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Miniscule Ball

Yogi Berra allegedly said "Good pitching beats good hitting, and vice versa." Former Sox third baseman and current Comcast analyst Bill Melton has a less confusing take. "Good pitching beats good hitting, and mediocre pitching beats poor hitting," he observed last Friday.

Melton might have added, "Horrible pitching beats horrible hitting" after Francisco Lirano - entering last Tuesday's game with a 9.35 ERA - no-hit our fellows.

This is a team that four innings into the season had a 14-0 lead against the mighty (all right, I said it) Cleveland Indians. And the next day they tagged on eight more runs. What a bright, positive, awe-inspiring beginning: 23 runs, 29 hits, a couple of homers, and five hits by Gordon Beckham all by himself.

Surely, this was a portent of things to follow. But after a 4-18 swoon, we are reminded that 1) only a fool would make any kind of prediction after four innings, and 2) only a slightly lesser fool would draw any conclusions after two games.

But this dismal stretch does make us wonder how a team can come out of the gate and look absolutely imposing and formidable, only to play some of the worst baseball in memory in just a matter of days.

Consider last Wednesday's loss to the Twins. There will be literally thousands - if not a few million - 10-year-old Little Leaguers this summer who will be schooled on defending the sacrifice bunt: first and third basemen charge, shortstop covers second, and second baseman covers first. ad nauseam.

And still, a 44-year-old future Hall-of-Famer who's played in nearly 2,900 games and handled almost 12,000 chances in the field, fails to cover first base on a bunt last Wednesday. As a result, two runs eventually score, and the Sox lose again, 3-2. Maybe Beckham screws this up. But Omar Vizquel? Don't tell me something weird and strange isn't happening on the South Side.

While Wednesday's performance was typical of the way the Sox played at home last week - just six hits and eight men left on base including the tying run at second with one out in the ninth inning - I have to applaud the 18,000 fans.

Parents and grandparents brought lots of pre-school-aged kids. I can't remember seeing so many little ones at The Cell. Most had the good sense to find a sunny seat on the third-base side. It was cold in the shade but warm and comfortable in the sun. The air was filled with signs of spring and good vibes.

Despite a team in the throes of a three-week slump, the fans were genuinely supportive. When the Sox threatened, they cheered. They rose to their feet in the eighth and ninth innings when the home team rallied. They acknowledged John Danks' solid pitching performance. When Vizquel was thrown out on a steal attempt, there were no boos. Only questions of why the old guy was running. Turns out he thought he saw a hit-and-run sign, but we found out later there was no such thing. Not a great day for Omar.

Juan Pierre flew out to end the game, yet still no negativity. Apparently the boo birds had bigger fish to fry later that evening at the UC when Carlos Boozer was the target.

* * *

There was a time when an anemic attack didn't necessarily signal a losing record. Take the 1967 White Sox. They hit .225 as a team that season, averaging just 3.28 runs per game. Ken Berry and Don Buford led the club in hitting with a .241 average. (I'm not making this up.) Pete Ward with 18 homers and 62 RBI led in both categories.

So how far down in the standings did that team finish? Well, these guys led the 10-team American League for three months and were still in the race in the final weekend of the season. They won 89 games, eventually finishing fourth, three games behind the pennant-winning Red Sox.

It will come as no surprise that the likes of starting pitchers Gary Peters, Joe Horlen, and Tommy John (yes, the namesake of the surgery and winner of 288 games), and an effective bullpen, posted a 2.45 team ERA. Pitching, defense, and speed trumped hitting, and PEDs were 20 years away.

Clearly the game today is much different. The American League average in 1967 was just .236, and there were hundreds of low-scoring games. That may explain why only 12,000 fans populated Comiskey Park the last Friday of the season - the Sox were still in the race - to watch the South Siders get eliminated by the lowly Washington Senators by a score of, what else, 1-0.

The 2011 White Sox offense unfortunately has resembled that team of 44 years ago. The good news is that recently the starting pitching also has started to look like those guys of yore. And two wins over the weekend felt good.

We all know about Small Ball and Ozzie Ball. But Miniscule Ball? That's what we've been watching recently, and it doesn't come close to working.

Everyone - Ozzie, Kenny Williams, the players, Hawk - promises that the team will start hitting. Okay, I'm on board. I remember those first four innings in Cleveland, and 17 more hits on Saturday in Seattle were nice. I truly want to be a believer, and beating the Mariners twice creates hope.

But I remain dubious and impatient. The hits need to start coming consistently . . . and soon.


Comments welcome.

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