Based on the early returns, we’re projecting the White Sox and Cubs to both win the World Series this year (somehow). They’re on pace to finish the regular season 162-0.
Is it too soon to jump to conclusions about our town’s baseball teams this season? Of course it isn’t. What’s April for, if not overreacting? If the teams were 0-2, wouldn’t many of us be weeping and wailing about the long season ahead?
So let’s just savor perfection for now.
While I watched the Sox grapple with the A’s in Oakland last night, I wondered how long it had been since the south-siders and north-siders had both won their first pair in the same season. The Cubs were cruising in Anaheim, with Jon Lester at the wheel, and their 6-1 triumph over the Angels would leave them 2-0. The Sox, who’d taken their opener the night before, were a run down to the A’s in the early going.
In between pitches, I was checking Baseball Almanac‘s historical website on my phone. I knew that the Sox and Cubs had often struggled out of the gate, so I thought it might have been ten years, maybe even 20, since both clubs had gone 2-0 in the same year. But, as I was learning from the almanac’s annual game-by-game results, the Cubs themselves hadn’t been 2-0 since 1995—and the Sox opened that season 0-2.
Ken Harrelson was in midseason form with his Hawkisms as he called the Sox-A’s game. “Those are some grab-some-bench pitches right there.” “You can cancel the postgame show.” “He’s got the catbird seat.” “I’ll bet you a dozen golf balls . . . ” The south-siders’ new shortstop, Jimmy Rollins, “can be a difference-maker on our ballclub.”
The Sox were 2-0 in 1992 and 1982, the almanac showed—but the Cubs split their opening pair those seasons. The Cubs were 2-0 in 1974—but the Sox were 0-2.
In the fifth inning in Oakland, Todd Frazier, the new Sox third baseman, came to the plate with two on and two out, and launched one to left. “Stretch . . . stretch . . . You can putitontheboard . . . yes!” The Sox were suddenly ahead, 3-1.
The Cubs began their fateful 1969 season 2-0—but the Sox split their first two that year. The Sox were 2-0 in 1960, the Cubs 1-1. I’d now looked back 55 seasons, through the mayoral terms of Rahm Emanuel, Richard M. Daley, Eugene Sawyer, Harold Washington, Jane Byrne, Michael Bilandic, and Richard J. Daley, all of whom had promised to lead Chicago to glory, none of whom had delivered so much as a lousy pair of season-opening wins for both the city’s baseball clubs in the same year.
The Sox were up 4-2 in the sixth, and Hawk was waxing nostalgic with Steve Stone, his broadcast partner. “We actually didn’t mind it when someone threw a spitter, because you could hang a spitter just like you could hang a slider or curveball,” Hawk said. Stone nudged him back to the present, observing that the A’s manager was likely to call in a reliever soon. “Yeah, you can book that, Danno,” Hawk agreed.
Finally, there it was. On April 19, 1951, the White Sox blasted the hapless Saint Louis Browns, 13-5, before 1,079 at Sportsman’s Park. Meantime, the Cubs’ immortal Paul Minner was shutting out the Reds, 3-0, in front of 4,626 chilled witnesses at Wrigley Field. “The usually docile Windy City clubs both won their second game of the young season today, to top their respective league standings,” the Atlanta Daily World observed the following day. Chicago mayor Martin Kennelly no doubt was beaming.
In Oakland, Robin Ventura brought in Nate Jones in the eighth to preserve the 4-2 lead. Jones “has a motion you don’t see very often, if ever,” Hawk pointed out. Jones plunked two batters and gave up a single, and suddenly it was 4-4, and a 2-0 start for the Sox was in jeopardy.
But then in the Sox ninth, with none on and two outs, difference-maker Rollins lifted a fly to left that kept carrying. “Stretch . . . stretch . . . You can putitontheboard . . . yes! Mercy. Don’t stop now, boys!”
With two gone in the bottom of the ninth, David Robertson coaxed Josh Reddick to chop one to Jose Abreu near the bag at first. Hawk of course was gleeful. “And this ballgame—is—ovah!” The final was 5-4. At 12:36 AM Chicago time on April 6, the Sox and Cubs were 2-0 for the first time in 65 years. Both are in first place (the Cubs are tied with the Pirates), with only 160 games to play.
In 1951, the south-siders’ 2-0 beginning launched them to a fine season when they went 81-73, although that left them in fourth place, 17 games behind the New York Yankees. The north-siders’ auspicious beginning that year culminated in an inauspicious end: they wound up 62-92, in the NL basement, 34.5 games behind the New York Giants. The immortal Paul Minner led the league in losses with 17.
So, yes, a good start doesn’t guarantee a good end. But it’s something to build on. Don’t stop now, boys!