re thinking: What is this random bench player doing in the lead photo?



The Chicago White Sox entered May 2008 one game over .500 and one game in front of the Twins in the American League Central. Carlos Quentin, one month removed from complete obscurity, was hitting .302/.434/.616, and the pitching staff’s 4.9 WAR led all of baseball. Things were looking up on the heels of that disastrous, 90-loss 2007 season, but this team had a long way to go before they could officially say they were “back.”

Let’s pick up where we left off, with the Sox on a three-game losing streak and heading into Toronto.

May 2-5, at Toronto Blue Jays

Welp, it’s a four-game sweep.

The White Sox scored a total of five runs in these four games; the offense was completely shut down by mostly mediocre pitchers. Shaun Marcum and Jesse Litsch befuddled hitter after hitter, and Roy Halladay survived a minor rally to hand Jose Contreras a 4-3, complete-game loss.

The final game was easily the most frustrating. Javier Vazquez dueled Dustin McGowan to a scoreless tie until Matt Stairs broke through with a solo homer in the seventh. In the ninth, with the score still 1-0, B.J. Ryan walked three straight hitters to load the bases with one out. Pablo Ozuna, giving Joe Crede a day off, hit for himself, and tapped into a 1-2-3 double play to end the game. Suddenly the Sox were 14-17 and 2 12 games back.

Also of note: The last game was the longest of the four, at 2 hours 40 minutes.

May 6-8, vs. Minnesota Twins

The White Sox returned home in the midst of a seven-game losing streak. Gavin Floyd took the mound to try to stop the bleeding, and had a rocky first inning but escaped without allowing a run or a hit. From there, he settled in, retiring the Twins in order in the second and third. He gave up an unearned run in the fourth, but continued to induce weak contact. Suddenly, he was in the midst of another no-hit bid.

Floyd set Minnesota down 1-2-3 in the fifth, and the sixth, and the seventh, and the eighth. He struck out Brendan Harris to start the ninth, his 16th consecutive batter retired. Then Joe Mauer hit a line drive that sliced toward the gap, and unfortunately, Nick Swisher had no chance to catch it. (That didn’t stop him from comically diving for it anyway.) It was Floyd’s second near-no-hitter of the young season, making it clear to everyone that he had arrived in the major leagues.

After a brutal 13-1 loss on Wednesday, the Sox rebounded to win the series behind John Danks. Alexei Ramirez made his first start since April 27, collecting a single in five plate appearances to raise his season line to .125/.146/.175. Not having him start in the minors looked like a big mistake.

May 9-11, at Seattle Mariners

Contreras took the opener by twirling seven innings of two-run ball, and on Saturday, Brian Anderson and Jim Thome homered in a six-run second. But the Sox couldn’t convert the sweep, as the Mariners jumped all over Floyd in the finale.

May 12-15, at Angels

Mark Buehrle pitched in the first game against the Angels, but he fell apart in the fifth, allowing a three-run homer to Vladimir Guerrero and exiting with a 7-4 deficit. Buehrle’s opponent was a promising 21-year-old making his third major league start. Nick Adenhart had a rough go of it in a three-run third inning, but he recovered well enough to earn his first major league win (and sadly, his only one).

Two games later, Contreras and John Lackey battled to a 1-1 tie in the eighth. The White Sox loaded the bases with nobody out to bring the AL home run leader, Quentin, to the plate. Scot Shields fell behind 2-0, and Quentin smashed the next pitch for a go-ahead grand slam. In six weeks, he had gone from injury replacement to one of the most feared hitters in the league.

In the finale, Juan Uribe pulled a hamstring and had to leave the game. The shortstop-turned-second-baseman had been struggling (.197/.260/.325), but his injury landed him on the disabled list and pushed the overexposed Ramirez into starting duty.

May 16-18, at San Francisco Giants

The 20-21 White Sox had a chance to climb back to .500 in an interleague series against the Giants. The first game started as yet another pitching duel, this time between Floyd and Jonathan Sanchez. Each team only had five hits, but number five for the Sox was the big blow: Ramirez, in his first game as the starting second baseman, hit his first major league home run, a two-run blast to left. The final score was 2-0, and maybe Ramirez had gotten the monkey off his back.

