www.redeyechicago.com/sports/ct-spt-0930-haugh-white-sox-chicago--20120930,0,3059452.column

redeyechicago.com

Sox fade sad sight to behold

Collapse as disconcerting as long run in 1st was encouraging

David Haugh

In the Wake of the News

10:04 PM CDT, September 29, 2012

Advertisement

As Rays first baseman Carlos Pena caught the White Sox's final out of a demoralizing 10-4 loss Saturday at U.S. Cellular Field, a particularly fed-up fellow unleashed frustration that echoed from an empty stadium throughout the South Side.

"Damn it!'' he screamed on behalf of Sox fans everywhere.

Robin Ventura didn't cuss but got as cross as he has publicly in describing a debacle that included ace Chris Sale's shortest start of the year in the biggest game of the season.

"We stunk,'' Ventura said. "It's pretty simple.''

It's all getting pretty sad.

The Sox's disappointing end of the year Sale lacked the goods. Now trailing the Tigers in the American League Central by two games with four left, selling playoff tickets became a lower priority at 35th and Shields.

"Major League Baseball did schedule a game for tomorrow so we're going to be back,'' Ventura said. "Anything can happen.''

Indeed, but the Sox had to take advantage of Sale's last regular-season start because, realistically, the Price they see Sunday will be out of their hitters' range — Rays left-hander David Price, that is.

There will be a time when Sale can win a big game with a weary arm and without his best stuff. Saturday was not that day and this is not that year. He lacked command against an all-right-handed lineup courtesy of Rays manager Joe Maddon and gave up five earned runs in 31/3 innings in a performance he called "a disgrace.'' His arm looked as tired as you feel watching the Sox lately.

The Sox hoped Sale could do for them what rookie Matt Moore did for the Rays — one hit over 51/3 innings — but the best rising young left-hander on the mound Saturday wasn't wearing black pinstripes. Asked what role anxiety played in an erratic outing, Sale answered emphatically but unconvincingly.

"None,'' Sale said. "I looked at this just like every other outing this year.''

Oh, but it wasn't like every other outing and September is nothing like every other month. The Sox's failure to grasp that has brought them within four games of Chicago sports infamy.

Anybody who knows Sox general manager Ken Williams knows it will not be enough Wednesday night for the Sox to come close. Not enough to say the Sox finishing second is OK because they spent so much time in first place because the Tigers underachieved.

This is the major leagues, not Little League, and not everybody gets a trophy for trying hard. This is a Sox team that will deserve as much criticism for flopping in September as they received praise for finding a way to contend for it as long as they did. Chances are, South Siders will remember the former more than the latter about this team.

Use whatever term in the sports lexicon you want to describe how the Sox made their final month miserable. Choke. Fade. Wither. Skulk. They all apply. Consider they had a three-game lead Sept. 18. Sunday they woke up with a two-game deficit. In that 11-game slide into a baseball abyss, the Sox went 2-9.

The 1969 Cubs, Chicago's gold standard for second-place failures Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf mentioned the other day in discussing his team's struggles, went 2-11 during their worst September stretch. The 1964 Phillies, who provided the swoon of all swoons blowing a 51/2-game lead, finished their lost season 2-10.

The Sox have no choice but to believe in more encouraging examples such as the '99 Mets that included Ventura. The Mets were two games out of the wild-card race with three to play and won all three, a 163rd game playoff and eventually the NL Divisional Series.

But Paul Konerko is hitting .239 in September. Adam Dunn struck out two more times. A.J. Pierzynski, a noted clutch player, never got a chance Saturday because Ventura played percentages and went with Tyler Flowers, who struck out three times. When pinch-hitter Orlando Hudson hit a grand slam, he drove in as many or more runs with one swing as the Sox had scored as a team in 10 of their last 11 games. There is nothing worse than trying to win a race with so many holes in your Sox.

Now is no time for self-analysis or self-pity. Buried in the mathematical hole they find themselves, they need to just play without fear of failure. The Sox owe it to themselves to do something late to alter the image of a fine team that spent the final two weeks of its season in the fetal position. Stop fretting. Start hitting.

"Late in the year stuff can happen,'' Ventura said.

So make it happen before the context of the Sox's 2012 season changes forever.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh