Randy Johnson

White Sox history nuggets: Impressive performances against Hall of Fame pitchers

White Sox history nuggets: Impressive performances against Hall of Fame pitchers

Throughout their history, the White Sox have had some impressive performances against the game’s greatest pitchers. Specifically, against the pitchers with the two highest strikeout totals in MLB history. Monday happens to be the anniversary of one of those games.

Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson combined for 10,589 career punchouts, and they also combined for four games with four or more home runs allowed. Three times the Big Unit coughed up four home runs in a game: June 20, 1999 against the Braves, Sept, 1, 2008 against the Cardinals and Aug. 21, 2005 at US Cellular Field against the White Sox.

Meanwhile, the Ryan Express served up four long balls in a game only once: 31 years ago Monday at Arlington Stadium against the White Sox. The Rangers jumped all over starter Eric King for a five-run first, which the White Sox could not overcome (they lost 11-7). However, the Sox clobbered Nolan Ryan for four home runs, which is a small victory in itself. Iván Calderon hit a solo shot in the second inning, Harold Baines and Ron Kittle went back-to-back in the fourth and Baines added a second solo shot in the eighth.

MORE: Paul Konerko backs players in fight with MLB: 'Sometimes you got to push back'

Baines was one of only eight players ever to homer twice off Ryan in a game. Of course, a month and a half later Baines became Ryan's teammate after a trade to the Rangers.

Fast-forward to Aug. 21, 2005, when Randy Johnson of the Yankees visited Chicago and allowed four home runs – all in the same inning. After Pablo Ozuna grounded out to lead off the fourth, Tadahito Iguchi, Aaron Rowand and Paul Konerko went back-to-back-to-back off the future Hall of Famer.

Then, after two more singles by Jermaine Dye and Juan Uribe, Chris Widger connected for a three-run blast – the fourth homer of the inning. It was the only time Johnson ever allowed three homers in an inning, let alone four, and therefore the only time he allowed three in a row. It was one moment among many in that unforgettable 2005 run.

Sitting in the White Sox dugout that Sunday afternoon in August 2005 was Baines – the White Sox bench coach. He was there for both of these amazing performances against legendary pitchers.

It’s fun to point out that the White Sox were the only team with a four-homer performance against each of these two supreme strikeout artists.

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White Sox 2005 Rewind: Randy Johnson unlikely victim of slump-busting slugfest

White Sox 2005 Rewind: Randy Johnson unlikely victim of slump-busting slugfest

You wouldn’t think that the best way to get off the schneid would be a date with a future Hall of Famer.

But that’s exactly how the White Sox broke out of a disastrous slump in the middle of an otherwise dominant 2005 season.

As explained last week during #SoxRewind, not everything was sunshine and lollipops for the White Sox on the road to their World Series championship. They went just 12-16 in August, a losing record dragged down due in large part to a seven-game losing streak against the Red Sox, Twins and Yankees.

Ahead 15 games in the AL Central race when the month of August started, by the end of this losing streak, that lead was down to eight and a half games. While the losing streak started with a nail-biting 9-8 defeat in Boston, the White Sox scored just 12 runs in the next six games and just two runs over the final three losses in the stretch.

A.J. Pierzynski had this to say during the skid:

“It seems like we’re just going through the motions, and it’s very ugly. It’s really sad because we did so much work to be where we are, and it doesn’t seem like there’s any fight in us right now.”

On Sunday, Aug. 21, they faced a third straight sweep, this one against the Yankees on the South Side. And while Randy Johnson’s first year in The Bronx wasn’t looking like the kind of video-game numbers he put up with the Diamondbacks, he was still a future Hall of Famer. He was still the Big Unit.

Well, the White Sox bats broke out of their deep freeze against the unlikeliest of opponents. And they did it in stunning fashion.

Johnson pretty much cruised through the game’s first three innings. Then came a one-out onslaught in the fourth.

First it was Tadahito Iguchi:

Then it was Aaron Rowand:

Then it was Paul Konerko:

Three straight homers. Put it on the board, put it on the board, put it on the board. Yes, yes, yes.

But the White Sox weren’t done there. Jermaine Dye and Juan Uribe followed the tic-tac-toe with back-to-back singles. Chris Widger got to Johnson one more time, taking him deep for a three-run shot that busted the game wide open.

One inning, four homers, six runs. Mercy!

Johnson, as good pitchers have a habit of doing, refocused and ended up throwing more than 100 pitches and going the distance in a losing effort. But the White Sox exploded out of their slump, and they did it against a guy who had dominated them in the past. While Johnson spent his previous six seasons in the National League — not having faced the White Sox as an American Leaguer since prior to Konerko’s arrival on the South Side — he entered this game with an 11-3 record and a 2.79 ERA in 17 career starts against the White Sox.

