White Sox

Anthony Rizzo is getting ready for takeoff

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Anthony Rizzo is getting ready for takeoff

This wasnt exactly floating a trial balloon. Cubs manager Dale Sveum just happened to answer a question about Anthony Rizzo before Sundays matinee at Wrigley Field.

It immediately generated headlines, and getting swept by the White Sox almost became an afterthought. Sure, the Cubs could use a designated hitter when they go to American League stadiums for interleague play next month. Why not Rizzo?

Sveum said that will be discussed with the front office, and he knows his lineup could use a jolt right now. Rizzo went deep again on Wednesday for Triple-A Iowa, running his total to 16 homers. The 22-year-old is hitting .355 with 43 RBI through 44 games.

Cubs fans have long loved their prospects. Maybe its part of the conditioning for wait until next year. The explosion of information on the Internet has only increased their fascination with the next big thing.

With the hype building, Rizzo sat down with Comcast SportsNet this week in Des Moines, telling Luke Stuckmeyer that he tries not to pay attention to any of it.

I really just focus on today and now, Rizzo said in an interview airing on SportsNet Central at 10 p.m. on Thursday. I get texts from my friends, and my parents calling me, this and that. But theres no point in getting wrapped up around any of that, because its just going to drive you crazy. I learned that last year. Whenever that time comes, Ill be ready.

Whenever the first baseman of the future is promoted, it wont be by happenstance. It will have almost nothing to do with whats going on at the big-league level and everything to do with Rizzos growth as a player.

This is all part of being thorough, the buzzword in this new front office. Before the season began, each prospect in the organization received an individual player plan for improvement, which outlined goals to meet this year.

Team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer have already scouted the Triple-A club in person. The Cubs also installed cameras in each of their minor-league stadiums. SpyCam shows real-time video on the Web, which team executives can watch on their laptops.

There are financial benefits in waiting to restart the meter on Rizzos major-league service time until later this summer, though Epstein has said that will not really be a consideration.

Rizzos experience with the San Diego Padres last year hangs over the decision. Hoyer was running the Padres then, and has admitted that it was a mistake to rush Rizzo, who hit .141 with 46 strikeouts in 128 at-bats.

Rizzo called the video sickening to watch. What makes him think hell be ready this time?

Just preparation, Rizzo said. (Its) preparing every day, staying in that good routine. I have a good routine going right now that Im sticking with. Nothings going to get in my way. Its just tunnel vision right now (for) where I want to be. That vision is with the Cubs for a long time and many championships.

The Boston Red Sox model is being rebuilt at Clark and Addison. Cubs executive Jason McLeod selected Rizzo who played his high school ball in South Florida in the sixth round of the 2007 draft.

Epstein and Hoyer were on opposite ends of the Adrian Gonzalez deal and included Rizzo, before re-acquiring him in the Andrew Cashner trade last winter.

It means a lot, Rizzo said. They drafted me when I was a little baby at 17, when I was thick and chubby and theyve seen me grow. Theyve seen me take my lumps and hopefully they see me excel.

Rizzo is now listed at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, and hes shown real agility around the bag.

Unprompted, one Cubs official looked back on some of the balls that trickled through the right side of the infield think of those two late losses to the Washington Nationals the first week of the season and guaranteed that Rizzo would have made the plays.

Those skills should be maximized with Sveums intricate defensive positioning, which pinches the shortstop and second baseman and tries to take away the middle.

I think he (could become) a Gold Glove first baseman, Iowa manager Dave Bialas said. Not only does he have power and is hitting for average, he has good instincts on the base paths. He really does a good job in going first to third, reading the ball off the bat, scoring from second base. Hes really a complete player.

Cubs executives have described Rizzo as mature beyond his years after overcoming Hodgkins lymphoma while in the Red Sox system. They believe how hes responded to adversity is telling.

Rizzo and Iowa outfielder Brett Jackson, a 2009 first-round pick out of Cal-Berkeley, are viewed as potential glue guys who will set the clubhouse tone for future Cubs teams.

Im really excited at the opportunity we have to be teammates, hopefully for a long time, Jackson said. We push each other. I think a good teammate always has to push his teammates.

Were constantly talking baseball and when the times going to come for each of us. (Were) helping each other make those adjustments, getting on each other for missing pitches we should have hit. Its a good relationship. Im excited to see him in a Cubs uniform soon, hopefully.