The second game was a standard win, but the finale was a wild one. The Sox turned a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead with home runs in the sixth by Orlando Cabrera and Quentin. After Ehren Wassermann and Matt Thornton blew a 6-3 lead in the seventh, Swisher hit a three-run double in the eighth. The Giants scored two more in the bottom half to make it 9-8, but the Sox pulled away with four more in the ninth. The sweep capped a 7-3 road trip that put the team back on track, at 23-21.

May 20-22, vs. Cleveland Indians

The White Sox, Indians, Twins, and Royals remained bunched around each other, all within two games of .500, while the loaded Tigers had fallen 10 games under. This homestand began on a much more positive note for the Sox, who had won five in a row — and they had one of their primary division rivals coming to town.

In the first game, Contreras outpitched CC Sabathia, and Quentin and Thome each hit home runs. Next, Jermaine Dye blew up Paul Byrd’s 2-0 lead with a three-run jack in the sixth, then he and Thome homered again in the seventh for good measure. Finally, Quentin and Dye broke a 1-1 tie with RBI singles in the bottom of the eighth. The Sox swept the Indians, pushed their win streak to eight games, and climbed to a three-game division lead.

May 23-25, vs. Angels

Floyd cruised through four innings before a fifth that included a Torii Hunter home run and two consecutive pitches that hit the batters with the bases loaded. Floyd pitched all nine innings but lost, 3-1, snapping the Sox’s winning streak. The next game was a loss, too.

With Sunday came another night with Jon Miller and Joe Morgan on ESPN. Under the big lights, Quentin hit his 13th dinger in the third inning, putting the Sox up 2-0. Gary Matthews Jr. responded with a two-run homer in the fourth to tie it up, and there it remained until the bottom of the ninth, when Quentin hit his second homer of the night to walk it off against John Lackey.

May 26-28, at Cleveland

The first game went to extra innings tied at three until the Sox rallied for three runs in the top of the 12th, with Cabrera driving in the winning run. Then Buehrle had another rough outing in Cleveland, allowing a first-inning grand slam to Franklin Gutierrez. The third game was a teeter-totter affair until — guess who — Quentin smashed a go-ahead, two-run double down the left field line in the seventh. Winning five out of six against the Tribe in a week put some wind in the Sox’s sails, and sunk Cleveland to 24-29, five games behind.

May 29-June 1, at Tampa Bay Rays

To everyone’s shock, the Rays were tied with the Cubs for the best record in baseball, at 32-21. The newly-rebranded and Devil-free team had finished last in the AL East in nine of its first 10 seasons, and now it was threatening to make the playoffs? Crazy.

These new Rays stung the White Sox with a pair of walk-off home runs. Scott Linebrink surrendered a solo shot to Cliff Floyd on Friday, and Gabe Gross took Matt Thornton deep leading off the 10th on Sunday. Sandwiched between those was a five-hit shutout by Scott Kazmir and company. Ramirez did hit his second home run off of James Shields in the Friday game.

The Sox lost three out of four and got out of Tropicana Field, probably glad they wouldn’t have to go back there for any more terrible games. Nope. No more games in Tropicana to worry about.

Although the month ended with a deflating balloon sound, the Sox still led the division by a half-game, with a 30-27 record. They were playing slightly but consistently better than .500 riding on the back of Quentin, who was still carrying a .967 OPS through the end of May and making Kenny Williams look like a freakin’ genius.

Since becoming the starting second baseman on May 16, Ramirez had hit .308/.327/.481. It was like he flipped a switch when he hit that first home run and suddenly became a major league player. Or maybe he just needed to get out of the cold. Either way, Uribe was ready to return from the DL, but Ramirez wasn’t ready to relinquish the position.

Ramirez’s countryman, Contreras, also had an outstanding month, pitching to a 2.09 ERA over six starts. According to FanGraphs, he was baseball’s third-most valuable pitcher in May, racking up an impressive 1.5 WAR. On the other end, Paul Konerko was missing in action. He was walking at a 14 percent clip, but only hitting .206 with six home runs through the first two months. Of course, that was more than Nick Swisher could say; the outfielder had scuffled badly since coming to Chicago, but at least he had good spirits and a strong personality to keep him afloat.