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Present vs. Past

In less than two weeks the White Sox will celebrate the 2005 World Series champion ballclub. Former players like Joe Crede, Aaron Rowand, Geoff Blum, Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko along with Ozzie Guillen - back in Kenny Williams' good graces - will return to The Cell to bask in past glory and enjoy the adoration of the Sox faithful.

Too bad that the schedule-makers didn't get lucky. What a treat it would have been to have the Atlanta Braves provide the opposition instead of the Kansas City Royals.

That's because two of the four active players from that championship crew are alive and banging out base hits these days in Atlanta. Since former Sox shortstop Juan Uribe came over from the Dodgers via a trade in late May, he and catcher A.J. Pierzynski are regulars in the Braves' starting lineup.

In fact, three times last week Pierzynski batted clean-up with Uribe fifth in the order. With three hits yesterday, Pierzynski is hitting .267, while Uribe has hovered around .300 all season for a mediocre Atlanta club that stands at 40-42.

This is not an indictment of the Sox brass for letting Uribe walk after the 2008 season while Pierzynski wasn't re-signed after 2012. A.J. was 35, and Tyler Flowers had been waiting patiently in the wings to assume regular catching duties. Pierzynski was paid about $6 million, or about $5.5 million more than Flowers. We all know that baseball is a business. Thus Flowers is in his third season as the regular. In the last eight games, he's gone 8-for-22 to raise his average to .222. We should be encouraged.

Uribe, who played five seasons on the South Side, is one of those baseball lifers who keeps re-inventing himself. He cashed another World Series check in 2010 as the Giants' third baseman, and he went to the playoffs with the Dodgers the past two seasons. Since leaving the White Sox, he's made almost $40 million while playing third, short and second with skill and style.

So it will be nice - if less than thrilling - to see the fellas in street clothes parade around The Cell, waving to the crowd during the reunion weekend. But the fun and pizzazz of watching A.J. and Uribe actually return to the South Side scene to play against the Sox would have been delightful.

Expounding on that theme, we will have Sox present versus Sox past on display Monday evening at The Cell when ex-Sox darling Mark Buehrle takes the mound against his former club in a match-up with Chris Sale. Like Pierzynski and Uribe, Buehrle's career just keeps on rolling. (Neal Cotts is the other active member from the '05 team, pitching for Milwaukee.) Buehrle is 9-4 for the Blue Jays this season, his 16th. He now has 208 career wins, of which 150 came in a White Sox uniform. No one can forget his no-hitter and perfect game.

However, Buehrle made $14 million in 2011 when he went 13-9 - what we'd give to have a pitcher with a similar record today - so at age 32, Buehrle took his talents to South Beach for a season before being traded to Toronto, where he now makes $20 million. As previously mentioned, baseball is a business.

The buzz around tonight's game is noticeable because Sale will be trying to strike out 10 or more batters for the ninth consecutive game. No one - not Cy Young, Sandy Koufax, nor Nolan Ryan - has ever done that. And, as we all know, Buehrle mentored Sale when the young left-hander first broke in five years ago.

Sale will be facing a Blue Jays club that leads the majors in runs scored and is second in home runs. They average about seven strikeouts per game, so Chris will have his work cut out for him.

The crafty Buehrle, who gives up his usual average of a hit per inning, faces our Sox, who have more hits than only two other teams while ranking dead last in runs scored. I have to think that Sale will need to be almost perfect for the Sox to prevail.

But Sale and fellow starters Jeff Samardzija, Jose Quintana, John Danks and Carlos Rodon have been pitching all season with those parameters.

Occasionally it all works out, such as last week in St. Louis. When the Sox arrived, the Cardinals owned baseball's best record and were a stunning 29-6 at home. Clearly a recipe for disaster for our cellar-dwelling athletes.

What makes the game so interesting is its unpredictability. No better example occurred than at Busch Stadium where Sox pitching shut down the Cardinals two nights in a row. On Tuesday, Sale gave up a lone homer in eight innings on a yield of six hits while fanning 12. Flowers' sixth home run in the 11th inning gave the Sox a 2-1 unexpected victory.

The next night Quintana was nicked for a first-inning run before he and four relievers shut out the vaunted Cardinals. Scoring five times in the ninth, the Sox won 7-1.

And the Little White Machine kept chugging away at home on Friday, nipping Baltimore 1-0 behind a superb Danks. And then, in possibly the most exciting game of the season on Saturday, Avi Garcia's game-saving catch over the right-field fence preserved a 3-2 decision over the Orioles. Samardzija was again outstanding, pitching into the eighth before Zach Putnam's second pitch to Manny Machado landed in the left-field bleachers with a man on to tie the game at 2. Pinch-hitter J.B. Shuck's double in the bottom of the eighth scored Gordon Beckham for the margin of victory.

Here was the momentum we all had been seeking. Four wins in a row behind great pitching, improved - and sometimes spectacular - defense and just enough runs to nurture those thoughts of "maybe, just maybe the Sox have awakened."

Carlos Rodon retired Machado to lead off Sunday's series closer before third baseman Conor Gillaspie bobbled Nolan Reimold's dribbler before throwing the ball into the Baltimore dugout for his 11th and 12th errors of the season. Reimold scored on Adam Jones' double.

Even though Rodon pitched well enough, an ineffective bullpen crippled by two more errors and the ever-present five-hit attack resulted in an ugly 9-1 embarrassment. Gillaspie, who can turn around a fast ball every now and then, has a fielding percentage of .889. Advanced analytics are not required to realize that poor Conor boots about one of every 10 chances. Of the 110 players this season who have handled at least one chance at third base, Gillaspie ranks 93rd.

Let's be fair. Gillaspie is simply one dimension of what makes this such a disappointing ballclub. And his defense could be overcome if these guys could score some runs.

Reliving the 2005 season might provide a dose of relief from the debacle of 2015. And, similar to retiring Konerko's number earlier this season, the Sox figure to draw more fans for the weekend. But having Buehrle return to the mound at The Cell to face off with the kid whom he mentored is a far more interesting proposition.


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

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Posted on Oct 11, 2021