If you’ve been watching and following along with our White Sox Rewind games on NBC Sports Chicago, then it must feel like everything was going right in 2005.
That’s because it was, although it certainly helps that we’re only showing White Sox winners.
On the morning of April 23, 2005, the White Sox were 13-4 and had won five games in a row. On most nights, the starting pitchers were going six or seven innings, hardly taxing a bullpen that looked solid on paper, but was still unproven in some areas and appeared to have a weakness at closer.
But that was about to change on that Saturday evening in Kansas City on Apr. 23. Finally, some adversity was about to strike, as Jose Contreras left the game in the fourth inning with a hamstring strain. Clinging to a 2-1 lead at the time, manager Ozzie Guillen called on his bullpen to carry the load the rest of the way, and for the first time, we saw a strong glimpse of what the White Sox had with their relievers.
It started with right-hander Cliff Politte, a journeyman reliever once drafted in the 54th round who suddenly put it all together in 2005 to become an important part of a World Series team. He posted an era of 2.00 while pitching 67.1 innings.
“I came over here from Toronto and I felt like the coaches there wanted everybody to be like Roy Halladay,” Politte told Chuck Garfien on the White Sox Talk Podcast this week. “We had to do this and try these things and whatnot. And we were all different. I remember (White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper) telling me my first year here that he was going to make the best of what I had and make me the best pitcher that I could (be) -- not to try to change me or anything. When you hear that from a coach in the big leagues, it (gives you) a lot of confidence. It’s like, this guy trusts what I have so let’s try to make it better and that’s kind of what happened.”
Politte and left-hander Neal Cotts – one of the younger players on the team at 25 – formed a deadly 1-2 combo in high-leverage situations.
“Even if I gave up a hit to the right-hander and knew that a lefty was on-deck, and I was coming out and Neal was taking over, we always kind of had that idea that it’s all right if I give up this hit. Neal is going to have my back. Or I’m going to get Neal’s back,” Politte said. “It was kind of special to think about, knnowing that you had a 1-2 punch with a righty-lefty that could dominate and get guys out. It’s a fun feeling. It’s hard to believe it happened, but it’s fun.”
Hard to believe in part because Politte’s career fizzled out quickly after the 2005 season. Still only 32 in 2006, he was released by the White Sox on July 20, 2006 and never made another major league appearance again. Chris Kamka detailed Politte’s career here.
But in 2005, Politte was excellent. And he pitched 1.2 key scoreless innings on Apr. 23 against the Royals, followed by Cotts, who did the same. All-in-all, the bullpen went 6.2 innings that night, giving up just one run. It was a fun game with Zack Greinke on the hill for the Royals. Here’s what Guillen’s lineup looked like:
LF Scott Podsednik
2B Tadahito Iguchi
DH Carl Everett
1B Paul Konerko
RF Jermaine Dye
C A.J. Pierzynski
SS Juan Uribe
LF Ross Gload
3B Joe Crede
Of note, Crede carried a 13-game hitting streak into this one, despite continuing to hit in the No. 9 spot. Hey, you don’t mess with a streak.
The White Sox-Tigers game from Apr. 20, 2005 will air Tuesday at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago. For the full White Sox Rewind schedule from the 2005 season, click here.