El Duque, Touched By God

As I sat in a bar called Archie Moore’s in New Haven, Connecticut on Friday afternoon (10/7/05), I was attempting to live the High Life. Trying to be cool, confident, and of course calm. I’m not sure if I was able to pull it off by the sixth inning… in the sixth Manny went yard, Ozzie went and got Garica, Marte loaded the bases, and in came El Duque. There I was, surrounded by Red Sox fans and preparing for the worse. Varitek stepped in, quickly went up 2-0, then El Duque got him to swing in miss. The next pitch Varitek popped up, Konerko squeezed it, one away and thoughts of maybe crossed my mind.

Next came Graffanino, the perfect time for him to redeem himself for his brutal error in Game Two that allowed the Sox to win. El Duque went full with him, Graff kept falling off pitches, I was waiting for El Duque to walk him, and then Graff hit a weak pop up to Uribe. Two dead. You could feel the tension at Archie Moore’s begin to build, “There’s no way the Red Sox can’t score here, right? Damon is going to come though right?” The confidence of New England was fading faster than Michigan’s Big Ten chances this year.

Damon came up, and he too went full. I think people were talking to me, but I don’t remember. Again, my lack of faith showed, I was waiting for El Duque to walk Damon and tie the game. And then he checked his swing and I thought the game was tied, the bar went up in a cheer, I said NO!, and then Blue punched out Damon. I couldn’t figure out what happened. Did the Sox catch a break? Amongst the confusion ESPN showed the side angle and it clearly showed that Damon went around. It was strike three. The White Sox, El Duque, had just some how prevented the Red Sox from scoring in the bottom of the 6th.

I didn’t realize how huge that was at the time. Things that happen in the 6th inning rarely do seem to be huge because you’re still worried about the 7th, 8th, and 9th in one run games. Or at least I was. In the 7th, El Duque mowed down the heart of the BoSox order. Ortiz struck out which got me to shout, “Fuck you, Ortiz!” and all eyes turned to me. But no one said anything; expect for one guy who said, “Hey he’s a White Sox fan!” while pointing to me. There we shared our South Side badge of honors. The GF started laughing at me… “You’re not from the South Side,” while shaking her head.
“Hyde Park.”
“You only lived there for a year.” Meanwhile it didn’t seem the Sox were even batting in the 7th and 8th, three pitches, three outs, or so it seemed.

Then the 9th began and I think myself and the rest of the bar started to realize that this was it. AJ doubled, Crede laid down a great bunt to move AJ to third (once again the White Sox were doing those little things that the Red Sox couldn’t do all series). And then Ozzie called for the squeeze. Urbie got the bunt down, and AJ scored making it 5-3. It was the icing on the cake. A middle finger from Ozzie to New England saying “We can get that runner home when he’s on third.”

The bottom of the 9th was almost anticlimactic. Jenks got the Red Sox to go down 1, 2, 3… and that was it. When Renteria hit the grounder to Iguchi, I stood up, raised my arms, and the second the ball was in Konerko’s mit, “YESSSSSS!” Someone in the establishment told me to sit down, I told him that we rooted for them last year. And that was it. One of the other White Sox fans started singing “Kiss Him Goodbye” and I joined in along with the third and final ChiSox fan in the place. I quickly finished my High Life with a stupid grin on my face. As we left, the phone calls began to come in and go out. Life was good and I wanted more.

El Duque wasn’t good, or great, or whatever English word you want to use. He was in another world. Almost as if his arm and shoulder had been touched and guided by God for those three innings. In fact, if you were to tell me that God was pitching for the White Sox in the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings of Game Three, I would belive you.

And now I’ll get more, at least four more games starting today against the LAAofAinOC in the ALCS. So before I make a prediction, let’s break it down:

Catching: Pierzynski vs Molina
Both guys are hitting the crap out of the ball and Molina might have been the MVP for the Angels in the ALDS. That said Pierzynski was one of the best players for the White Sox in the ALDS. Molina is probably a better defensive catcher, and that’s what this match up is going to come down to. Both teams like to swipe bases, so who ever is better at preventing and slowing down the other teams running game will be huge. The Angels only stole one base in the ALDS against the bellow average Posada, so that might be an indication that they aren’t as willing to run this series. While I’d rather have Pierzynski’s bat and fire, Molina’s arm is just a little better. Edge: Even

First Base: Konerko vs Erstad
While Erstad has a better glove and is a better base runner, Konerko will catch the ball, so while he doesn’t have Erstad’s range, it isn’t like Konerko is Jason Giambi at first. And Konerko is so much better of a hitter that this isn’t even that close. Edge: White Sox

Second base: Iguchi vs Kennedy
Defensively this is probably a wash, neither are gold glovers but they are both solid at second. So who would you rather have at the plate? That’s easy, Iguchi. He’s got more power, hits the ball hard, and does the little things like hitting behind the runner or bunting players over. Kennedy can’t hit lefties, and the Sox not only have Buhrle going twice but also good lefties in the pen. Edge: White Sox

Short Stop: Uribe vs Cabrera
Cabrera won last year with the Red Sox, he’s a very good defensive player, and a bellow average hitter (.257/.309/.365). Uribe is inexperienced, a very good defensive player, and a bellow average hitter (.252/.301/.412). So you take the experience? Probably, but Uribe has been on fire since September. And the Sox can hide Uribe’s offensive problems by hitting him ninth. Cabrera hits second of the Angels. Edge: Even, but the Sox may have a slight edge since Uribe hits lower in the order.

