Thursday, October 6
David Schoenfield: Well, E, I gotta admit, I've been a bit of a hater. Believed the small-ball hype was ridiculous and wrong. Believed Ozzie Guillen was more crazy than crazy genius. Believed Jose Contreras' late-season hot streak was overplayed -- his last seven starts came against the 99-pound weakling offenses of Seattle, Detroit, Kansas City and Minnesota. Thought the White Sox's lack of plate discipline (only Paul Konerko drew even 50 walks) was being ignored. Believed the whole Scott Podsednik hype had gone completely out of control back at the All-Star break. I didn't believe in this team.
But now ... well, now I believe. I love the way Ozzie believes in Bobby Jenks and especially loved the way he was willing to use him for two innings in Game 2. But I also loved the way he had Neal Cotts warming up behind Jenks, in case Big Papi got to the plate. Cotts had no saves during the regular season, but Ozzie was willing to have him come in to close out the game. I always say you have to manage differently in the postseason and Ozzie showed he'll do that. I believe in Contreras. He does look like a No. 1 guy right now. I believe in Mark Buehrle. And I know you do too. And now they come back with Freddy Garcia and Jon Garland in Game 3 and 4. Besides Jenks, Ozzie can use Cliff Politte, Dustin Hermanson, Luis Vizcaino or Damaso Marte from the pen, capable hurlers all. And they're hitting. Like the 2002 Angels, they're looking like an offense that is clicking on all cylinders at the right time.
Hey, I know you believe. You told everyone to jump on the bandwagon before the playoffs begin. Tell me I'm not too late to the party. Tell me I can second-guess myself for not thinking this team could win it all.
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Eric Neel: Oh you're definitely too late, D. This is southside Chicago stuff. I'm too late, too. If you weren't down with these guys since the La Marr Hoyt era, you're too late. The question is, why were you wrong about them? Why were so many so wrong about them coming into the playoffs?
Theory One: We're a sadistic bunch. We get a certain sick thrill out of a team collapsing. There was something fun about watching the White Sox swoon in September and something in us wanted it to continue, wanted it to approach historic depths and conjure images of Gene Mauch and such.
What else? Why did we miss on these guys? Why are we surprised they're up 2-0 on Boston?
David: Because we don't pay attention to history. We think what matters in September matters more than what you accomplish over 162 games. The White Sox got cold, compared to their hot April and May, so we wrote them off. Thing is, I do pay attention to history, I did the research, which showed that your September record is completely meaningless as a playoff predictor, and yet I still ignored that and said this is a team that was lucky the first half and found its true center after the All-Star break.
And I think we missed on Ozzie. You know, he may be a little bit crazy. Or a lot bit crazy. But, geez, aren't a lot of the great managers? McGraw? Weaver? Martin? Not every great manager is a rock like Torre or Cox.
Eric: It's easy and fun to make fun of Ozzie. I have to say, the Jenks move is a surprise because if anything he's been a throwback guy, not an outside-the-box guy during the regular season. But with the Jenks move, and with the way he never wavered down the stretch, even when they were looking terrible, I see in him now an appealing sort of damn-the-torpedoes focus on what's best for his club, regardless of conventional wisdom.
He clearly knows what he has and isn't afraid to use it in strange combinations, or to experiment with his roster. Think about the closer role for the White Sox this year: he thought he'd have Shingo Takatsu but that didn't work so he made the switch to Hermanson and didn't hesitate about it and now, even though Jenks is a kid, he's willing to go with him because he knows he's got the best stuff, even if some folks might say Jenks is too young, etc. Although Ozzie's cost his club outs with small-ball all season long, he's not holding them back with traditionalism right now.
David: So, the obvious question, before we get too excited and look like fools three days from now. Does this mean the Red Sox are dead? Three reasons I say yes:
(1) I said at the outset of the playoffs that Boston and San Diego were the only two teams I could confidently say wouldn't win it all. The Padres, because they aren't that good. And the Red Sox, because you need a great bullpen for the playoffs and their bullpen is anything but great, even with the emergence of Jonathan Papelbon.
(2) Curt Schilling ain't Curt Schilling. Maybe he'll come up big if this gets to a Game 4, but I wouldn't count on it. He gave up 12 bombs in 93 innings, and the White Sox can hit bombs (they had more homers than the Red Sox on the season).
(3) Their offense is great, but not super-duper, we'll-just-outslug-you-no-matter-what great. They led the AL with 900 runs (5.6 per game), but -- and this is a but the size of David Ortiz's rear end -- take away their 19 games against the Devil Rays (6.7 runs per game) and their nine games against the Rangers (7.9 runs per game) and they averaged 5.2 runs per game. Big Papi hit 10 of his 47 HRs against Tampa pitching, Manny hit eight against the Rays. You get the picture.
Eric: Before I weigh in on the Red Sox's chances, one more note about Ozzie: What I just said about what makes him appealing to me right now is precisely what could make him the Ortizian butt of my jokes in another day or two. Which is to say, his focus can, I suspect, just as easily train on something absurd, like asking Paul Konerko to sacrifice bunt in the second inning or some such madness, at which point I'll call it his weakness, not his strength.
Now, about the Red Sox. The only real case I can make for them is a pseudo-historical one (no match for your revelatory numbers on Papi's power being a tad bit of Ponce De Leonish smoke and mirrors act), and it goes like this: Schilling has shown us, time and again, that he's capable of going John Henry for John Henry, and Ortiz has shown us, time and again, that he's capable of dramatic, brilliant stuff with games and series on the line. I have a hard time, after what happened last year against the Yanks, after watching Ortiz keep doing his walk-off thing all year this year, counting them out, especially heading home. But I'm basing that, the way my papa used to know a storm was coming by the way his joints ached, on a feeling.
David: Well, Eric, your feeling is wrong. White Sox with the sweep. There will be no Yankees-Red Sox grudge match.
Eric: Are you saying, by the way, that you now believe the White Sox are built to go the whole way?
David: I'm saying they are not only built to go all the way, I'm saying they will go all the way.
Eric: What's the old line? No zealot like a convert ...
David: Just a feeling, my friend, just a feeling ...
Previous Second Guesses
• Oct. 5: Why leave Wang in the game?