The annual event here in Chicago known as the “Crosstown Classic” happened over the weekend. The Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Cubs played in the friendly confines of U.S. Cellular Field. As many of you know, I am a huge White Sox fan. I am not, however, a blind White Sox fan and I am just cynical enough to believe that A.J. Pierzynski started all of the trouble you probably saw played ad nauseum on ESPN and other sports broadcasts.
Here’s what I saw. The hit by Pierzynski was a clean play. Anyone who knows baseball knows that when a fielder stands in the base path, like Cubs catcher Barrett was, the runner can knock him aside and knock him down regardless of whether or not that fielder has the ball. That is basic baseball. Even Cubs manager Dusty Baker and Barrette himself said that was a clean play. What I do not understand is why AJ felt the need to slap his hand on the plate, get up, turn around and shove his shoulder into Barrett. AJ is a notorious troublemaker and he then loves to act innocent. I still don’t buy the dropped third strike from the ALCS he managed to sell to the umpires last year and I don’t buy his excuse that he was simply trying to retrieve his batting helmet which was resting behind Barrett. Barrett should not have thrown a punch, but AJ should have steered well clear of the man and not put his left shoulder down. Suspend all of them and let’s move on.
The tensions between these two teams has intensified to insane levels in this city over the years. Back before the inter-league games counted there was always a pre-season exhibition game between the two teams. It was only for bragging rights because it was always the case that neither team was going to do much of anything during the regular season. At the end of the season at least you could say, well my team beat your team. Then Cubs and Sox fans would share a laugh and a beer and look forward to next year. For some reason, over the past couple of years, a “friendly” rivalry between the two teams has turned openly nasty and angry. Cubs fans like to pretend they don’t care about the Sox but since it seems like the Sox stand a decent chance of making the post-season again (more about that later, though) and won the whole thing last year, and the Cubs are falling apart faster than the Berlin Wall, the rivalry has turned into outright hatred.
I think some of that boiled over into Saturday’s game. The Cubs are frustrated because they can’t seem to buy a win. They lost their biggest offensive weapon in Derek Lee a few weeks ago and they have been acting like a crippled team since. They are a team even Cubs fans are starting to admit is a very, very bad team and they are booing them mercilessly at their home games.
Despite all of this and despite the fact the Sox won the series against the Cubs, I am furious at the team this morning. They blew yesterdays game. They handed the win to the Cubs and they handed first place to the Detroit Tigers and they played like a bunch of chumps and not defending world champs. I couldn’t believe it when I saw Joe Crede, a man who is usually a wall at third base and capable of leaping from nowhere to snag line drives, bobble a grounder and not be able to make the play at first. Then, well, then came the play that had me hanging my head in shame.
The ball was a routine grounder to the second baseman Tadahito Iguchi. Iguchi had to step away from second to field the ball. Shortstop Juan Uribe moved over to second to catch the toss from Iguchi. With all of the time in the world to carefully throw the ball to first baseman Paul Konerko and pull off a very routine double-play, Uribe threw the ball wide and gave the Cubs an extra out. The Cubs managed to capitalize and won the game. Had the Cubs just managed to outplay a hard-playing Sox team, I would feel better about the loss. Instead, the Sox let their guard down and they gave the game away and ruined a great chance to build momentum before going into another tough series against a team that always manages to beat them.
What happened? Did the Sox go out and party Saturday night? Were they hung over? Were the throwback 1906 Sox uniforms uncomfortable? What the hell? The team that played such great defense last year let errors and mistakes in the field beat them yesterday and they looked like the mediocre, sub-par, under 500 team of the years prior to 2005.
The Sox were tied with the Detroit Tigers for first place. For some inconceivable reason the Sox had just lost a series to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Therefore, instead of a lead over the Tigers they were tied. The Detroit Tigers, they are the team playing like world champs these days. They seem unstoppable. I keep hearing from Sox fans that there is no way Detroit can keep it together?
Um, hello? How can Sox fans, of all fans, say that with a straight face? The same fans who heard all last year, throughout the 2005 season, that there was no way the Sox could hold it together all season long. I was told that to my face, by strangers, when I was wearing my Sox hat around town. Why couldn’t they hold it together? What the Sox have exclusive rights to holding it together for an entire season when no one believes they can?
No, the Tigers are a team that you cannot let up against. You need to match them win for win if you want to have a chance of repeating a trip to the post-season this year. Plus, the Sox have the Oakland As coming into town starting tonight. The Oakland As! I know players like to say they don’t really think ahead and that they just focus on one game at a time, but come on! The one team that, every year, no matter how good the Sox are, consistently beats them whether they are home or away is the Oakland As and you have to be aware of that. Plus, Frank Thomas will be back in town with all of that intensity and bad-blood between the two teams creating an intense atmosphere that goes beyond just the game. It was the perfect time to build a little momentum, sweep the Cubs, and head into the Oakland series tied for first with the Tigers. The Sox couldn’t do it and, for the first time this season, I am worried about the Sox, their heart and where their heads are at right now.
The Cubs were down. They had them beat. They had the sweep at their fingertips and instead of ratcheting up the intensity, buckling down and playing hard and going for the kill (could I add a few more clichés?) they got sloppy. Now they stand a really good chance of being swept, at home, by the one team that consistently beats them like a red-headed stepchild. This would put them, more than likely, significantly behind the Detroit Tigers who seem unbeatable these days. Not good guys. Not good at all.
As for the rivalry. Who knows? It’s sort of fun as long as you don’t really have to get too close to it. I have no desire to be at any of those games and prefer to watch them from the safety of my home. Later this summer, the Sox will play games at that crumbling wreck of a stadium known as Wrigley Field. The intensity should be higher than even this series. If a bright white light vaporizes the city of Chicago that weekend, you know everything just finally exploded up here. Watch for it on the news. I am sure someone will have some great footage of it.