All good things have to come to an end. The Sox weren't going to win every game from now through early October. On Saturday, a team finally bested the White Sox, losing to Seattle 10-8 in extra innings, the team's first defeat since May 22.
When the Sox nine-game winning streak began the next day, a 21-22 record stared them in the face. Cleveland was up 3 12 games in the AL Central, and the momentum the Sox built up against the Cubs the weekend before was halted by Minnesota blasting Gavin Floyd for nine runs in 3 23 innings. It felt like a Twins-Sox game from years past, in which the Sox couldn't solve their pesky rivals to the north.
The sweep of the Cubs was forgotten as doom and gloom prevailed. The Twins, with all their talent deficiencies, had blown the Sox to bits, and it seemed like some were expecting more of the same in the next two games.
Chris Sale played the role of the stopper, throwing seven shutout innings on May 23. Alex Rios and Paul Konerko belted home runs, which ultimately were the beginnings of outstanding offensive stretches for both players. The Sox won 6-0. They didn't lose again until today.
In between, the Sox played their best stretch of baseball since the summer of 2010, when they won 11 in a row from June 15 through June 26. By the All-Star break, the Sox were in first, erasing a slow start that saw the team fall nine games below .500 on June 8.
After a comeback win over Minnesota on May 24, the Sox faced a showdown with Cleveland. A series win would move the Sox within 2 12 games of Cleveland, and while standings really don't matter this early in the season, that the Sox would at least be hanging around first place would've been an improvement over 2011.
Instead, the Sox went ahead and swept Cleveland, scoring 35 runs to support some shaky starting pitching. It was a team-wide effort, but Konerko led the charge. At the end of the series, Konerko was fielding questions about whether he could hit .400 this year. He rocketed into the MVP discussion, with Texas' Josh Hamilton seemingly his only barrier as the calendar turned to June.
But Rios, Adam Dunn, Gordon Beckham and Dayan Viciedo all picked up the slack. Viciedo in particular has been white-hot, raising his OPS from the mid-.500s to over .800. Dunn continues to mash the ball, hitting his 17th home run Friday. He hit 11 home runs in the month of May alone, equaling his entire 2011 longball total.
The Sox offense carried this streak, totaling 72 runs over nine games -- an average of eight per contest. The Sox scored four or more runs in eight of the nine games, and in the only one they failed to do so, it didn't matter. Sale struck out 15 in that Memorial Day contest, so it didn't matter that the only offensive output was a two-run blast by Dunn.
On the final night of the streak, Beckham hit a pair of home runs. Both came off Felix Hernandez, who hasn't had an ERA above 3.50 since 2007. It was his first multi-homer game of his career.
Saturday, though, saw the streak end. Seattle out-lasted the Sox in a dozen innings, with the Sox giving up a late lead and getting it back on a blast by Viciedo. But Addison Reed couldn't keep the Mariners at bay in his second inning of work, and Seattle scored twice to secure a victory.
When the dust settled, the Sox went from 3 12 games out of first to up on Cleveland. They went from divisional afterthought to legitimate contender.
At least for now. Four months separate the White Sox from the end of the season, but thanks to this nine-game stretch, their season outlook has changed. There's real excitement about the Sox, even if attendance numbers don't show it yet.
And if the streak is a sign of good play to come, that excitement and interest will last long into the fall.