Szwaja's Sports Blog

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Red Hot, Red Hot
To the top, we are...
Red Hot...
We've laughed at your wars
Can't you see we're out for blood
Run with the pack, now
Always ask for more
Can't you see we're out for blood
-Motley Crue, Red Hot, 1983-

Not that I have anything against Journey, but I would have picked that song as the theme song of the 2005 Chicago White Sox as they came down the stretch. I never stopped believing, and never did I need a reason to stop believing, because the White Sox, when it came down to it, were indeed "Red Hot." Maybe it helps that the song is playing on my new Crue DVD as I write this. But, come on, how hot were the Sox?

Win 15 of the last 16 games? Check.
Go 11-1 on the way to the first South Side World Series in 88 years? Check.
Win all five of your road playoff games? Check.
Hold the Astros scoreless in 15 consecutive innings, with way too many lead off hitters reaching base on top of it? Check.
Four consecutive complete games in the ALCS? Check.
Sweep the defending champs in the ALDS? Check.
Hold off the hottest team in baseball before you even get to the playoffs? Check.

I'll stop now. I think you get the picture. Bottom line: This was one hell of a baseball team. I use the word "was," because no matter how you slice it, this team will never be the same. Players will go their separate ways. Some of those guys will never wear the White Sox pin stripes again, dare I say even Paul Konerko fits into that equation, but that's another story for another time.

Anyway, here's the biggest thing I learned from the 2005 Chicago White Sox: I learned what really makes up a championship baseball team. I know that sounds obvious and simple, but it's so much more than that. After watching the Sox go all the way, it just makes you realize how many other teams just have no chance. Even the Yankees this year, they had overpaid, tight-armed pitchers who couldn't bring it when it counted.

The White Sox were the exact opposite. Some might say, "Come on, Szwaja, they were lucky." Okay, I'll buy that, but every team that wins the Series does so with a little luck.

Back to the point of this blog. I watch the World Series every year. And not until this year did I realize that I've watched every World Series in the past blindly. You can't truly understand a team unless you watch it work its way through the 162-game schedule. Now, I'm not saying I saw every White Sox game this season. I was in the ballpark for eight of them, and I finished 4-4. But I can honestly say that I saw at least parts of 130 of the games. That might sound like a silly claim, but I can back it up. Just ask my fellow baseball-watching roommate Geoff Sobieski. Sob and I watched a ton of baseball at school. And it almost became a joke when I moved home. Grandma would ask the family during Sunday breakfast, "Do you guys watch CSI? What about Desperate Housewives? Or House?" And one of us would always reply, "No, Grandma, we watch baseball, remember?"

If you're one of the unfortunate ones who didn't follow this White Sox team from start to finish, you're Mike Szwaja of the past, watching two teams compete in a World Series you thought you knew but you didn't.

You didn't watch Joe Crede just look stupid at the plate for the better part of the season. You missed out on just how great Jermaine Dye was in ever facet of the game, fielding, hitting, base-running, patience at the plate, you name it, JD did it. Dye even played a game at shortstop in Oakland (I stand corrected). You probably don't remember how big Dustin Hermanson was for a team that didn't have a closer for the first half of the year. Sadly, many won't remember that Frank Thomas had 12 home runs in less that 100 at bats. You didn't see Scott Podsednik steal bases like they were free suckers in a basket next to the register at the local pancake house. You probably don't remember that Jose Contrerous couldn't find the plate for the first third of the season. Or when Jon Garland really was "Cy Garland" (use courtesy of the LaGesse family). Or when El Douque was 9-3 as a starter. Or all those first inning runs Freddy Garcia gave up. Or how disappointing Aaron Rowand was at the plate all season. Or how much of a stud he was in the field all season. Or how many clutch hits Chris Widger had coming off the bench, especially that home run in a rare win in Oakland. Or Brian Anderson's two home run night in Seattle. Or Brandon McCarthy just dismantling the powerful Texas Rangers in Arlington. Or AJ Pierzynski snap-throwing A-Rod out at third and yelling, "Get the fuck outta here!" as he went to the dugout. Or AJ's walk-off in the old school unis. Or all those Freddy Garcia wild pitches, every one of which seemed like it turned into a scored run or two. Or how great Mark Buerhle fielded his position this season. Or Buerhle's gem in a 1-0 victory over the Indians on opening day. Or how Pablo Ozuna did something great in every game he was in. I'm serious, every game. Or Timo Perez's flare single to beat the Angels in The Cell during the regular season in a game the White Sox had no business winning. Or Paul Konerko's catch to end that game in Boston. Or that Neal Cotts fared better against right-handers than the Southpaws. Or that Bobby Jenks threw a pitch 102 mph to Richie Sexson in Seattle. Or every play Juan Uribe made in the hole. Or that Ross Gload wears Pumas. Or that Willie Harris never complained, as he's done in past seasons, about not playing. Or every time Tadahito grounded out to the second baseman with Scotty on second and no outs. Or that Cliff Politte never seemed to have control problems. Or that Luis Vizcaino went from being the fool on the hill to the king of the infield pop-out. Or that Ozzie sometimes left his pitchers in too long. Or that Ozzie told Magglio Ordonez that he could "fuck him so many ways" and we all kind of just laughed and turned our heads at that statement. Or that a guy named Kevin Walker spent time in the bullpen this season. And a guy named Raul Lopez played a few games at short. Or that Carlos Lee had a huge season in Milwaukee and not one Sox fan seemed to care. Or that Geoff Blum didn't really do anything until he hit that home run the other night.

Somehow, some way, the White Sox channeled every positive from that monster paragraph above and forgot about every negative and just went on a tear to finish the season. No team could have beaten them down the stretch. Not the '84 Tigers. Not the '89 As. Not the '99 Yankees. They were going to win and that was it.

The White Sox did everything right. They got every guy out they needed to get out. They got to every ball they could, and to some they probably wouldn't if they tried to do it again -- think the wall taking out Uribe as he gloved that ball in Game 4. Everything just clicked. To go through such a long season, to pitch so well, to manufacture runs out of nothing, to get the long ball when you really need one -- think Konerko's Slam, Scotty's walk-off and Blum's eye-opener ... iterally ... we were all falling asleep. All those things, it's just amazing, and we'll never see anything like it again. Not in Chicago. Not in Major League Baseball. Never again. This might not have been the best baseball team to ever man a diamond, but they might end up being the most fun, most opportunistic, most influential team in history. Don't think GMs around the league aren't going to try and copy Kenny Williams' think pitching, defense and character before power strategy. This team officially brought baseball out of the power era and into the "Smart-Ball Era" the "Ozzie-Ball Era" if you will.

Yes, they were out for blood. And they finished Red Hot indeed. And we'll never, ever, forget the 2005 White Sox.


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