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October 7, 2008

Playoff Diary

ALDS Game Four, Rays versus Sox

by Christina Kahrl

So, I admit it, I do some of the things that I shouldn't do behind the wheel. Consider my lot yesterday-running late because of that compulsive need to finish yesterday's article, I'm driving down 31st Street and crossing the Dan Ryan before hanging that eventual left that puts me in the promised land of Parking Lot A (easy in, easy out) and a quick run to the elevator and the press box to follow Game Four of the ALDS, and Ed Farmer's announcing the lineups on the radio, and I realize that there's just no way I'll make it in time. I keep score as another matter of compulsiveness, and I realize that the school bus that's parked in the left turn lane isn't going to evaporate no matter how much I expend telekinetic energy in that direction.

So, waiting for the indolent traffic cop to eventually feel inspired to unsnarl the same snag that's been there for the last 10 minutes, I reach to my bag, fetch a pen, unsling my scorebook, and get the lineups down in my book. It's Ed at his most cooperative, and I'm reassured that, yes indeedy, neither Ozzie Guillen or Joe Maddon is doing anything funky in Game Four in the ALDS. It's another Hinske-free day, another moment for Dewayne Wise to try and enjoy the benefits of the BP reverse curse.

On Sunday, I realized I'd left my favorite scorebook at home, but there was something sort of nostalgic about resorting to using the spare scorebook I keep in the car for just such emergencies. (Yes, I keep a reserve emergency scorebook in the car. Did I mention that I keep score?) The emergency scorebook is one of a stack I picked up at the Sports Authority in bulk that I was using in the late '90s but didn't entirely use up. It was an exciting time for all sorts of reasons, but in particular because it was one of the scorebooks that I was using when I was first getting credentialed to ballgames by these very same White Sox; the inside flap is still decorated with taped-on day passes from Sox games from the summer of '99. So, given that Sunday was my first post-season game, it was sort of an appropriate choice.

For yesterday's game, however, I made a point of bringing my current favorite scorebook, one of Andy Wirkmaa's. You may also know Wirkmaa's work from his wonderful little book, Baseball Scorekeeping: A Practical Guide to the Rules, but he's been busy with other projects since that came out a few years ago. At any rate, at one point, he developed a nice scorebook that, along with his method for scorekeeping, makes for really easy tracking of pitch sequences and differentiation between types of strikes (fouled off, called, etc.), and I was hooked once he made the introduction. Having given the old girl a spin on Sunday, I was now equipped for Game Four with my weapon of choice.

So, I'm pulling into the lot as the first pitch is delivered, forcing another choice. Sit and score the half-frame, or miss it and catch the bottom of the first with the Sox at bat? I'm more curious about which Gavin Floyd's going to show up, so I turn off the engine, and count on Ed and Stoney (Steve Stone, my bad) to give me a decent appreciation of the action; if anyone can tell an audience what a pitcher's working with or working through, you can't do better than Stone. Unfortunately, there's promptly not much to say-Floyd dispatches Akinori Iwamura, but B.J. Upton's clearly getting the hang of the Cell, and golfs a fly ball to left that apparently has the distance to make it over the fence. Carlos Pena follows with a single, and an edge of despair already seems to be creeping into Farmer's voice; it looks like today's Floyd incarnation might be the maddening Syd Barrett version, the gas can that the Phillies decided wasn't worth all the Maalox on Manhattan. However, he strikes out Evan Longoria, perhaps predictably suffers a two-out stolen base by Pena-as Caleb touched on yesterday, Floyd's that rare power/speed guy on the mound, in that he'll allow stolen bases and homers alike-and gets Carl Crawford on a grounder to second.

That out of the way, I shut off the battery, move fast for the park. I'm already inside the lobby in time to catch second-slot hitter A.J. Pierzynski's loud, long fly out at the right-field fence, and in my seat to see Jim Thome called out on strikes to end the inning. The gent to my left gives me the other two batters, and if I've lost out on getting the sequence of pitches, I've lost bigger opportunities in my lifetime as a scorekeeper, and if I felt like cheating, I suppose that's what MLB.com's Gameday is for, right?

