I’ve had Ozzie Plan season tickets the last couple of years, and in 2007 for my $300 I saw the White Sox win all of two games, one in May, the other in September. Flipping through my ticket stubs brings it all back to me: L 11-1, L 10-3, L 3-0, L 11-1, L13-3, etc, etc. At the start of the second half of the season I bet Reader sportswriter Ted Cox that the Sox would finish behind the lowly Royals, and during a miserable August in which they went 9-20 it was looking like a sure thing. But a late September run of four wins–they had no streak longer than this all season–deprived me of a bottle of Blanton’s. I wish I’d bet they’d lose 90.
Fortunately for those of us with PTSD from last year, the Sox are already into a five-game winning streak, and signs of life have included not just a sweep over the Tigers (0 and 7 after Tuesday’s 5-0 blanking by the BoSox, who got their World Series rings) but a five-RBI game by A.J. Pierzynski, who capped it off with a game-winning three-run homer. That still didn’t prepare this A.J.-jersey-wearing fan for the flashback to 2005 at Monday’s home opener against the Twins.
The first couple innings looked like the bad old days, with Javy Vazquez laboring to give up three runs on seven hits through four and the Sox stranding eight base runners in that same span. Ozzie got himself thrown out in the third, arguing balls and strikes for no good reason that I could see. By the sixth, when reliever Matt Guerrier took over for Twins starter Nick Blackburn, the Sox were down 3-2 and Ted Cox and I were dissing the Sox pitcher in song (“Javier Vazquez / You’re slow as molasses . . .”). But in the bottom of the seventh, Guerrier walked Jim Thome, and Paul Konerko followed with a single to center. This brought in Twins reliever Pat Neshek, who can’t feel very happy about it. Dye, with another single to center, batted in Thome, and after Pierzynski struck out swinging, new outfielder Carlos Quentin, playing in left, followed with yet another hard-hit single.
Konerko, a runner so slow the Sox should raise money for charity by offering fans the chance to challenge him in a footrace, was at third, and with two outs, Ted was feeling tetchy: “Why aren’t they pinch running for Paulie?” he griped. “They should pull him, move [Nick] Swisher to first, and play Blondie [i.e., Brian Anderson] in center.”
“They’re just trying to make a hero out of Joe with his grand slam,” I joked. Then it happened: Crede connected on a shattered-bat drive over the left field fence. The kids to my left went nuts, waving their complimentary Sox car flags and screaming with glee. A guy in front of them was so overcome with joy and generosity that when the inning was over he ran to buy them ice cream.
I haven’t jumped up and down so much in, oh, three years, and the moment really did recall that charmed season. The Sox won 7-4, but I’d point to bright spots more modest than a game-winning grand slam, beginning with Vazquez, who finally got it together and retired the next 11 batters (“I no worry about him,” Ozzie said). Every single player got a hit, and–stop the presses–Juan Uribe took a walk. And there were two crucially timed 6-4-3 double plays, including the last two outs that gave Bobby Jenks (now sporting the team’s wackiest chin beard) his fourth save. The Sox are in first place, with the Royals in a surprise second–they beat the Yankees Tuesday–and I’m thinking I won’t be making bets like last year’s anytime soon.