The White Sox came into Tuesday night’s game reeling from a classic Nightmare In Minnesota game on Monday, and from the news that John Danks would miss the remainder of the year with shoulder surgery.
In order to bounce back the White Sox deployed their newest acquisition, Francisco Liriano, against his old team. Without the services of Liriano any longer, the Twins were running out noted dumpster fire Nick Blackburn. Blackburn came into the game with an ERA of 7.99 and a K/BB ratio of 1.43. Indeed, his HR rate was over half of his K rate (2.1 to 4.0).
Still, the Twins employing awful players has never really been a handicap for them against the White Sox, so the outcome was far from assured. Sure enough, the first 6 innings of the game were riddled with the Twins Magic to which all White Sox fans have bitterly become accustomed. White Sox errors and chopped ground ball singles from the Twins, and the ending was a lot more stressful than it could have been.
The White Sox got off to a bad start, as Blackburn cruised through a 1-2-3 first inning, throwing only two breaking pitches, both of which were fouled off, and that was largely how the game would go. Clearly Chicago’s game plan was to attack, swinging early and often. Unfortunately, Blackburn was able to bury his fastball up and in on the hands on both sides of the plate, and also induce swings on pitches low and away. The result was lots of fly balls to opposite field, and lots of pulled grounders early in the count. The Twins starter wound up going 8 innings giving up only 2 runs on a rather economical 106 pitches. The White Sox got a run in the second – a ripped Rios double and an even-more-hard-hit single off the wall by Pierzynski set up a sac fly from Viciedo. That was all they would manage until the 7th inning.
On the other side of the ball, Liriano made his White Sox debut, and there was a lot to like. He allowed only 2 runs on 6 innings, dealing out 8 strikeouts. His fastball sat 93-95, touching 96, although he frequently overthrew it – missing high and out of the zone early and low and out of the zone when his control temporarily abandoned him in the 6th. Fortunately, his mistakes missed by so much that it didn’t really leave anything up in the zone to be punished. Liriano backed it up with his well-known filthy slider, which got him some Ks, but what really impressed me was his changeup. Liriano was throwing it with deceptive arm movement, and it had excellent arm-side tail and sink, making it a weapon against right-handed hitters. The best the Twins could do was either pound it into the dirt and hope for luck or a mistake (which they managed to string together a few times), put their bats on their shoulder and walk (which they did a few times in the 6th), or hope that Denard Span would hit.
Okay, seriously. What is up with Denard Span? He’s a nice enough player, with a career OPS of .748. However, against the White Sox – who have had excellent pitching his whole career – Span came into today with an .834 OPS, composed of a .319/.391/.442 line and he built on that by going 4/5.
The White Sox missed on a lot of belt-high, unexceptional fastballs from Blackburn, and were incredibly shaky in the field. With 1 out in the 6th and the White Sox leading 1-0 the bases were loaded, helped by a 4-pitch walk to Mauer and a 5-pitch walk to Willingham by Liriano. Liriano induced a chopper to first. Konerko fielded it cleanly at the base but missed touching it by about a half an inch, and then airmailed the throw home. As a result, everyone was safe and a run scored, tying the game. The Twins would then pull ahead on a Danny Valencia single – at this point, Liriano couldn’t throw his slider for strikes.
The White Sox tied it up with a rally in the 7th with Pierzynski being hit by a pitch, Viciedo keeping his hands in enough on another up-and-in fastball from Blackburn to push it into center, and then a flared single to left by Alexei.
The White Sox were saved by their stud free agent acquisition, Dingerzynski. With former White Sox Jeff Grey in to pitch the 9th, Rios hit a single, and then Dingerzynski absolutely obliterated a hanging 0-2 slider for a 2-run home run.
Reed’s slider wasn’t quite there tonight, but his fastball was still enough to only give up a run on a Span RBI single. It was a weird game, with the strike zone occasionally vanishing or expanding, hard-hit balls yielding outs, and dribblers conjuring up wacky defensive gaffes. Even on the last play of the game, on a weak chopper to first, Konerko bobbled it twice and gave a tricky flip to the covering Reed who managed a barehanded catch to get a hustling Mauer.
White Sox win, 4-3.
Crain pitched around spotty control to get out of a jam in the 7th, and Thornton pitched a solid enough 8th, although his slider is still comical.
Pierzynski has tied his career high of home runs with 18 on the season and was the only player to really hit the ball with authority for the White Sox today.