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Santos blows lead, game as Tigers sweep Sox

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Santos blows lead, game as Tigers sweep Sox

Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011Posted: 4:17 p.m. Updated: 6:13 p.m.
By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com White Sox InsiderFollow @CSNChi_Beatnik
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WATCH: Pierzynski speechless at defeatWATCH: Axelrod pleased with startWATCH: Santos discusses blown save

It took this, the 75th loss of the season and one of seeming dozens of the heartbreaking variety, for A.J. Pierzynski to lose his voice.

Im out of words, the rapscallion catcher said, after a fall-from ahead, 6-5 Chicago White Sox loss in 10 innings to the Detroit Tigers. This is one of those things you cant stop. You play a really good game and have a three-run lead in the ninth, lose it. I get up in the ninth and get a good pitch to hit, hit it real hard and goes right to the second baseman for a double play.

A.J.s play-by-play tells the story. Pinch-hitter Alex Avila drove a Sergio Santos fastball 409 feet to right-center for his first career pinch-homer, tying the game. The game appeared to be salvaged in the last ups by the White Sox, who used two walks and a stolen base to push leadoff hitter Juan Pierre to third base with one out, but Pierzynski grounded into a double play to end the inning, punctuating his disgust with helmet slams and kicks both on the field and in the dugout.

Postgame, manager Ozzie Guillen admitted for the first time that the fire definitely had gone out in his team.

Hell no, their fight left three days ago, I don't care what they say, Guillen said, launching in to an instructional about how second place money could pay for Christmas gifts for his coaches kids. The fight? No, I dont see it.

Candidly, Guillens captain, Paul Konerko, admitted that Guillen was telling the truth.

Since we got knocked back there in Detroit two weekends ago, mathematically out and realistically out are two different things, he said. Hes probably right its probably been more than three games. But thats what comes with the territory this time of year Unfortunately at this point its become a job. You hope it stays fun and you hope you get to the playoffs, but that doesnt happen for everybody.

Guillen called the loss embarrassing, as per usual not mincing words.

It's embarrassing because we should have won this, he said. You start a kid Dylan Axelrod who just came from the Independent League, and he shut Detroit down. All of sudden these big-league pitchers couldn't stop them. Look at yourself in the mirror and see how big-league you are. If players are happy the season's over, good. But every time you lose a game like that and you have a little bit of pride, you should be ashamed of yourself. Those ones hurt. I have baseball running through my blood. It's hard to watch.

Axelrod indeed pitched extremely well in his first major league start, whiffing eight over six innings.

It's a shame. This kid's pitching very well and all of a sudden we just blew it for him, Guillen lamented. A very nice day, you see this kid having success in his first time in the big leagues, and all of the sudden, poof, another bad day for the White Sox.

Axelrods teammates were similarly bummed that the postgame beer shower evaporated with one swing from Avila.

He got the ball and did his job. He shut down a team that has been on a good roll, Santos said. Kudos to him that he did his job and he pitched fantastic.

He threw great. He deserved a win. He pitched really well, Pierzynski said. He changed speeds, moved the ball in and out, up and down. He threw really well for his first big league start. It was fun to watch and nice to see he creates a good angle to make the ball sink and cut. And he throws strikes and works fast, and thats what you are looking for.

Axelrod was as upbeat as possible after the game, perhaps as much a reflection of not having been around for the first five months of misery as his strong starting debut.

It was fun, just good to get out there and make my first start, show what I can do. I just had a blast out there, he said. It's nice to get individual accolades like wins and things, but it's a team game. Unfortunately we came out on the losing end, but I was happy with what I did and just want to continue to build off that.

With Axelrods no-decision in the books and the double gut-punch of Detroits rally and the White Soxs inability to tap in a run in the bottom or the ninth, the final result was hardly in doubt.

First and third with one out in the ninth, and we cant score, Guillen said. It the way weve played all year long.

In the 10th, Victor Martinez lined a one-out double down the right-field line, with Carlos Guillen following with an RBI single up the middle to provide the eventual victory.

Detroit, apparently now playing the role of the Minnesota Twins for the Pale Hose this season, have swept through Chicago for two straight series and beaten the White Sox in nine of 14 overall. Chicagos gilded pitching staff finished the season battered by the Bengals, sporting a 6.09 ERA and coughing up 106 total earned runs vs. Detroit in 2011.

The White Sox fell to 73-75 and back into third place in the Central, using this afternoons utter deflation as a springboard to the final road trip of the season, to Kansas City and Cleveland. And if any of the Chicago 9 cant find the motivation to finish out the next couple of weeks, the jefe has a message.

Whoever doesnt want to play, make sure you let me know, Guillen said. I dont want to waste my time playing people if they dont want to play, and keep suffering and getting older and wrinkled and white hair when a player doesnt care. Im not pointing any fingers at anybody, but if anybody out there doesnt want to perform, its easy: Call Kenny, call Jerry, make sure you stay home and get at it next year like I hear all the time in the paper. Have a better year next year.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information.

