White Sox

White Sox 2005 Rewind: Paul Konerko's lengthy season-opening slump

White Sox

It might be easy to forget.

For a guy who hit a grand slam in the World Series, hit 41 home runs during the regular season and is well remembered as not only the best player on that championship team but one of the two best hitters in franchise history, Paul Konerko had a painfully slow start to the 2005 season.

#SoxRewind has rolled into mid May of that year, and Konerko is still slumping on our screens.

Obviously things turned out just fine for him, but it took Konerko a while to get into his typical swing of things in 2005. Through his first 40 games of the season, he owned a .196/.329/.420 slash line.

There were bright spots, sure, and he still had nine homers in those 40 games, right on pace for the 40 he ended up with. He had a two-homer, five-RBI game against the Blue Jays on May 7. At the end of that road trip, May 11 against the Devil Rays, he drove in a couple more with a big double.

But even those proved to be just glimpses rather than breakout performances.

What did keep Konerko afloat during that slow beginning was his ability to draw walks. He jacked his on-base percentage up to .370 by season’s end, but even at .329 during those first 40 games, he was doing a good job getting on base despite a batting average south of the Mendoza Line. Konerko walked 25 times in his first 40 games, with four multi-walk games. That included a pair of three-walk games during this stretch in May.

The tide finally turned May 18, a three-hit, three-run game against the Rangers. From that point on, over his final 118 games, he slashed .311/.390/.570. In other words, MVP-type production.

The White Sox needed their best hitter over the course of the 2005 regular season, the playoff push and the postseason. And there’s a statue at Guaranteed Rate Field that can inform you how important he was to that group.

But it wasn’t wire-to-wire success for Konerko. Thankfully for the White Sox, his teammates picked him up, finding other ways to win during the season's first month and a half. And it shows just how good he was after things finally got back to normal.

What else?

— The White Sox sure should have won this game by a lot more than they did. They started the third inning with back-to-back walks and a classic Tropicana Field catwalk single off the bat of Tadahito Iguchi. Bases loaded, nobody out. But after Aaron Rowand drove in a run with a sacrifice fly, Timo Perez got picked off trying to steal third base and Konerko struck out to end the inning. Three innings later, the White Sox started with three straight singles, including a bunt hit by Juan Uirbe to load the bases. But the next three hitters went strikeout, pop out, strikeout to go scoreless in the frame. A 5-2 win didn’t necessarily need any more runs, but it could’ve been 10-2 easily.

— Pablo Ozuna made things happen. With one out in the top of the fifth, he reached base on an infield single, busting down the line and ducking out of the way of a tag attempt at first base. He moved to second base on a one-out walk and to third on a fly out. Then he raced home on a wild pitch to break a 1-all tie. That was the first run in a four-run inning for the White Sox. Making things happen, the Ozuna way.

— Iguchi stole two bases in this game, the only multi-steal game of his big league career. Iguchi stole a career-high 15 bases in 2005, part of the 137 bags the White Sox swiped as a team that season. That number ranked fourth in the majors, behind the Angels, the Mets and these Devil Rays. Iguchi ranked third on the White Sox behind Scott Podsednik’s 59 steals and the 16 of Rowand.

— It was Robin Ventura on the call alongside Darrin Jackson as Hawk Harrelson continued to recover from his eye surgery. The all-time White Sox great became the team’s 39th manager less than seven years later, taking over after the tenure of Ozzie Guillen, who was in his second season as the South Side skipper in 2005.

Since you been gone

While #SoxRewind is extensive, it doesn’t include all 162 regular-season contests, meaning we’re going to be skipping over some games. So what’d we miss since last time?

May 9, 2005: Despite getting to Hideo Nomo early, the White Sox had their eight-game winning streak snapped when the Devil Rays battled back against Freddy Garcia. White Sox lose, 4-2, fall to 24-8.

May 10, 2005: The White Sox had leads of 4-1 and 6-4 but blew them both. Future White Sox catcher Toby Hall hit a three-run game-tying homer off Jose Contreras at one point. But Jorge Cantu’s walk-off homer off Shingo Takatsu in the bottom of the ninth assured the Devil Rays a series win. White Sox lose, 7-6, fall to 24-9.

Next up

#SoxRewind rolls on Wednesday, when you can catch the May 13, 2005, game against the Orioles, starting at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago. Mark Buehrle goes eight innings, and Konerko leads a come-from-behind win against the O’s.

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