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Royal Headache

Golfing legend Ben Hogan once said, "The most important shot in golf is the next one."

When it comes to playing the Kansas City Royals, especially at Kauffman Stadium, our White Sox could use a dose of Hogan's wisdom. It matters not what happened yesterday, or last month, or a year ago. Don't tell me about jinxes or curses. Hitting and catching the ball, effective pitching and a dose of intelligent baserunning determine whether the Sox can beat the Royals, or any other opponent for that matter.

Yet prior to Friday night's 4-2 loss at Kauffman - even with Chris Sale poised to take the mound - Chuck Garfien, Bill Melton and Frank Thomas were already setting the stage on Comcast's pre-game show by highlighting the problems that the Royals have caused the Sox this season. At that time, Kansas City held a 5-4 advantage over the South Siders, disappointing but far from disastrous.

The Big Hurt chimed in a couple of times, commenting how tough the Royals play the Sox, even harkening back to the 16 seasons he wore Sox pinstripes.

Interesting, but not true. From 1990 through the championship 2005 season, our guys pummeled the Royals to the tune of 139-91, thanks in part to Thomas' prodigious talents.

Of course, the three studio commentators are strictly observers and not participants. However, between them, Hawk Harrelson, and others who cover the ballclub, we are reminded over and over again how much trouble Kansas City is causing the White Sox. Please understand that the reports are not false, but you have to wonder whether a self-fulfilling prophecy threatens the ballclub because of the emphasis on what's occurred the past couple of seasons.

After Saturday's 9-4 loss - characterized by four errors, lack of timely hitting, and the stubborn commitment to pitch to Billy Butler - Daryl Van Schouwen wrote in the Sun-Times, "Maybe it's just a Kauffman thing. Alcides Escobar had three infield hits [actually it was four], [Alex] Gordon dropped a blooper for a key single, and two close plays at the plate went the Royals' way. The Sox are 8-17 here since 2009 and 0-2 in a series they came into with Chris Sale and [Jake] Peavy pitching after they had won three of four in Toronto."

After the Royals put Saturday's game out of reach with four runs in the bottom of the eighth, Hawk intoned, "We've created another Metrodome for ourselves." Then again on Sunday, "Everything is self-induced. It certainly appears in our own minds that we have created another Metrodome."

Cheesh! Has it come to that?

The Sox' travails playing in the former home of the Minnesota Twins, the Humphrey Metrodome, are etched in team history. In the last 10 seasons that the Twins played under the dome prior to the opening of Target Field in 2010, the Sox dropped 55 of 90 games. Most of the time - the banner summer of 2005 was an exception with the Sox winning six of nine - the Twins were simply the better team, so it made sense that the Sox weren't very successful.

But our guys were complicit in building up the Twinkies' brand, making Hawk's "self-induced" comment hit home. Ozzie Guillen labeled them "piranhas," giving credibility to the notion that Minnesota would keep nibbling away until they finally beat you. The Twins received high marks as an organization that did things the "right way." They taught fundamentals and performed the little things that won ballgames. The Twins' culture was something to emulate.

So how does one explain that in five post-season appearances between 2002 and 2009, the Twins went 3-16, not including the playoff 1-0 loss to the Sox in 2008? Evidently their playoff opponents - the Angels, A's, and Yankees three times - were much less impressed and awed than the Sox had been during those regular seasons.

Certainly all opponents need to be respected and taken seriously, but one wonders whether the Sox's dreaded their trips to the Metrodome, dwelling on past disappointments.

When I was a kid, the team that gave the Sox the biggest headache was the Yankees. The only year between 1951 and 1959 that the Sox had the edge over the New Yorkers was the pennant-winning season of 1959. After a weekend against the Yankees that looked a lot like last weekend in Kansas City, my dad would lambast the Sox, saying that they "roll over and play dead against the Yankees."

Pop was wrong. The White Sox were a very good team throughout the decade, but the Yanks had great teams, some of the best ever. I prefer to think that the likes of Minoso, Pierce, Fox and Aparicio weren't intimidated by Mantle, Berra, Ford and Skowron. They simply were beaten by a better team.

So does that mean that the Royals are better than the Sox this season? Not in my opinion, but last weekend our guys were outplayed. Or as Hawk said, "It seems like when we play Kansas City, we play like a fourth-place club, and they play like a first-place club."

Kansas City is on a roll, having now won nine of their last 12 games against the Sox, Orioles, and A's, all playoff contenders. But they're still 12 games under .500, and chances are good that this will be the 20th year in the last 27 that the Royals lose more than they win.

The teams will meet six more times in September, three in Chicago and three at Kauffman. The Sox will have some evening up to do, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them do exactly that. I simply think that our guys have a better team. They need to take care of business at home, and then head to KC and enjoy the sights. Maybe visit the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, shop at the Plaza and sample some of the country's best barbecue. (Personally I favor Arthur Bryant's.) Then go out and do exactly to the Royals what they just did to the Sox last weekend.

In the meantime, the Yankees will be at the Cell tonight for the first of three games. Once in June and again in July, the Sox had stretches where they dropped six of seven games. But each time they bounced back.

Now they have to do it against one of the better teams in baseball. The teams split four games in June at Yankee Stadium, which apparently is nowhere near as intimidating as Kauffman Stadium, let alone the Metrodome.


Roger Wallenstein is our man on the White Sox beat. He welcomes your comments.

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