In the eighth inning of Game 3 of the 2000 ALDS, the White Sox inserted Tony Graffanino into the game as a pinch-runner.
He was erased when Paul Konerko hit into an inning-ending double play. Graffanino stayed in the game at third base and was on the field when the Seattle Mariners walked off Keith Foulke and the White Sox.
The White Sox didn’t get back to the postseason for another five years.
But when they did, Graffanino was there again, this time playing for the opposing Boston Red Sox. He started at second base and had one of the best seats in the house to watch the South Siders beat the defending champs’ brains in for a 14-2 win in Game 1 of the 2005 ALDS. The next night, he factored into things a bit more prominently, though certainly not in the way he hoped.
Graffanino played for the White Sox from 2000 to 2003. He started the 2005 season as a division rival, suiting up for the Kansas City Royals before being dealt to the Red Sox in the middle of the campaign. He had himself an excellent season, and his good numbers with the Royals got even better when he went to Boston. He hit .319 and reached base at a .355 clip in his 51 regular-season games with the Red Sox.
But his defense, or lack thereof, would be his key contribution to the ALDS that season, unintentionally helping turn the tide in the middle of the series’ second game — for his old mates.
After torching Matt Clement for eight runs in Game 1, the White Sox offense wasn’t finding things quite as easy against another former South Sider, David Wells, who had the bats well silenced through four innings. Meanwhile, Mark Buehrle was atypically hittable in the early going of this one, giving up two first-inning runs — he only gave up six first-inning runs in his 33 regular-season starts — and two more runs in the third.
But the same White Sox lineup scored two touchdowns the day before and was obviously capable of banging around Boston’s lackluster pitching staff. The White Sox strung some hits together against Wells in the bottom of the fifth to cut the deficit in half, and Juan Uribe came up with a runner on first and one out. He tapped a grounder to second, hitting what appeared to be a pretty routine double-play ball.
Except Graffanino whiffed.
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Instead of an inning-ending double play, Graffanino’s error kept the inning alive. And after Scott Podsednik popped out to third base, the bill came due. Tadahito Iguchi hit a go-ahead, three-run homer that sent the South Side into pure chaos.
All three runs were unearned, but they still counted.
Buehrle settled down nicely, and after giving up his fourth run, he retired 13 of the final 15 hitters he faced, allowing just a couple singles. Bobby Jenks was stellar in his first career playoff game, called upon for a two-inning save in a one-run game. No matter. He retired six of the eight batters he faced, including Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon, the only hit he gave up a ninth-inning double to, who else, Graffanino. But with the tying run 180 feet away, Jenks got a pop out and a ground ball to put the White Sox a win away from an ALDS sweep.
Now, I’m not trying to revive the one-time trend of jumping all over a guy who lets a ball roll under his glove during a key playoff game on the right side of the Red Sox infield. That’s, as the kids say, tired and not at all wired.
And the White Sox deserve plenty if not most of the credit. They were no strangers to comebacks of all stripes during that 2005 season. It's one thing to be gifted an opportunity. It's another to be able to capitalize. Iguchi was clutch as could be, and his defensive plays at second base in this one were important, too, earning him an enthusiastic hug from Buehrle in the dugout after the seventh inning. Buehrle and Jenks’ efforts on the hill were just as important as a big inning at the right time.
But how funny does the world work — the baseball world, in particular — that with the White Sox attempting to erase an 88-year title drought, who should be there to turn the game around in their favor but a former teammate and a guy who was on the field the last time they were this close, half a decade earlier?
That’s team-of-destiny stuff right there.
Keep reliving the White Sox march to the 2005 World Series with #SoxRewind, which features Game 3 of the ALDS, airing at 7 p.m. Monday on NBC Sports Chicago.
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