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I need to accept a chunk of the responsibility for the Sox's five-game slide last week.
Being out of town in California for a few days, I figured my absence would be a good thing. I'd be away from the TV, separated from the drama of the (former) division leaders.
I tend to fear the worst when it comes to close games. I'm not necessarily a negative person, but having watched this team for a long time, there have been more heartbreaks than elixirs. My thinking was that the Sox would have a better chance in Boston and Detroit without me screwing things up.
Years ago this would have been easy. Leave town and you're out of range of the play-by-play of the games on radio and television. (You understand where this is going.)
Of course, technology today makes us accessible everywhere. Call a friend on his or her cell phone, and your pal could be standing in the street out front or in Wasilla. There's no way to know. We're so reachable.
I made an honest effort beginning Monday to not continually check my phone for the score in Boston. But how could I abandon the Sox when Dylan Axelrod was defying the odds in a 1-1 tie in the late innings? Against my better judgment I found a sports bar just in time for Leyson Septimo to walk two batters leading off the eighth. And then, BOOM!, Adrian Gonzalez parked one over the Monster.
I could have spat an oath at Septimo, but he did retire Jacoby Ellsbury on one pitch an inning earlier with a man on. I certainly might have questioned why Robin Ventura didn't bring in veteran Matt Thornton to start the eighth. But I would have been misplacing the blame. If only I had stayed away. My bad.
I'll return later to Tuesday; just know that by mid-week my addiction had kicked in with a vengeance. Thursday's heartbreaker in Boston was my sickest moment.
Following the game on MLB's Gameday, you'd have thought I had tickets next to the dugout. No sound, no video - okay, I checked the highlights as soon as they were posted - just this lame simulation that charts each pitch as if I care whether it's a fastball or curve, the speed, or the Nasty Factor, whatever that is. (I have to admit that all other data are helpful and informative.)
Jose Quintana was sailing along in fine fashion with a 1-0 lead - anyone notice the Sox haven't been hitting? - until three singles loaded the bases in the bottom of the seventh. That's when I should have walked away.
Puhleeze. My eyes were glued to the laptop. I tried to get a picture in my head of Q, getting the sign, checking the runners and delivering the pitch. My mind worked even faster than Quintana, he of the get it-throw it variety. Then there was a longer pause. Thank heaven for those little blood pressure pills. When Alexei Ramirez turned Will Middlebrooks' tricky grounder into a double play, I erupted. You can't beat fun at the old computer!
I figured my involvement wasn't hurting the team, so I couldn't quit now. Ventura lifted Quintana after 103 pitches over eight innings. The rookie skipper took some heat for that one, but he is consistent. This was the fourth time this season that Quintana's work ended after eight, and the Sox had won two of those previous three games. He's thrown as many as 113 pitches this season but never has he started the ninth inning.
Of course, you know the rest. Thornton got an out sandwiched between two hits. Both came with two strikes on the hitter, so no one could blame me for thinking Matt was going to get the job done.
When Addison Reed entered to face Cody Ross, I still felt confident enough to stick around. The first two pitches were relayed to Gameday in a timely fashion, but when there was an unlikely pause for what turned out to be the game's final action, my body tensed up. I can't quite explain the reaction as I saw "HOME RUN" splashed across the banner at the top of my screen. Was I dreaming? Could there be a mistake? How about a computer malfunction?
No, this was real. Or as real as it gets when one is following the Sox from afar. I stumbled away from my chair, questioning Ventura's decision to take out Quintana, asking how Boston - without Big Papi - could have done this to our guys, and already worrying about the next three games in Motown.
But the truth quickly stabbed me. If only I had taken time off. Done something else. Read about the game later. The Sox would have held on. I was to blame.
My 33-year-old son relishes in telling me that I watch too much sports on TV. I'm too invested in the teams I follow, he says. Usually it is my generation that chastises the younger folks for burying their heads in media, but we've flip-flopped on this one. I frequently do ask myself, "So what if the Sox get beat? It's not going to affect me. Why should I care?"
Then something happens like the little kid - he can't be more than six or seven - on YouTube who's crying because Brent Lillibridge was traded. If he gets that upset about parting ways with the marginal Lilli, then I surely have cause to feel the emptiness of the team's current failures.
The weekend was more of the same. Our friend Jill visited from San Diego, and she tricked me. Seems that Jill and her husband Steve have the MLB subscription so that they can watch the Brewers - her team - and his Yankees via computer. Since I had an HDMI cord handy, she soon had Verlander vs. Peavy up and running on the television.
It is very important and meaningful to note that before this technology took hold, I wasn't watching anything, and Alejandro De Aza must have known it. Why else would he have put the Sox ahead 2-0 with his third-inning homer. Moments later Jill announced, "Look, I've got it," and, needless to say, the Tigers scored three times.
I said I'd get back to Tuesday, the last time the White Sox were triumphant. I went to the movies that evening. I can highly recommend Jack Black's outstanding performance in Bernie. Thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable. Walking out of the theater, I checked the Sox score on my phone to see that they had a 7-2 lead. Smiling and feeling a sense of security, I slipped the phone back into my pocket and went out to dinner. Long after the last pitch,I learned that the final was 7-5.
Now that's the way to watch a ballgame.
Roger Wallenstein is our man on the White Sox. He welcomes your comments.
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