Sundays 1-1 tie with the Houston Dynamo was like no other Fire game over the past 15 years. This one didnt last the full 90 minutes, and settling for only a draw and one standings point might well haunt the Fire down the road.Heavy rains and lightning around Toyota Park led to referee Geoff Gamble calling the match after 66 minutes. Gamble stopped play twice, the second time coming at 8:37 p.m. and the decision to call the match a draw was made moments later. The Fire players accepted the decision but didnt like it -- especially the two most prominent foreign stars."In Europe wed play the whole 90 minutes," said German defender Arne Friedrich, who made his Major League Soccer debut. "The pitch was perfect. We would have had no problem (playing), but it was up to the referees.""I never saw this in my life," said Mexican midfielder Pavel Pardo. "Its like theyre taking two points from us. Its hard for us to accept this, but these are the rules."Soccer matches are rarely delayed and even more rarely called because of the weather. Sundays was believed to be the first shortened match in MLS history, but it wasnt the first delayed by weather problems. FC Dallas and Los Angeles Galaxy players were taken off the field for an hour following a lightning attack in a match last season, but play was resumed and game eventually finished.New rules, and the use of lightning detectors, played a part in Sundays shortened match. MLS matches can now be declared final if one half is played, though every effort will be made to bring a match to its completion. Fire assistant coach Mike Matkovich, handling post-game interview duties after head man Frank Klopas left quickly to tend to a family matter, didnt dispute the decision to call the match. It was made after Gamble consulted with other match officials, stadium officials and MLS officials."If you looked at the radar, there was nothing we could do. It was probably the right decision," Matkovich said.Like Pardo, Friedrich never played in a game like Sundays and hes in his 12th professional season. Fire captain Logan Pause, in his 10th MLS campaign, had played in one -- a U.S. Open Cup match vs. the Kansas City Wizards in 2006 at Toyota Park."That match was called, but we replayed it," Pause said.The Fire did dominate play against a Houston club that was without three of its starting midfielders, two sidelined by suspensions and the other by injury. But, the Fire had one horrendous defensive breakdown, which resulted in Will Bruins goal in the 24th minute. Playing against the wind in the first half, the Fire scored on Pauses fluke goal off Pardos free kick three minutes later and had the wind at its back in the second half when the game was called."We were very aggressive. If we had kept going with this game I think we would have won," said assistant coach Leo Percovich."As players, especially playing at home, we would have loved to have the 25 minutes that were left," said Pause. His goal, only the third of his 231-game MLS career, was hardly a thing of beauty."Pavel hit a free kick that I actually tried to get out of the way of," said Pause. "Chalk it up to old age, not being quick enough. It hit me square in the back, went up in the air (then off the crossbar) and into the back of the net. It was funny how it happened, but that sums up my goal-scoring
A rebuild, White Sox fans know all too well, takes place over a lengthy period of time. Progression, development, these aren’t things easily pointed to as a single moment.
Allow Eloy Jimenez to provide an exception to the rule.
The White Sox contention window might not have been yanked open with one broken-bat homer to beat the Crosstown-rival Cubs on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field. But Jimenez’s game-winner was the best single image yet of the direction Rick Hahn’s rebuilding project is moving.
Surely you don’t need a refresher on the highlight seen ‘round Chicagoland by now, but take a second to realize how incredible, how unscriptable it was: Jimenez, traded away by the Cubs two summers ago, up in a tie game in the ninth inning in his first game at the ballpark he always assumed would be where he’d be playing his big league games. Well, he finally played a big league game inside the Friendly Confines — and he delivered an unforgettable moment for the team on the other side of town.
Yeah, maybe it’s perhaps a little hyperbolic, maybe it’s a pure reaction to the moment, but: Rebuild, meet overdrive.
“We’re playing in the city of champions,” manager Rick Renteria said after the game. “The White Sox were champions at one time, the Cubbies have been champions. You have a history of basketball and football. It’s the city of champions, so a lot is expected of them. They’re starting to embrace it, understand it and revel in it.”
Talk of championships might seem a tad premature for these White Sox, still under .500 even after Jimenez blasted them to dramatic victory on the North Side. But then again, that’s been the end goal of the rebuild from Day 1. Rick Hahn has said repeatedly that the rebuild won’t be a success unless there’s a parade.
Jimenez’s homer came in June, not October. But it cranked the dial even further on the blindingly bright future these White Sox are building.
Lucas Giolito is providing examples of progress every time he steps on the mound these days. Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert and Dylan Cease are doing their part, too. But no one has been as central a part of the future than Jimenez, the guy who’s supposed to be the middle-of-the-order power bat in this lineup for the next decade. The way he delivered Tuesday made for a flag-planting type moment on the White Sox journey up baseball’s mountain.
“We all knew the talent was there from the get-go as soon as the club acquired him. It was just a matter of time for him to get to the big leagues, get comfortable in the big leagues,” Giolito said after the game. “I think he's getting comfortable with the big leagues a lot faster than I would've predicted. He's a really, really good player, great teammate. Can't say enough good things about Eloy. He really delivered for us tonight, and it was a big one.”
Again, it’s June. It’s a game against a National League opponent, not exactly the kind of game that helps chew up the deficit separating the White Sox and the out-of-this-world Minnesota Twins at the top of the AL Central. But within these city limits, it’s hard to imagine a bigger stage than this.
The media swarmed Jimenez postgame, causing him to express some shock at the number of cameras and recorders suddenly thrust in his face. He’s been asked a million times what it would be like to play in Wrigley Field. When he rounded first base, the smile on his face — a permanent fixture — was enormous. He gave a huge clap when he touched home plate. Were the emotions what he’d been dreaming of?
“Yes,” was the only verbal response. The body language told a much richer story. He let out ebullient sounds that brought to mind Tim “The Toolman” Taylor. The smile nearly got too big for his face.
These were the Cubs he just beat, a team so often the comparison point for these White Sox. They’re trying to find their way through the same total rebuild the Cubs went through. And without these Cubs, the White Sox might not be as far along as they currently are. Thanks to that trade, which brought Jimenez and Dylan Cease into starring roles in this rebuild, the championship future Hahn has envisioned looks realistic. It looks closer.
The North Siders came out the other end of a rebuild champions. The White Sox have their eyes on the same result.
It might not happen tomorrow, even if the bright spots are shining through now more than ever. But it’s something the White Sox are fully chasing. This is the city of champions, after all.
“It means a lot because we’re fighting for a spot in the playoffs,” Jimenez said. “We have been playing really good and I think that was a good victory for us.”
A good victory for now. A good victory for later. A good victory, indeed.
That was a storybook ending. And it’s only the end of Act I, Scene I.
For his first regular season game ever against the Cubs, Eloy Jimenez got a ride from Chuck Garfien which started at Guaranteed Rate Field, stopped at Wrigley Field and ended with Jimenez hitting the game-winning home run in the 9th. First, Vinnie Duber joins Chuck to discuss how Jimenez homered despite breaking his bat (2:00). On the ride, Jimenez' talks about playing at Wrigley (8:20), what Cubs fans say to him now that he's on the White Sox (10:00), how he persuaded Rick Renteria to let him pinch-hit against the Cubs in a spring training game in 2018, and homered (11:30), what his mother thinks of him saying "Hi Mom" (14:30), Jimenez sings hip-hop (17:40), why a home run against the Cubs would mean so much (24:50), his reaction when the Cubs traded him to the White Sox (27:20) and more.
Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: