The White Sox's slow fade

Jeff Passan
Yahoo! Sports

CHICAGO – The surest sign yet that this season is different for the Chicago White Sox manifested itself on A.J. Pierzynski's lips. Namely, that they were not moving.

Following the White Sox's 12-7 victory Sunday afternoon, their last home game of the season barring a miracle, Pierzynski seemed in no mood to chat. People approached. He scowled. Point taken.

For something to perturb Pierzynski – the ultimate enfant terrible, the man whose voice sounds like Beethoven to his own ears, the rabble-rouser with an opinion on everything – to the point of silence? Well, that's deep.

And forget the psychology or motivation behind Pierzynski's lockdown: This was strict frustration, the Minnesota Twins having won, too, and the notion that the White Sox, one year after capturing their first championship in 88 years, will be officially eliminated by the Twins sometime this week a burgeoning reality.

"Any time you need help from other teams, it's a little bit of a helpless feeling," White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko said. "But that's what we've earned."

Such blunt honesty is generally Pierzynski's puriew. Nothing like a disappointing season to dull the buzz of a game in which the White Sox hit five home runs for the second time this season.

The first was five months ago today at Seattle. After a blowout victory, the White Sox sported the best record in baseball at 14-6. The machine looked like it was cranking in the same fashion as the 2005 postseason: Home run balls flying, starting pitchers piling up outs and manager Ozzie Guillen supplementing both with a tornado of words and gestures and facial expressions.

Now they are beaten, by the American League Central, baseball's best division, and by their own weaknesses.

"We relied on ourselves," third baseman Joe Crede said, implying that, while a noble notion, reliance on a flawed group would lead nowhere good.

And certainly the White Sox are tarnished, their earned-run average among the bottom half of baseball instead of near the top, their fielding taking a near-equal dive from last season, their offense lagging behind Washington's, Florida's and even Seattle's in September.

More than that, karma seems to have evened out all of the breaks – remember Josh Paul? – the White Sox caught en route to their World Series sweep of Houston last year.

In the bottom of the eighth against Seattle on Sunday, the White Sox already held a 10-6 lead when Francisco Cruceta unfurled a wild pitch. From third base, Chicago's Tadahito Iguchi sprinted home and slid, catcher Kenji Johjima's underhanded toss to Cruceta obviously high and late. Still, ensconced in a cloud of dust, home-plate umpire Gerry Davis called Iguchi out, and as he punched his fist, it was like a metaphor for the rest of the season.

"We're not going to make it to the playoffs," said starter Freddy Garcia, a huge liability for the first three-quarters of the season who pitched lights out the past month. "Our pitching and hitting never clicked at the same time. We wanted to play better, and it didn't work."

So the White Sox did the best they could to gear up for the letdown. They gave Hawk Harrelson five reasons to tell them they could put it on the board … yes! They ran a video looking back at the season, set to Tina Turner belting "Simply the Best." On the banner scoreboard in center field, big, bold letters reminded: 2005 WORLD CHAMPION CHICAGO WHITE SOX.

Guillen and his players exchanged high fives and doffed their caps before leaving the field. In order to return, they need, essentially, to win their remaining six games and the Twins lose all seven of theirs. If the Twins win or the White Sox lose once, it guarantees Minnesota at least a tie, and with either of those happening twice, the White Sox are officially cooked.

Which, really, is how it should be. Since the All-Star break, the White Sox are 30-38 to the Twins' 45-24. Chicago's ERA is a 1.24 runs higher, its on-base percentage 23 points lower and its game devolved into a homer-and-hope style.

This weekend's series between the White Sox and Twins at the Metrodome was supposed to have been the best of the season, and who knows? Maybe Brad Radke finds out he can still pitch, and maybe Jermaine Dye solidifies his case for MVP, and maybe, even though Johan Santana isn't pitching, someone throws like him.

It just won't matter.

"I don't know. I don't know," Guillen said. "They're a good ballclub. And hopefully when we're there, we still have a chance."

As much as Guillen tried, he didn't believe what he was saying. He saw the clubhouse attendants at U.S. Cellular Field loading the truck with the team's gear for the final trip, and he knew it wasn't coming back. It was just another vehicle in the White Sox's funeral procession.

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