Gavin Floyd comes back out and doesn't look too shabby. He gets fellow Floyd Cliff on a soft opposite-field liner, overpowers Dioner Navarro with a three-pitch strikeout, walks Gabe Gross and then attentively holds him close (he had a career-high four steals this year, donchaknow), before getting "MVP" Jason Bartlett to ground a force out to short. Will we get the Roger Waters Floyd from here on out? Sadly, no, because reunited with Upton in the third generates B.J.'s third homer in four Cell at-bats, just left of the batter's eye, a no-doubt-about-it shot. Floyd, ever uncooperative in terms of helping people get a read on him, strikes out the next two batters to end the third-maybe a comparison to the famously erratic Barrett's too close to the whole truth. Sure enough, in the fourth he walks Crawford and desperately tries to keep him pinned to first base, only to give up a slicing opposite-field double to Cliff Floyd that plates the speedster; Orlando Cabrera's throw misses Pierzynski altogether, aimed at the space in front of home along the baseline instead of at Pierzynski, who's in front of the bag. The wild throw lets Cliff Floyd advance, which matters because Navarro singles to right on the next pitch; the odds that the bad-wheeled DH might have motored home on Jermaine Dye's arm strikes me as a pretty dubious suggestion. Rays, 4-0, and where yesterday Sox fans had plenty of opportunities to scream and yell, there's a lot more muffled moaning into their corporately-gifted rally towels this time around.

Regardless, the Rays' bats are talking and Ozzie's listened to enough Floyd; in comes Clayton Richard. In light of how handily Richard shut down the Rays in Game One, could Ozzie have gone to the big lefty earlier, and exploited the Rays' weaknesses against southpaws by using Floyd as a dummy starter of sorts? Or even started him? As nice as it is to suggest such things in the abstract, between how quickly things went sour in the fourth-with Cabrera getting an assist of the kind that you don't record-and the lesson learned that Upton may just own Floyd, I don't think there's any fruitful second-guessing to be done. After Upton's second homer he'd struck the last two batters out; for better or for worse, relying on Floyd comes with a few attendant risks, and after 17 wins and 20 quality starts (four blown after six innings pitched), you had to start him, and even if you had him on a short leash-which Ozzie did, warming up Richard and Adam Russell in the top of the fourth in light of Floyd's having already thrown 54 pitches through the first three-let's face it, two runs on two pitches isn't something you can really anticipate. At any rate, Richard gets a quick double play and a tumbling Griffey catch that a normal non-famous center fielder might have merely caught at a jog, and that's it in the fourth.

I've been silent about Andy Sonnanstine so far, but that's because in his half-innings, he's cruising through his deliberate paces. (Have I found a new hero to replace Steve Trachsel in my respect for the snail-paced game?) The Sox work him a bit in the second, but the impatience that cripples up their offense shows up in the third. With a four-run lead in the Sox half of the fourth, he gets ahead of Dye and Thome-with Thome a bit exasperated with Jeff Kellogg's strike zone, perhaps a leftover from that called K in the first-before making a mistake inside to Paul Konerko that Paulie cooperatively crushes to the left-field corner. The Cell giveth to everybody with a readiness only Hank Paulson might appreciate.

Unfortunately, the Rays aren't settling. Iwamura lines a single to right off of Richard, not a good sign if the kid can't keep the import from pulling him, keeping their same-handedness in mind. The fans start getting cranky when Kellogg calls three straight balls with Upton up, but Upton doesn't homer, instead pulling hard to Juan Uribe at third. Iwamura was in motion, so he advances; if Sox defense is supposed to be making a difference with defense-minded players like Uribe and Cabrera afield, it's hard to say how it's really helped matters any today. Pena makes matters worse by singling straight through Alexei Ramirez to plate Iwamura, and while Richard strikes out Longoria on three pitches-impressive enough-Pena gets caught leaning too far with two outs and two strikes on Crawford, a brief 1-3-6 pickoff play that doesn't really reflect badly on anybody. With two outs, Maddon should still be trying to see if Pena can get into scoring position, Crawford got a good look at Richard but now gets to lead off against him (and he'll walk, as it turns out), while the Sox defense finally reaps some belated reward for having tried to compensate for Pierzynski's throwing and Floyd's capacity for baserunner inattention.

