Thursday, August 18, 2005

Panic Button? THERE IS NO PANIC BUTTON!

The Sox lead the AL Central by 10.5 games with 44 games left. And all of Chicago Southside is gripped with...FEAR?!?

Yes, the Pale Hose played an ugly series in getting swept by the Twins, with all three games eerily reminiscent of last season's three-game sweep of late July, one that completely deflated the Sox and sent them into a spin from which there was no recover sans Frank Thomas and Magglio Ordonez.

And the Sox ARE 12-15 in their last month.

Yet to hear some tell it, such as Sun-Times columnist Greg Couch, worry should be the watchword of the day for any level-headed Sox fan:

I think the Sox have gotten a little lazy. The air warmed up at Sox Park, and the balls started flying, and the Sox never really were that good at smallball, at scratching out ways to get on-base, in the first place. Then, there's that big, fat division lead.


Um, YEAH! Over 162 games even the most infallible of teams look tried, cranky, sluggish. Take the '98 Yankees, winners of 114 games. In late August/September they went a pedestrian 9-12 before reeling off 7 straight to close the season (4 of those wins being over the pathetic, expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays).

Maybe lazy is the wrong word, but it has to be hard to keep your edge, hard to to keep fighting when the fight is already won.

To me, they just sit back, count on their wonderful starting pitching and swing for the fences. It's hard to battle out a long count, to foul off pitches until the right one is there to poke a single to right, to draw a walk.


Until you clinch the title, the fight is NOT won. If one manager understands that, it's Ozzie Guillen.

Can't draw walks? Always swinging for the fences? I was at the game on Tuesday night - Juan Uribe, of all people, drew a key walk when basically everybody in the ballpark was expecting him to strike out. And when you're going up against Brad Radke and Johan Santana, you have to recognize those two combined have issued only 49 walks all season.

Can we get the trading deadline back? By the eighth inning Wednesday, with the Sox into their 17th consecutive inning without a run, a group of fans started chanting, ''We want Jun-ior,'' and clapping.

The rumors don't go away about Ken Griffey Jr., who had cleared waivers. The Sox were talking to Cincinnati about him, and please let them be talking again. Give up anything imaginable, because he's a lefty and he gets on base.

But if that's not going to happen, maybe there is someone out there available who just is a professional hitter, who makes contact every time up. If that's what these Sox are supposed to be, then let's at least see some evidence.


Couch might have a point about the Sox needing another dangerous bat in the lineup - because they do. Frank Thomas' absence, despite the admirable performance of Carl Everett, hurts the Sox more than they or others care to realize. And it's not as if St. Louis poisoned the clubhouse chemistry by bringing in Larry Walker. If a deal not involving a player named Rowand, Podsednik, Buehrle, Garland, or Garcia comes up, why not make that move?

Even so, Couch represents the classic mode of Sox fan thinking, and I myself am guilty as well. We automatically marry to the worst possible scenario. There is no middle ground. At this point it might be well worth remembering that the 2005 Sox, who gave up not only Magglio but Carlos Lee, were supposed to be clawing with Cleveland for second while the Twins ran away with the Central.

But the time is now past for all rational thought. With the playoffs so real a possibility this late in the season, all the fans can think about it is the World Series, since most them were either infants or not alive the last time one was played at the corner of 35th & Shields. As Sox fans, we're only a rung or two below Cubs followers on the desperation latter.

But if I have to go Baghdad Bob when I say this, I will - THERE IS NO PANIC BUTTON. You can slug your way to a division title, which is what the Red Sox are currently trying to do. But you PITCH your way to championships, which is what the BoSox did a year ago behind stellar starting and bullpen work. The Sox have the best top three of any possible playoff rotation - Buehrle, Garcia, & Garland - plus Orlando Hernandez, who moves to a different level in October.

But even a valiant effort, or a trip to the ALCS, will leave all feeling bitter about how Jerry Reinsdorf and Kenny Williams blew it...again. With the Sox having enticed their fans with the promise of the AL's best record, doing much better than expected is no longer satisfying.

Now it's Win (the Series)...or die trying.

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