Like Mike: Sox arms create artificial anger to dominate

/ by Vinnie Duber
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

In Chicago, being like Mike is never a bad thing.

The Chicago White Sox have their sights on doing what Michael Jordan did with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s: winning and winning big. And they've got the talent to do it.

But when it comes to what helped make Jordan great, a couple All-Star pitchers are taking their emulation of His Airness to the next level.

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Last year's "Last Dance" documentary series told the story of Jordan going off one night after making up an imagined slight from an opposing player. White Sox closer Liam Hendriks is taking that approach and running with it.

"Being angry at little things, as Jordan said in 'The Last Dance,' those little things you use to psych yourself in," Hendriks said last month. "I'm not ever considering myself on that kind of level of aggression or level of intimidation or competition, but you take that little bit in there.

"I've been annoyed at guys sometimes for just not saying hello as I'm walking out to the bullpen. Things like that. You're looking for one little edge, or whatever it is, to make sure you want to go out there and strike that guy out and see where it goes. (In the White Sox win over the Cleveland Indians on June 30), I got pissed off because (outfielder Bradley) Zimmer tried to bunt. (My) first pitch of the game, he tried to bunt, and I was mad the rest of the inning."


Hendriks might be extreme in showing his emotion on the mound. But he's not alone in trying to inject some artificial anger into his pitching.

Staff ace Lucas Giolito was stupendous Monday night against the Minnesota Twins, allowing just one run on a couple hits during his eight innings of work in the White Sox's blowout 11-1 win over their division rivals. The ace of the South Side staff vowed to be a more focused pitcher after the All-Star break, and he's got a 2.73 ERA in his five starts in the second half.

One of the keys to that second-half resurgence is the exact same thing Hendriks was talking about.

"Just having a little bit of anger behind each pitch," Giolito said Monday. "It's controlled anger, and that helps to bring the focus level up on executing each individual pitch."

But where does that anger come from?

"Just create it," Giolito said with a big smile, showing he's not really that angry of a guy. "Just find something to tick myself off, whether I have to get on myself or just finding little things the batters are doing and just kind of letting that fuel me.

"It's just I feel like I'm much better when I have a controlled emotion, as opposed to being robotic or just being out there going through the motions and trying to make pitches. It's going to be a lot easier to make pitches and execute where I want to throw it when I have something behind it, something in my brain telling me, pretty much, 'F you' behind each and every pitch.

"Sometimes I can just create it out of thin air."

While it might seem like some significant mental gymnastics to fabricate reasons to get angry, it's worked for these guys.

And White Sox manager Tony La Russa is all for the approach, too, also citing Jordan and "The Last Dance" as evidence that the mentality is a useful one.

"I'm all for that edge," La Russa said Tuesday. "We just watched 'The Last Dance' with Michael, and he would look for ways to put a chip on his shoulder. Anger, adrenaline, something to prove, that gives you that extra focus and strength.

"I embrace it. I love it when I see it. ... It's a very good way to play this game, get some adrenaline going."

Whether it's Giolito going into "bully stage" or Hendriks doing his typical screaming, swearing, fist-pumping thing on the mound, the White Sox's top pitchers are finding ways to succeed by getting mad.

A word of warning for opposing lineups: You won't like them when they're angry.


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