Winter Meetings wrap: Why the White Sox left San Diego without a top-of-the-market free agent

Winter Meetings wrap: Why the White Sox left San Diego without a top-of-the-market free agent

SAN DIEGO — “We belong at the table in these negotiations, we belong as part of negotiations for premium talent. And regardless what happens over the next several weeks with either of these two players, we plan to be at the table and continue to attempt to convert on these guys.”

That was Rick Hahn in January, talking about his front office’s pursuits of Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, the two biggest names on last winter’s free-agent market and two guys who landed $300 million contracts. Neither, obviously, is playing for the White Sox. But Hahn set forth expectations last winter that the White Sox were going to try to land that kind of top-of-the-market talent.

Fast forward to the current free-agent cycle, and the biggest names on the market have all signed. None of them signed with the White Sox. The Winter Meetings saw a tidal wave of spending, with Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon all coming off the board, all inking huge deals that figure to transform their new teams (or old team, in the case of Strasburg).

The White Sox, meanwhile, headed home with nothing more to show for their efforts than Nomar Mazara. No word came from any of the usual baseball news-breakers connecting the South Siders to Cole, Strasburg or Rendon.

Why not?

Hahn spent this week, and has spent his media availabilities this offseason and in the months prior, talking about fit. The White Sox are looking for players who fit their long-term plans. The 2020 season might be the year the long-awaited transition from rebuilding to contending comes. It might not be. So the White Sox are searching for players who align with a contention window far into the future.

And that’s an admirable goal. The White Sox should stick to those plans. They’ve suffered too much to make a handbrake turn to try to rush things, certainly at the expense of their bright future. That’s completely understandable.

But didn’t Cole, Strasburg and Rendon fit into that box? Aren’t they the type of premium talents Hahn has talked about wanting to add to a burgeoning young core? Wouldn’t the long-term deals they got insert them right into that contention window?

“Probably a guy the fans see out there and see fits with what we're doing and, ‘Hey, they should pursue him,’ maybe we did,” Hahn said Thursday. “Maybe we have extra information where it shows that would’ve been a fruitless pursuit in the end, just based on the player’s preference for where they want to be, league or locationally. Perhaps it’s something that we did get after and just weren’t able to convert on.

“We obviously operate best when there’s less noise around what we’re doing. Certainly we recently showed that on (Yasmani) Grandal. It would be temporarily nice or fulfilling for me to stand here and say like, ‘Yeah, we didn’t go after Player X because we knew for a fact this thing about why he wasn’t coming here,’ or, ‘We did go after Player X and we came up short.’ That might satisfy some sort of desire to show that we were active if people didn’t think we were.

“But I would hope after all this time that people understand our approach tends to err on the side of being aggressive. And if there’s a high-quality player that seems like a fit for us, we probably went down that path to some extent, and if it didn’t wind up converting, there’s usually a pretty good reason why.”

That quote hit the Twitterverse not long after it left Hahn’s mouth, and the reactions were, generally, less than favorable. Plenty saw it as an excuse. But while vague, there’s a lot of truth in those words.

The White Sox cannot control everything when it comes to free-agent pursuits. They can control how much money they offer, but as we saw with Zack Wheeler, that doesn’t always win the day. Wheeler spurned the White Sox richer offer to please his family and pitch for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Cole, meanwhile, was long expected to choose between a preference for the West Coast or his childhood fandom for the New York Yankees. It helped, of course, that the Yankees offered him a stupifying contract. Strasburg was long expected to return to the Washington Nationals, and that’s just what he did, with folks wondering if there was any consideration given to pitching somewhere else.

Those are mighty difficult things to overcome, and they could have made the White Sox — and plenty of other teams — jumping into the fray a potential non-starter.

“More often than not, early in the process, you hear why it’s a potential non-fit for either side,” Hahn said Monday, speaking in the wake of Wheeler’s decision. “Again, that doesn’t mean anything was mishandled or anything was wrong with this. In the end, when offers are on the table and it's decision time, guys can make that decision based upon any factor that they view as important. You’ve got to respect that. And they’ve earned that right.”

That’s not really supposed to make anyone feel any better. As Hahn often says, you either sign the guy or you don’t.

What’s probably got some fans stewing as much as the eventual free-agent destinations is the White Sox complete lack of attachment to Cole, Strasburg or Rendon in the typical stream of rumors that flows during baseball’s busiest week. As Hahn mentioned, all being quiet doesn’t mean the White Sox weren’t pursuing those players. But after years of discussing financial flexibility, the team seems to have the economic means to play in the deepest end of the free-agent pool, so it’s not unreasonable to expect to hear about it doing so.

"The money will be spent,” Hahn said in February, after Machado picked the San Diego Padres. “It might not be spent this offseason, but it will be spent at some point. This isn’t money sitting around waiting to just accumulate interest. It’s money trying to be deployed to put us in best position to win some championships.”

