Jeff Samardzija will stand and applaud from his heart when Paul Konerko’s jersey is retired at U.S. Cellular Field on Saturday. Samardzija, who grew up cheering for the White Sox, was 14 when Konerko played the first of his 16 season on the South Side.
“It will be cool,’’ Samardzija said before the Sox’ 5-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians Thursday night, their third defeat in a row. “It’s always great to bring a guy back and acknowledge him for everything he did during his career. And it’s great for the player, to have a cherry put on top to acknowledge what you did and all the hard work you put in.’’
The Sox put a lot into a six-game winning streak that lifted them over the .500 mark Monday, but that formula escaped them against the Indians, who held the Sox to four runs while taking three of four games. Samardzija starts the first game of a three-game weekend set Friday against the Twins, who swept the Sox in four at the beginning of the month.
Konerko’s numbers are to be admired, but from a competitor’s standpoint – Samardzija only played against him – the 30-year-old right-hander probably appreciated the way he went about getting them more than anything.
“Same guy every day,’’ Samardzija said. “You saw he came to work every day and you knew when you were competing against him you were getting a guy who had a game plan and knew what he wanted to accomplish. You just couldn’t take a pitch off with him. That’s the ultimate respect with any ballplayer, is they’re always there with their best every day. He definitely was.’’
Samardzija was on the wrong side of a scary Konerko moment in May of 2012 when he hit the Sox captain above the eye with an 0-2 split-finger pitch at Wrigley Field. Konerko had homered his previous time up, so intent was presumed or suggested by some. Samardzija said no, not in that count, or in a close game, and not with a splitter. And certainly not at his head.
The two exchanged conciliatory communications in the aftermath, Konerko holding no grudge, and, despite an ugly swelling, was back in the lineup four days later.
“You see when you play against professionals and things happen, that’s part of the game,’’ Samardzija said. “It’s not a big deal, it doesn’t get blown out of proportion and I acknowledged it as an accident and he understood that, too. There was fault on both ends and it was just unfortunate. But what a great example to see how he comes back in two or three days and acts like nothing happened.’’
When the Cubs honored Konerko at Wrigley Field last season, it was Samardzija who presented the gifts. Konerko appreciated that it was Samardzija who did the honors.
Samardzija (3-2, 4.58) will try to start another run of quality starts by Sox starters after the Indians shelled John Danks with five runs in the first inning to end a streak of five. Danks gave up a double to Jason Kipnis, walk to Carlos Santana and single to Michael Brantley to open the game and served up back-to-back homers to Nick Swisher and Mike Aviles.
“I made some bad pitches that got hit,” Danks said. “I wasn’t throwing strikes. That’s tough pitching behind in the count. You know, got to get ahead and stay ahead.”
Danny Salazar threw six scoreless innings, and the Sox did not score until Tyler Flowers hit a two-run, 436-foot homer with two outs in the ninth against Bryan Shaw.
“It does not look good the last few days that’s for sure,” manager Robin Ventura said. “One way or another we have to turn that around. You want to pitch well first, and scratch across some runs. We had guys on base we just didn’t get the big hit to get it across. It’s simple, it needs to be better. That’s not tough to figure out.”