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Hopech and the Mendick Irruption

Hope can flare up real quick

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Chicago White Sox
His Dubs Dances are solos now, but Danny Mendick is back in the White Sox lineup — and producing.
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Hope, by definition, lives as a flicker. If hope persists too long, unrealized, it becomes a pitiable desperation. Hope betrayed quickly turns to bitterness, as anyone on White Sox Twitter can see after a couple of 1-2-3 innings.

Still, we long for that flicker. As mopey ol’ Joseph Conrad said, in a somewhat different setting, “We live in the flicker. May it last as long as the earth keeps turning. But remember, darkness was here yesterday.”

Well, darkness was here yesterday, for Sox fans. After a stirring couple of wins against the Rays pulled us out of a tailspin, it seemed like the boys were going to let another Cy Young-level start by Michael Kopech go to waste.

Kopech himself is a weird form of hope, mixed with despair. It’s staggering to think how long ago it was he made his debut. Even if the numbers in that 2018 season weren’t at an All-Star level (86 ERA+, 1.535 WHIP, but 15 Ks in 14 innings), it seemed like he was galvanizing the rebuild, a bolt of electricity shot right into the dead frog.

Injury. Emotional well-being. The time-warping effects of the pandemic. Short stretches in 2021. And now, finally, he’s emerging as a top starter in baseball, a can’t-miss-a-start-kid who leaves you feeling vaguely disappointed when he gets an out via pop-up. But the frustrations of this season make it feel like we’re wasting something special. The long years of desperate hope seem to calcify in one man-bunned package.

But then Danny Mendick reaches on an infield single, and things get rolling.

Abreu does Abreu things. Tony makes the right call and lets AJ Pollock torment his old team. Burger rips one down the line with northman fury. Moncada is walked intentionally; at this point, good enough. Reese whangs a spinner into the outfield. Like that, it’s 4-0, the bullpen does bullpen things, and a textbook win goes into the books.

This is how hope flickers up. Mendick, a fan favorite for reasons both bookish and profane, has lit a spark filling in for Tim Anderson — and, more accurately, for not being 2022 Leury García. He’s triggered a couple of rallies in this most modest of win streaks. It doesn’t feel like sheer despair with Mendick at the top.

That matters for fans, and for all we know it might matter to players, too. Small things can turn a season around. As Eloy Jiménez and Lance Lynn come back, and TA hopefully resumes doing MVP-type things in a few weeks, the season could shift. It already has hit a hinge.

The White Sox have had one of the most difficult early-season schedules, and moving forward, they have the easiest of all schedules, with their opponents sporting a .460 winning percentage. Now, this can change, of course, if someone hits a hot streak, but regardless, the schedule is now defined as “playing the AL Central a lot more.” That’s a good thing. And while “we no longer have to play good teams” is not the traditional rallying cry of good teams (and after all, the White Sox are just 14-13 against losing teams this year), at this point we’ll take it.

So you never know. Mendick could regress. More injuries could hit. The team could get shut out tonight and despair once again cloak the land like the sulfuric stench when the fireworks smoke is pushed down by humidity. We all could again be squinting and choking in dull bitterness.

Or who knows — the White Sox erupt for a half-dozen. Take another series from a playoff team. Start getting healthy. Move into the warm and easy part of the long schedule.

I can see it — can you? There, through the flicker.