Its a good guess that whenever Rizzo makes his Cubs debut, it will come on the road, away from the media crush at Wrigley Field. Obviously, hed like to be in the show already, but thats not one of the talking points.

Rizzo is going to keep grinding away, until the Cubs have no choice.

Every day is a new challenge in baseball, Rizzo said. So every day youre going to be working on something, whether its the rookie league in Mesa, or here in Iowa.

Youre always trying to get better, whatever level youre at. Whether its here or the big leagues, there are going to be constant adjustments. Thats what this game is about.

White Sox 2005 Rewind: The untouchable Jon Garland

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AP

White Sox 2005 Rewind: The untouchable Jon Garland

Jon Garland was on absolute fire to start the 2005 season.

On May 1, he shut out the Detroit Tigers. It was a sensational performance. It was also a carbon copy of his previous outing against the Oakland A’s. Both games featured no runs, four hits and no walks against Garland in nine inning. If anything, he was better against the Tigers, striking out six hitters as opposed to the three strikeouts he had six days earlier.

These back-to-back shutouts capped an incredible start to the campaign for Garland, who was coming off a solid but unspectacular 2004 season. He finished that campaign with a 4.89 ERA. This was already his sixth big league season. In his first five years in the majors, he owned 4.68 ERA in 149 games.

Well, he was a different kind of pitcher in 2005. In his first five starts, he had a 1.38 ERA in 39 innings, an average of nearly eight innings per outing. He had nearly three times as many strikeouts as he had allowed runs.

To close out that game against the A’s, he retired the final 13 batters he faced. In this one, he retired 15 of the final 16 hitters he faced.

The dude was practically untouchable.

And he still knows it.


Even Cy Young seasons have their blips, and his streak of stellar starts was snapped the next time out. He allowed six runs in 5.2 innings against the Toronto Blue Jays. The White Sox still won that game, though, and won each of Garland’s first eight starts, 12 of his first 14 starts and went 20-12 overall in games he pitched during the regular season.

But those blips were few and far between in 2005. In only nine of his 32 starts did he give up more than three earned runs. By season’s end, his ERA was significantly higher than it was at the outset of the campaign, 3.50, but he remained a workhorse and averaged just a hair under seven innings an outing on the year.

Garland made the AL All-Star team and finished sixth in the Cy Young vote in 2005. He allowed just four earned runs in 16 innings over a pair of postseason starts.

He had a similarly fantastic stretch from late June through the month of July, but he perhaps never looked as good as he did during this electric start to the season.

After tossing these back-to-back shutouts, Garland only went the distance once more during the 2005 regular season, in his first start of September against these same Tigers. He obviously was one of the four consecutive complete games against the Los Angeles Angels in the ALCS, but he allowed two runs in that game.

White Sox starting pitching was phenomenal in 2005, and Garland was no exception. This was Garland at his best.


What else?

— The play of the game in this 8-0 White Sox rout came courtesy of “Come On” Timo Perez, who laid down a suicide squeeze with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the third inning. Tigers starter Wil Ledezma got himself in a real jam after getting two of the first three hitters of the inning out. He hit Paul Konerko with a pitch and walked Aaron Rowand to load the bases. Perez followed with a perfectly executed bunt down the first-base line, catching the Tigers off guard and bringing in the White Sox second run of the afternoon.


Before that crazy play, Perez used a bunt to help bring home the White Sox first run. In the second inning, a sacrifice bunt followed up a no-out balk that advanced Rowand to second. Perez moved him up another 90 feet, and Rowand scored on Joe Crede’s sacrifice fly.

— Perez’s May 1, 2005, excellence wasn’t limited to bunts. He also homered. At this point, I can only assume 2005 ended with Timo Perez as the American League MVP.


— The benches cleared in the fourth inning. As mentioned, Konerko was plunked in the third, and after two quick outs, a pitch got away from Garland and flew behind Rondell White. White was not pleased and started walking toward the mound with bat in hand. Everyone left their respective dugout and stood around on the field, as most baseball dust ups go. Hawk Harrelson: “What is it, Rondell? Our guy gets drilled and you can't get hit?”