Johnson ended the 2005 season with 17 wins and a 3.79 ERA, perfectly respectable numbers but ones that still paled in comparison to the six-year clinic he put on in Phoenix: 103 wins, a 2.65 ERA, four NL Cy Young Awards, five All-Star appearances and a World Series ring against these same Yankees in 2001.

Though this win snapped that seven-game skid and started a stretch of five victories in six contests, the White Sox were not out of the August woods quite yet. They ended the month with four losses in five games and saw their division lead shrink to seven games.

But given how fast that gap between them and the Indians was evaporating, an outburst like this against Johnson served as a course correction. Instead of the aftermath of a brutal collapse, the final weeks of the regular season were instead a memorable race for the division title.

While the Indians stayed white hot, the White Sox put an end to their mid-August bleeding and went 25-17 the rest of the way.

And it all started with a slump-busting slugfest against one of the all-time greats.

Next up

#SoxRewind rolls on Tuesday, when you can catch the Aug. 24, 2005, game against the Twins, starting at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago. Carl Everett drives in a bunch of runs ahead of a white-knuckle bottom of the ninth at the Metrodome.

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What Miguel Montero’s brutal honesty meant for Cubs and Kyle Hendricks


What Miguel Montero’s brutal honesty meant for Cubs and Kyle Hendricks

Miguel Montero picked the worst possible time to second-guess the way Joe Maddon handled the bullpen during the World Series and communicated with his players — a radio interview on the same day (!!!) as the championship parade through the streets of Chicago and a Grant Park rally that may or may not have been one of the largest gatherings in human history.

The cameras also caught Montero popping off at a time when the Cubs were hovering around .500 and running out of ideas to spark the defending champs. So team president Theo Epstein didn’t hesitate to DFA Montero in late June when the veteran catcher ripped Jake Arrieta for letting the Washington Nationals run wild on the bases. Eating almost $7 million in salary and shipping Montero to Canada became another button to press to shake up the clubhouse.

But Montero also came along at exactly the right time for Kyle Hendricks, who had 13 major-league starts for a last-place team on his resume heading into the breakthrough 2015 season that set up last year’s transformation into an ERA leader, Cy Young Award finalist and World Series Game 7 starter.

Montero doesn’t deserve a tribute on the video board when the Toronto Blue Jays come into Wrigley Field this weekend, but he also shouldn’t be remembered only as a loose cannon or a cartoon character.

“Miggy was huge for me,” Hendricks said on this week’s Cubs Talk podcast. “I know he didn’t go out the way he wanted to. He’s even texted all of us here. We have the utmost respect for him around this clubhouse. We know who he is, the teammate he was around here.

“For me in particular, he was probably the biggest influence right when I came up, from the catching side. He taught me a lot about pitching, especially at the big-league level. (He made) me feel comfortable at the big-league level.

“My development, I think, sped up a lot just because of him being around here, his experience, how much he knew the hitters, his feel and his ability just to talk to you. He could sit down and just have a conversation with you whenever.

“I owe a lot to him. And I’m excited to see him back here.”

The Cubs knew they were getting the good, the bad and the ugly when they traded for Montero during the 2014 winter meetings in San Diego, where they also closed the $155 million megadeal with Jon Lester and dramatically reshaped the franchise.

The Cubs wanted Montero’s edge, which only sharpened as he got stuck in various three-catcher rotations. But Montero welcomed Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras into the clubhouse, delivered a wake-up call to Albert Almora Jr. during a rehab assignment at Double-A Tennessee and worked with Arrieta as he blossomed into a Cy Young Award winner. Montero also became a bilingual intermediary last summer when Aroldis Chapman initially refused to talk to the media after making his Cubs debut.

After handling so many different personalities and styles with the Arizona Diamondbacks — everyone from Randy Johnson to Dan Haren — Montero made the case that Hendricks didn’t need to throw 97 mph to thrive when he could nail the edges and deceive and outthink hitters with movement and sequences. Street smarts from Venezuela and an Ivy League education became a great match.

“He always had that confidence in me, from Day 1, when I showed up in this clubhouse,” Hendricks said. “He caught my bullpens. He kind of saw what I could do with the baseball. He probably had more confidence in me than I had in myself when I first came up.

“That’s just how it is. You’re trying to find your footing. He just kept preaching that to me, telling me what he saw in me, what I could do, the ability I had against these hitters. And then we went out there together and kind of saw it happening.”

One Arizona official who knows Montero well theorized that he — like any former All-Star in his mid-30s nearing the free-agent market — simply had trouble coming to grips with the reality that he was no longer The Man.

Even if you may be right on both counts — and no matter how fast Montero patched it up with Arrieta — the backup catcher can’t blast a star manager and a star pitcher like that.

“It was too bad to see him go,” Hendricks said. “But that’s just baseball. That’s how it goes. You got to learn what you can from who’s around while they’re there and then move on. That’s just the nature of the game.”