WTNYJune 24, 2004
Not Just Another 9-5 Game
By Bryan Smith

When I go to Sox games, I feel like I have to repent or something, like its a sort of sin for a Cubs fan to enter the premise of U.S. Cellular Field. But the fact is that I love baseball, and I would watch the Independent League if given tickets. I was raised by a family of Sox fans, but broke to the North side before turning ten. I still root for the Sox 156 games a year, whether that makes me less of a Cubs fan, I dont think so.

I was offered tickets to go to last nights Sox-Indians game, and I jumped at the chance, seeing as though I like both teams. Ive liked Cleveland ever since meeting GM Mark Shapiro last year, and they are the type of underdog that I like rooting for. So, I went to the game with very little care on the final outcome, more a hope to see good baseball. The match-up was Cliff Lee, the former AL ERA leader, and Mark Buerhle, the Sox ace. The Sox were three games up on the Indians before the game, but both were sitting behind the division-leading Minnesota Twins.

Cliff Lee is an interesting story himself. After briefly holding the AL ERA lead, Lee has had a terrible month, watching his ERA sky over six. This is mainly due to the fact that the southpaw has given up six home runs in 23 innings in June, as opposed to only two in his first 59.2 innings. Watching Lee earlier in the season, I got a feel for his scouting report. Lee has three pitches, a fastball, slow curve, and slider. His fastball is thrown more than any other pitch, and he often uses it as his out pitch.

Here is something interesting:

1. .312 vs. .310
2. .281 vs. .305
3. .326 vs. .289
4. .320 vs. .299
5. .275 vs. .266
6. .318 vs. .267
7. .264 vs. .237
8. .262 vs. .412
9. .273 vs. .269

These are the averages of the nine batters that each team had in their lineup Wednesday, but suprisingly, the first column (the generally higher averages) are the Indians rather than the vaunted White Sox. The largest number is .412, but White Sox utility player Jamie Burke has only registered 17 at-bats this season. Cleveland is hitting very well, with the front foursome of Belliard, Vizquel, Lawton and Martinez all doing their part for the ALs second best offense.

The first inning went extraordinarily quick, as the two southpaws threw a combined nineteen pitches, and each had one strikeout and two flyouts. The White Sox scored first, when Burke (who destroys lefties) hit a single to bring in Carlos Lee. Chicago made Lee throw 27 second inning pitches, trying to make Eric Wedge go to the second worst bullpen in baseball.

This is where it gets weird. After Coco Crisp struck out to lead the inning, Ronnie Belliard hit the second pitch he saw over the fence to tie the game. Including Belliard, the Indians had sixteen out of their next seventeen batters put one of the first three pitches they saw into play. Buerhles stuff was terrible, and those seventeen batters scored five runs, including three home runs by Belliard, Casey Blake and Lou Merloni. Buerhle finished the sixth inning haven thrown only 68 pitches, despite allowing five runs on seven hits.

In this span, the White Sox managed to score one run, as the red-hot Aaron Rowand hit a solo shot in the fifth inning. Rowand has a .437/.524/.730 line in June, splitting time between center and right. Hes hitting lefties at a .400 clip, and will present a big problem when Magglio Ordonez comes back. While I dont think hes a good enough player to play everyday when Maggs leaves next year, he presents a nice way to break in the left-handed Jeremy Reed.

Paul Konerko led off the sixth inning hitting a home run on Lees 89th pitch, and Cliff would finish the inning with 103 pitches. While it looked like the Indians were absolutely destroying the Sox, Chicago was only two runs back, and had three innings against a bullpen with an ERA around 5.50. Buerhle helped the hope around the Cell grow when he had his best inning since the first in the seventh, retiring the 1-3 hitters in order, throwing only twelve pitches. Mark had thrown seven innings, but only stood at 80 pitches. Following the Arnie Munoz disaster in Montreal (a 3.2 inning start), Ozzie Guillen was not about to go to his bullpen.

Lee left the game after six innings giving up only three runs, another quality start, giving the ball to right-hander Rafael Betancourt. I was impressed with Betancourt, a small right-hander that attacked hitters with a fastball ranging from 91-93 mph. After retiring the first two hitters, the Big Hurt hit a towering flyball that looked to be a sure home run, until the wind brought it back onto the warning track. Matt Lawton and Coco Crisp were in confusion as the ball hit off Lawtons glove, allowing Thomas to get to second base on a two-base error. Carlos Lee then smoked a pitch down the left field line, and although it hit the yellow portion of the outfield wall, the ball stayed in play. Thomas was able to score before Matt Lawton was able to throw out Lee at second, making it a one-run game.

The eighth inning started very poorly for the home team, as Martinez, Blake and Hafner led off the inning with singles, ending Buerhles day before registering an out in the eighth. Guillen opted for his worst reliever, Mike Jackson, to enter the game with the bases loaded. Eric Wedge then substituted struggling first basemen Ben Broussard for Lou Merloni, who promptly crushed a grand slam into the right field seats. Guillens mistake was glaring, and it was the first time I had ever heard a White Sox fan asking for Billy Koch.

Though Konerko managed to lead off the eighth inning with his second home run of the day, the White Sox were not able to get back into the game. Betancourts one earned run in two innings would raise his ERA, but I thought the right-hander threw well. Hes allowed 39 hits in 33.2 innings this year, but his K/9 is under ten, and his K/BB is 38/6. David Riske, once the Indians closer, closed out the game in the ninth with one scoreless inning. Mind you that in his last twenty innings, Riske has given up only three runs, on eleven hits, seven walks and 21 strikeouts. Clevelands bullpen underachieved greatly in the first half, and if the lineup can continue their overachieiving for the rest of the season, Cleveland just might make a run at the AL Central.

I wanted to write this post to say that when you read your newspaper this morning, and scan over the 9-5 score from Chicago, just know it was one great game. Sure there were more exciting games on Wednesday, but Im quite happy I attended this one.