— All apologies to Pedro Lopez, but who is Pedro Lopez? This was the major league debut for the White Sox infielder and one of the two major league games he played in in 2005. He continued the trend of solid performances from the White Sox bench, with a hit, a run and an RBI in this game. But the majority of his 2005 was spent in the minor leagues. Those two games were the only big league action he saw with the White Sox. He returned to the majors two years later as a Cincinnati Red, getting 45 at-bats in 14 games.

— Lopez wearing No. 62 instantly brought Jose Quintana to mind, but Quintana is one of a whopping six players to wear that jersey number since Lopez did in 2005: Ehren Wassermann, Bret Prinz, Jack Egbert, Eduardo Escobar, Quintana and Dustin Garneau.

— Ledezma balked twice in this game and five times in his career. The record for the most balks in a single season belongs to Dave Stewart, who had 16 of them in 1988. The record for the most balks in a career belongs to one-time White Sox hurler Steve Carlton, who got charged with 90!

Since you been gone

While #SoxRewind is extensive, it doesn’t include all 162 regular-season contests, meaning we’re going to be skipping over some games. So what’d we miss since last time?

April 26, 2005: The White Sox and A’s traded back-to-back four-run innings, with the South Siders on top by three heading into the bottom of the seventh. But Oakland’s bats produced five runs in their final two trips to the plate against Mark Buehrle, Damaso Marte and Luis Vizcaino. White Sox lose, 9-7, fall to 16-5.

April 27, 2005: Konerko drove in a run in the first inning, but it was all the White Sox got across the plate. The A’s tied the game against Freddy Garcia in the fourth and got a walk-off single from Marco Scutaro in the ninth to grab a series win. White Sox lose, 2-1, fall to 16-6.

April 29, 2005: Down a run in the bottom of the ninth, the White Sox rallied against Troy Percival, getting a bases-loaded sacrifice fly from Rowand to force extras. But a Nook Logan triple off Shingo Takatsu in the 11th broke the tie. White Sox lose, 3-2, fall to 16-7.

April 30, 2005: The White Sox snapped a three-game losing streak with a three-run seventh inning. Crede, Scott Podsednik and Tadahito Iguchi all drove in runs in that frame to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead. White Sox win, 4-3, improve to 17-7.

Next up

#SoxRewind rolls on Saturday, when you can catch the May 4, 2005, game against the Royals, starting at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago. Crede and A.J. Pierzynski both leave the yard in this one.

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Stephen A. Smith feels that Scottie Pippen was more vital to MJ than Phil Jackson

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USA TODAY

Stephen A. Smith feels that Scottie Pippen was more vital to MJ than Phil Jackson

On Thursday's episode of 'First Take,' ESPN analysts Max Kellerman, Jay Williams, and Stephen A. Smith debated who was more important to Michael Jordan between Hall of Famers Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson. When moderator Molly Qerim Rose kicked things off, Stephen A. Smith boldly stated, "It was Scottie Pippen, it was not Phil Jackson."

Smith argued that the Bulls were already on track to being a championship team with head coach Doug Collins at the helm. He continued that while the team made an obvious leap into a three-peating championship team with Jackson, Pippen's emergence as a bonafide NBA superstar is what played the biggest part in the Bulls becoming a dynasty with MJ.

"To me, it was the elevation of Scottie Pippen...the bravado, the swag, the toughness.

"There was something missing but with [Michael] Jordan, he ultimately elevated his level of toughness, he was a phenomenal defender and Scottie Pippen's elevation is what elevated the Chicago Bulls to the champions that they were."

The "Bad Boys" Detroit Pistons of the 80s and 90s were the biggest impediment to the Bulls making the NBA Finals and when they finally broke through and eliminated the Pistons in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals, Pippen averaged an impressive 22 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game on 47.5% shooting.

Smith elaborated that Collins would have eventually broken through to the NBA Finals if he coached Pippen in the later stages of his development, which is why Pippen clearly is more important to MJ than Jackson. The nature of the Pippen-Jordan-Jackson relationship will definitely be shown in greater detail during 'The Last Dance' documentary and could bring Smith's words back to the forefront of the conversations about the 90s Bulls. 

"Doug Collins to me, that Scottie Pippen that was winning titles with Jordan, Doug Collins would have won the title if he would have coached at that particular moment and time."