Even in the handful of games we’ve shown from the early portion of the 2005 season, one thing is abundantly clear: This starting rotation was very, very good.
But while the game has evolved to place greater emphasis on relief pitching, no team, not even 15 years ago, could win the World Series without a strong bullpen. And certainly the White Sox had a strong bullpen, their 3.23 relief ERA one of the three best in baseball in 2005.
April 13 against the Indians, the White Sox got the kind of performance from their relief corps that signaled the pitching staff as a whole, not just the rotation, was championship caliber.
Jose Contreras wasn’t really that bad in this one, despite issuing five walks. He gave up just four runs in 6.2 innings, hardly something to overly bemoan. But once he surrendered a hammered home run to Grady Sizemore that tied the score at 4 in the seventh inning, he got the hook. It was the bullpen’s job to keep an Indians lineup, which put 10 men on base with five hits and five walks against Contreras, from doing anything else.
And that’s exactly what happened. Three different pitchers — Damaso Marte, Luis Vizcaino and Dustin Hermanson — retired 10 of the 11 hitters they faced.
An early season blow up stood out as an outlier, perhaps clouding judgments at the effectiveness of the ‘pen. As Adam Hoge wrote about on Saturday, closer Shingo Takatsu gave up three homers in one appearance against these Indians in the third game of the season, the kind of performance that haunts fans’ memories forever. The bullpen, in general, was hideous in that game, with Neal Cotts tagged for a run and Vizcaino roughed up for a whopping six tallies in the 11th inning.
But that game was truly an outlier. After the 4.1 shutout frames April 13 and excluding the April 7 disaster, the White Sox bullpen had a miniscule 1.76 ERA, allowing just three runs in their 15.1 innings of work.
Contreras was shaky in this game but kept the Indians from running up a huge run total. The bullpen locked the Indians down and allowed the White Sox hitters to pull ahead for good on a Juan Uribe sacrifice fly in the 10th.
And providing a bit of foreshadowing, Hermanson got his first save of the season. Takatsu was jettisoned from the role not long into the campaign, and Hermanson bridged the gap between Takatsu and Bobby Jenks. Hermanson racked up saves into September and had 34 of them on the season.
This rotation was excellent, no doubt about it, and it’s probably the No. 1 reason why the White Sox won the World Series in 2005. But even the best rotations can be limited by a bad bullpen. Fortunately for the South Siders, they had a good one.
— Five walks is a lot of walks. While Contreras had himself a good season, he walked 75 batters in 2005, the fourth highest total in the American League. It’s perfectly obvious why pitchers should limit their walks, but certainly this game could serve as Exhibit A. Contreras walked the leadoff man in each of the first two innings, with both runners coming around to score. That helped put the White Sox in a 3-0 hole after two. Contreras had more days like this as the season went on, with three more games in which he walked at least five opposing hitters, including a start on July 1 where he walked seven. The White Sox went 2-2 in those four games, though they lost the seven-walk start against the Oakland Athletics.
— “It’s his job to keep them right there, let the team get back into it. He’s perfectly capable of going six innings and at least giving the hitters an opportunity to get back into it.” Darrin Jackson looked prescient because despite the walks, Contreras did keep the Indians at bay enough for his offense to engineer a comeback, pull ahead and later pull out a win in extra innings.
— “It’s really amazing that a little thing like a leadoff bunt can shake things up for an offense.” Perfect analysis right there from DJ. Just as I discussed, Scott Podsednik making things happen and starting a White Sox rally with a bunt single in the April 11 game against this same Indians team, Pablo Ozuna did the exact same thing to leadoff the fourth inning, starting a three-run frame. That disrupted Cliff Lee enough after retiring the first nine hitters he faced that he gave up three straight hits, the third from Carl Everett (an infield single that featured a ridiculously airmailed throw by Lee) driving in the White Sox first run. Maybe that game-tying rally doesn’t happen without Ozuna’s small-ball start.
— Bob Wickman got his revenge this time. In the second game of the season, Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye dramatically hit back-to-back homers off the Indians closer to erase a three-run deficit and set up a thrilling comeback win on the South Side. This time, not so much. Facing Konerko and Dye again to lead off the ninth inning, he retired them both, as well as Aaron Rowand, for a 1-2-3 inning that briefly preserved a 4-all tie. Wickman had a huge 2005 season, making the All-Star team and leading the AL with 45 saves.
— Another arm brought on from the Cleveland ‘pen wasn’t so lucky. It was familiar face Bob Howry, who pitched for the White Sox from 1998 to 2001. He took the loss in this one, the leadoff double he gave up to A.J. Pierzynski to start the 10th the critical blow. Pierzynski moved to third on a Joe Crede bunt and scored on Uribe’s sacrifice fly. And that was the ballgame.
— In the top of the 10th, famous Indians fan Drew Carey caught a foul ball! Cleveland rocks, baby.
#SoxRewind rolls on Monday, when you can catch the April 19, 2005, game against the Twins, starting at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago. El Duque on the mound for the South Siders.