Third Base: Crede vs Figgins
If the Sox had a weak spot in the ALDS, it was Crede. He only had one hit in the series and looked shaky, at best, at third. Figgins mean while isn’t a great hitter, but he can get on base and steal a few bases. His glove isn’t bad either. Though if Quinlan starts at third, I’ll take Crede over Quinlan. But when Chone goes up against Joe, I’m taking Chone. Edge: LAAofAinOC

Left Field: Podsednik vs Anderson
Anderson can’t move any more, but he’s probably the second scariest hitter in the Angels line up. After a bad second half, Anderson was okay against the Yankees driving in runs and hitting a big home run. Podsednik too struggled in the second half of the season and while has speed and when he gets on base is dangerous, he isn’t the threat that Anderson is at the plate. Defensively, I think Podsednik is overrated, and while better than Anderson at this point, it isn’t as huge of a difference as some would like us to believe. Edge: LAAofAinOC

Centerfield: Rowan vs Finley
Finley has had a horrible year and really started to show his age. Meanwhile Rowand had a disappointing year, but it was still head and shoulders better than Finley’s. Rowand’s defense is a bit over hyped, but he’s still probably the best outfielder defensively in this series. Edge: White Sox

Right Field: Dye vs Vlad
Vlad is one of the top five players in the game. Sure he looks a little lazy out in the field some times and his arm, while amazing, isn’t the most accurate, but he can hit anything you throw at him. Dye’s had a nice year; he’s stayed healthy, is a smart player, and has been important in the White Sox success this year. Both can steal a base in a pinch, something to look for. But Vlad is Vlad. Dye is no Vlad. Edge: LAAofAinOC

DH: Everett vs Rivera
To be honest, I didn’t know who Rivera was until last week, but he had six hits in the ALDS and scored three runs. Not a bad series. Everett had some key hits for the White Sox against Boston to continue rallies. While he swings for the fences too often, he’s a switch hitter with power. Edge: White Sox, barely. Everett’s ability as a switch hitter is the difference. Rivera is pretty bad against lefties.

Bench: Both benches are pretty weak. The Angels can bring Quinlan against lefties and against righties Kotchman off the bench. Meanwhile Ozzie’s best options off the bench are nil and none (Geoff Blum anyone? Widger is decent against lefties). Amazingly, we may not see a pitch hitter this series. I’m not kidding, the Angels bench is probably a little better, but the White Sox can bring in Ozuna or Harris off then bench to pitch run. Edge: Angels, only because the Sox have no one.

Starting pitching:
Byrd goes for the Angels in Game One on three days rest, Washburn has never been very good against the White Sox and is sick, and Colon was left off the ALDS roster, meaning Santana will start Game Four. Meanwhile the White Sox starters are all rested and pitching good to great. Contreras has been lights out, Buehrle should have an advantage against the Angels who aren’t very good against lefties, Garcia while not great, is able to keep the Sox in games, and Garland is well rested. I’m taking the White Sox here. Edge: White Sox

Bullpen: Cotts, El Duque, Politte, Hermanson, Marte vs Escobar, Shields, Donnelly, Yan: Along with the Indians, the Sox and God’s Soldiers probably had the best bullpens in the AL this year. All in all this is probably a wash, but the White Sox pen is rested while Escobar has already thrown seven innings in the last week, Shields has thrown five, you’ve got to wonder if they’ll be able to keep up that work load. If either starter for the Angels in Game One or Two gets yanked early, the Angels might be in big trouble. Edge: Even, but a slight edge to the White Sox in the first two games.

Closers: Jenks vs K-Rod
Jenks has been very good for the Sox this year, and showed that he’s able to get the job done when he shut the door against the Red Sox in both Games 2 and 3. But K-Rod has been here before and closed out the game and series last night. Edge: Angels

Managers: Ozzie vs Scioscia
Scioscia does have a World Series ring, but he’s made some questionable moves this year (over using his two arms in the pen) and last year against the Red Sox. Meanwhile Ozzie played the ALDS near perfectly. Still Ozzie makes a few moves that leave me wondering what he’s thinking, but he’s pressed very few wrong buttons this year. I still like Scioscia’s past championship thought. Edge: Angels

The White Sox have had a great year, performing better than anyone could have thought. The Angles were expected by some to be in the ALDS this year, and a few tabbed them to win it all. That said both teams enter without a lot of pressure. The White Sox are taking the ‘we’re the under dogs’ angle, while the Angels are taking the ‘everyone is out there to get us’ angle.

The lack of rest will catch up with the Angels, especially in the first two games. If the White Sox do win both games today and tomorrow, things will be looking very good on the South Side. If the Angels are able to split these two games in Chicago, they will have to feel good about themselves. But their starting pitching right now is a mess; Washburn is sick and who knows when he’ll pitch, tomorrow? Game Three? Game Four? The loss of Colon weakens the Angels pen and is a huge loss for them no matter. Expect the White Sox to be up 2 games going to Orange County over the weekend. Lackey will have to win Game Three in that situation. If he does, you still have to figure the Sox come back to Comiskey with a 3-2 lead, where Buehrle will look to close it out.
Prediction: White Sox in Six.

BTW, thanks to ListGod.com for the picture of El Duque.

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