Sonnanstine keeps on cruising until he surrenders a two-out homer to Dye in the sixth-another souvenir for the fans in the left-field seats-at which point Maddon decides to end this puppy rather than risk Thome getting any satisfaction from Kellogg and the youngster and reducing the lead any further than three runs. Southpaw J.P. Howell comes in and disposes of the old man. Sonnanstine had thrown only 75 pitches, but this isn't about giving him full innings or any other conventional nonsense, it's about killing this series dead, especially with the lefty-batting Griffey and Wise due up in the seventh. Maddon isn't going for situations, he's using a power lefty to overpower the other guys. That's old school, real old school, not the tedium of the La Russa shuffle.

It makes for an interesting contrast, because in the top of the seventh Ozzie goes for delaying tactics. He lets Richard throw his warm-ups, then reaches for a warmed-up Octavio Dotel to "get" Jason Bartlett before turning to the also-warm Matt Thornton. Dotel fails, falling behind 3-0 before eventually giving up a hard-pulled double on an inside fastball-the rooster spot, to paraphrase Dizzy Dean, if you will-which gives Thornton something less than a clean inning to work with. He puts Iwamura down fast with a K, and Ozzie decides down three runs he doesn't want to put Upton on a cereal box just yet, preferring first base. Thornton looks like he's about to overpower Pena, but a called ball on the 0-and-2 pitch draws Ozzie's ire, and after two fouls Pena rallies for a single that plates Bartlett.

Up four runs, the Raypen follows orders and cruises. Howell runs through a relatively painless seventh, but for a Ramirez single, then reaches for Grant Balfour in the eighth. "Established closer" nonsense aside, Balfour gets the balance of the ballgame. His one-out rematch with Orlando Cabrera is a one-pitch harmless fly out to right that, however crisply hit, ends the at-bat so fast the crowd barely has time to register there might have been some drama here. Pierzynski works a walk to try and get something started, but Kellogg rings up Dye. In the ninth, Thome leads off with a second-pitch grounder to short-if there was going to be a big-inning rally, it needed to start some other way than that. Paulie's shot at local legendry ends on a fly to right that only Cubs fans might have anticipated leaving the park. After giving Griffey a quick pair of balls, Balfour keys up and starts firing swing-and-miss stuff the Hall of Famer can't keep up with, giving us the predictable dogpile, a spattering of Bridgeport boos, and 40,000 people in black left wondering what it all meant. Looking at my scorebook, I can't resist, neatly penning in "Dogpile!" underneath the notation of Griffey's punchout.

Following conversations in the elevators, ramps, and parking lot, Sox loyalists proved equal doses resilient and spiteful. Two different people cheered themselves up by announcing "I won the bet, at least we won one. Fu(gg)ing Cubs," while several others voiced "We weren't even supposed to be here." I slide into the car and realize I'd left the radio on. The reassuringly familiar nasal twang of Bruce Levine fills the cabin, and he's making no bones about it on the post-game show-this Sox team needs to do something besides hit home runs, proving that great minds think alike. The offseason's always fun, and Kenny Williams and Ozzie and the rest of the management crew can go into it having already upset a few apple carts; having exploited what seems like yet another Indians stumble and a Tiger one-year run that didn't, it was a season where the club eked something out where so many of us on the analysis side of things had their doubts. Sitting in the car, with the book and the Winter Meetings and all the rest of the mayhem to come to look forward to, and with the sounds-of Sox fan malice or Sox fan joy, with a splash of sports radio vitriol-this all just feels like the right rhythm, that even if this season's over and I'm about to pull out and head for the Ryan, I'm already home.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

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