With that in mind, plenty assumed the White Sox would be able to afford even the gargantuan contracts that went to this winter’s three free-agent superstars. But simply having money to spend doesn’t mean they believed Cole was worth the $324 million he got from the Yankees. It doesn’t mean they believed Strasburg was worth the $245 million he got from the Nationals. It doesn’t mean they believed Rendon was worth the $245 million he got from the Los Angeles Angels.

That’s where that discussion of fit comes in again. It’s easy for us to see a player and believe him a fit for what the White Sox are building. But we’re not the ones defining the fit. The White Sox are. And while they might have pursued all three, might have wanted to pursue all three, might have been willing to back a truckload of money up to all three, it’s also possible that, for whatever reasons, they didn’t see them as the same kind of fit they see other players at different price points.

The lingering notion that the White Sox shy away from handing out long-term deals to pitchers is likely more of a general caution than the edict it’s often portrayed to be. It’s also not reserved to the White Sox.

“In general, the investment in a position player is less risky than an investment in a pitcher,” Hahn said. “Those things vary. We are talking just about generic players, you generally err on the side of a position player being less risky.”

“Is anybody worth $300 million?” USA Today’s Bob Nightengale said Tuesday on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “Say the White Sox signed Gerrit Cole, it doesn’t make them an automatic winner. He’s a good pitcher, but hey, good pitchers get hurt, too.”

OK, so what about Rendon? The White Sox were willing to offer a reported $250 million in guaranteed money to Machado last winter. Rendon got less than that to play for the Angels. Of course, Machado’s free agency came before Yoan Moncada blossomed into the team’s best all-around player at third base. Machado was 26 during his sweepstakes. Rendon is 29. These are not necessarily defenses, they are simply truths.

“As a general thought, when you are making a long-term commitment, doing that to a player who is in their mid 20s, in general, is a more appealing alternative then doing that with a player who is in his 30s at the start of the contract,” Hahn said. “Everyone is familiar with aging curves and risk and how that balances out as you get older. So yeah, the idea of devoting big money to someone who is younger versus older is certainly more appealing.”

And then there’s the clarifying Hahn did on those “money will be spent” comments from 10 months ago. Basically: That money doesn’t all have to be spent in one place to make the White Sox better.

“I think it would be awfully foolish to say we're going to go out and spend whatever the amount of the offer (to Machado) was immediately,” he said Wednesday. “The point of that comment was there's other ways for us to allocate this money, and it's going to be allocated toward player acquisitions.

“You could argue some of it went to Grandal, you could argue some of it went to the Eloy (Jimenez) extension or re-signing (Jose) Abreu or whatever we have coming down the pipe next.

“That offer was over an eight- to 10-year period, so to say it's all going out the door in Year 1 just because it's sitting there, maybe, but it's got to be for the right players.”

None of this will satisfy the critics. And that’s a product of the frustrating on-field success of the big league team during the rebuild and the expectations that came into this offseason. The White Sox pursued the talent at the top of the free-agent market last offseason, so they must be willing to do the same thing again this winter, right? They might have. But it didn’t work out, and now there are two offseasons where fans wanted Machado and Harper and Cole and Strasburg and Rendon and watched all those players go elsewhere.

It’s important to remember the White Sox did sign Grandal, that they do still have that young core that broke out in a big way in 2019. The future is still blindingly bright, and Hahn & Co. see that. It’s why they remain so committed to their long-term plans — because they could very well work.

Those plans might mean that the consolation prizes for teams that didn’t land one of the top three prizes on the free-agent market aren’t quite as appealing fits. It’s not as easy as just moving down to the next name on the list. The White Sox are being picky, and they can afford to be picky. Not adding a huge free agent — and, again, remember they did sign Grandal — doesn’t mean Moncada and Jimenez and Tim Anderson and Lucas Giolito are suddenly all bad. The future is snowballing for the White Sox, in a good way, and the melting process is nowhere near starting.

Yes, the South Siders left San Diego without Cole, Strasburg or Rendon. Perhaps it wasn’t for lack of trying. Perhaps they weren’t able to get past the bouncer, no matter how big the checkbook was. Perhaps they didn’t see these guys as good fits. Perhaps they saw these guys as expensive in a way that would jeopardize their carefully laid plans.

The biggest takeaway from this week: Those plans are the driving force for these White Sox. Do not, for any reason, expect them to deviate.

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White Sox Talk Podcast: Guest appearance Hall of Famer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson

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NBC Sports Chicago

White Sox Talk Podcast: Guest appearance Hall of Famer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson

Ford Frick winner and Hall of Famer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson joins Chuck Garfien on the podcast.

(3:15) - People that have congratulated Hawk on his induction, including some people you would never guess

(12:24) - Origin of some of your favorite "Hawk-isms"

(15:29) - Great story about the late great Harry Carey

(18:46) - His life growing up in Savannah, Georgia

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

 

White Sox Talk Podcast

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