It seems like a lifetime ago when Alex Rios stood tall in his corner of the White Sox’ clubhouse in Glendale, Ariz., on the first day of spring training and said the Sox were the team to beat in the American League Central. The only eyebrows raised were from the cautious and superstitious – some teammates included.
The fact was, the Sox were as good or better than Detroit and Minnesota on paper, and certainly stronger than Cleveland. And Rios was only echoing the team’s bold “All In” marketing slogan.
After the 73-75 Sox blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning Wednesday before suffering a 6-5 loss in 10 innings, manager Ozzie Guillen was wondering if anybody is in with 14 games left.
“Hell, no,” Guillen said. “Their fight left three days ago. I don’t care what they say.”
Guillen, who has smiled through many of his post-loss interviews, was in no laughing mood after his team was swept by Detroit, which won for the 12th straight time by blowing up the Sox’ bullpen in the ninth and 10th innings.
After Chris Sale gave up a home run to Ryan Raburn and a walk to Magglio Ordonez to start the ninth inning, Sergio Santos – the victim in Detroit’s two-homer ninth Sept. 3 that dashed the Sox’ title hopes – allowed a two-run tying homer to Alex Avila.
With a chance to win it in the bottom of the ninth, Juan Pierre was stranded at third when A.J. Pierzynski grounded sharply into a double play. Pierzynski overhand-slammed his helmet while on the run behind first base, then kicked it in the direction of second. Finally, he chucked it in the runway behind the dugout.
It only got worse. Santos gave up a double to Victor Martinez and an RBI single to Carlos Guillen in the 10th, then watched Tigers closer Jose Valverde (44-for-44) remain perfect in save opportunities.
“I can’t even – I’m out of words,” Pierzynski said. “It’s just one of those things you can’t stop. You play a really good game and have a three-run lead in the ninth, lose it. I get up in the ninth and get a good pitch to hit and hit it real hard right to the second baseman for a double play.
“It’s one of those things you can’t believe it’s happening. We just keep finding new things to happen, and it keeps snowballing on us.”
Guillen said he wants to win for second-place money that means a lot to lower-paid players, coaches and clubhouse personnel. But there’s no getting past the fact that this team lost some steam Sept. 3.
“Look at yourself in the mirror and see how big-league you are,” Guillen said. “If they’re happy the season’s over, good. But every time you lose a game like that and you have a little bit of pride, you should be ashamed of yourself. Those hurt. It’s hard to watch.”
Paul Konerko was a voice of reason: “Since probably we got knocked back there in Detroit .â€‰.â€‰. he’s probably right. It’s probably been more than three games. But that’s what comes with the territory this time of year.
“There are teams that have been out of it since June where you have a chance to regroup. .â€‰.â€‰. When it happens in September and it comes to an abrupt end, the first week or so after it happens, everybody kind of doesn’t know what to do. That’s what’s happened here.
“People are human. But everybody is playing the game right, and everybody’s integrity is there. Unfortunately at this point, that’s what it’s become, a job. You hope it stays fun and you hope you get to the playoffs, but that doesn’t happen for everybody.”
Rios, and most of his teammates to a man, thought it would happen. That’s why he spoke up seven months ago.
“No, I don’t regret saying that,” Rios said. “I thought we had a pretty good team. We really felt like we were going to give hell to a lot of teams, but things happen in baseball. Unfortunately, we didn’t do what we were capable of doing.”
“Teams win on the field, not with marketing and payrolls,” Guillen said. “And we didn’t do it. If I had to explain why we lose, I would be sitting here for three hours.”