I made my 1999 Comiskey Park debut by showing up to watch the White Sox try
to avoid getting swept by the Royals, in a game featuring each team’s ace
(Chicago’s James Baldwin vs. Kansas City’s Kevin Appier). My focus was on the
three "stories" already being spun about the Sox and Royals:
- How would Appier look?
- Is Frank Thomas doing anything differently?
- Is the Sox defense really as bad as some people would have you believe?
No single game is going to give you all the answers, so I looked at this
as an opportunity to just see how things are playing out so far.
No trace of the 1890s Orioles here: no inside baseball, no tactical chicanery.
Instead, there were four solo home runs on a frosty day at the least-attended
game in Comiskey in at least two years. Baldwin coughed up three of the solo
shots, giving him five on the year in his quest for Blylevendom. He was
high with his breaking stuff, but since he was facing the Royals he still
a quality start.
Probably the most painful aspect of the outing for him was giving up an 0-2
home run to Joe Randa in the first inning. Perhaps not coincidentally,
Randa was the last batter Baldwin faced, walking him with two outs in the
seventh inning; Baldwin nearly took Randa’s head off with ball four, loading
the bases. Sox fans hoping Bryan Ward can become an effective lefty specialist
had to be encouraged when he blew Johnny Damon out of the water to squelch
Mixed Bag for Appier
This wasn’t a great start to draw any conclusions about Appier, one way or
another. Although still flashing his old delivery (the high leg kick, and a
throwing motion you could compare to those curled-up party favors you blow
to get them to straighten out), Appier worked behind hitters most of the
and had special problems with Frank Thomas.After the game, he claimed he was
having trouble with his command, but that his slider was working well.
But the opposition? Facing a lineup with two players who haven’t hit well at
Triple-A yet, plus journeymen like Darrin Jackson and Brook Fordyce, wasn’t
exactly a tough test.
It’s usually small beer to complain about where a manager chooses to bat
and unfair to criticize a manager who gives his bench players a spot start now
and again. That said, the lineup Appier faced wasn’t at all dangerous. The
isn’t the decision to give Craig Wilson a start, or to play Jeff Liefer and
Singleton. The problem is a lineup with all of them playing at once, along
Jackson, leaves you ridiculously short on power.
Is Big Hurt Back?
I’m biased, because I was inclined to think Thomas would be back even before
spring training began, but I liked what I saw. He roped a single to left his
first time up, crushed a first-pitch home run his second time up, and took his
base in the sixth when Appier elected to stop messing around. He opened the
with a double off Jeff Montgomery, but that swell lineup left him there.
Some folks are grousing that Thomas is setting up too far away from the
plate, but that’s overstated. He is setting up farther away, and striding
into the plate. He’s always been touchy about getting jammed, and this
seems like a reasonable way to keep that from happening as much as it did
in 1998. He’s also not goofing off with batting from a crouch, as so many
people urged him to try last year.
So what about the Sox defense? Again, a single game is no basis for
conclusion, but it was hard not to like what I saw. Craig Wilson made a
great stop at the hot corner in the seventh, and Mike Caruso made a couple of
outstanding plays going into the hole and firing the ball to first. The new
Manuel-inspired throwing motion (overhand, quarterback-style) looks good.
it, Caruso was getting his throws up instead of in the dirt, definitely a
change for the better.
Jackson took a bad first step and allowed a two-out can of corn by
Carlos Febles to drop in for a base hit, starting the seventh-inning
fire that Ward later put out. Yes, I would have liked to have seen if McKay
Christensen makes that play. I was already of the opinion that the Sox
defense is better than they’re being given credit for, and this game did
nothing to discourage that opinion.
The Royals also flashed some leather, notably a heads-up play by Carlos Febles
in the eighth. Mike Caruso tried stealing first, dumping a good drag bunt up
the first-base line. It isn’t a great percentage move, since it depends on the
second baseman blowing the assignment and failing to cover first base. But
in camp, and it worked last year, and when both Jeff King and Jose Santiago
for the ball it might have worked again, except Febles was in position and
the base, creating an easy out. Kudos to Febles, and probably to Royals’
Every game has its set of firsts, and in this case, it was Chris
Singleton’s first major league hit (a liner that Kevin Appier dropped and
then misfired to first), and his first clean major league hit (up the
middle, which was Tony Muser’s sign to take Appier out of the game). I’ll
add that to my rogue’s gallery: Jamie "the Rat" Easterly’s last game, Greg
Cadaret’s debut and Raffy Santana’s last home run.