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Alarming Weirdness

Let's just put it this way: The White Sox and Padres won't be facing off in a World Series any time soon.

That was only one takeaway after a weekend that saw the Sox win a couple of games to end their six-game losing streak. Of course, they got lots of help as the National Leaguers were more than accommodating during two of the more bizarre games you'll ever see.
All of which left the Padres with baseball's worst mark of 14-25, which seems fitting after watching these guys play. If this is what rebuilding looks like, the San Diegans have barely broken ground.

The Padres strode into town last Friday evening and more or less silenced the Sox bats in a 6-3 win. To kick off the weekend weirdness, Miguel Gonzalez's first pitch of the game was hit into the left field seats by former Cub Matt Szczur. If not for Leury Garcia's two home runs - the kid had hit a total of four in his previous 183 games - the local group would have been shut out.

On Saturday, more than 29,000 fans jammed the park for a chance to see these two developing ballclubs. Well, that's not really true. The giveaway of Hawk Harrelson alarm clocks was the real draw. This morning eBay had 59 listings for this prize gem, one asking $500 or best offer. Let's just hope the best offer is something like $19.95.

After Hawk and his family threw out the ceremonial first pitches, Dylan Covey's very first offering yielded the same result as Gonzalez's the night before. This time the culprit was Manuel Margot, whose drive landed about 10 feet inside the right field foul pole.

The last time home runs were hit on the first pitch of consecutive games occurred in 2007 when the Cubs' Alfonso Soriano did it. However, Fonzi didn't accomplish the feat two days in a row; the first one came on a Wednesday at Wrigley Field against Cincinnati, and the second after an off-day on Thursday, against the Pirates that Friday. The day off might have helped.

On the other hand, Soriano was accustomed to leadoff homers: he hit 54 of them in his career. Szczur and Margot are not exactly household names. Yet they matched Soriano's feat, contributing to the weirdness of the series.

Covey, a University of San Diego product, entered the game with an 8.28 ERA over his five starts. However, he settled down admirably after Margot's homer, striking out the side in the first and eventually fanning nine Padres before departing with one out in the fifth inning, the bases loaded, and the score tied at 2. Anthony Swarzak, baseball's best relief pitcher at the moment, was touched for a sacrifice fly by Wil Myers before retiring the side and pitching a perfect sixth.

The Sox had tied the game in the fourth in a most unconventional manner - but not so unusual in youth baseball for, say, 12-year-olds. Jose Abreu reached on an error and came around on three wild pitches from Trevor Cahill. Many runs will be scored in a similar manner in Chicago parks this summer.

Let's pause here and check out Swarzak, who bounced around the American League for seven seasons before the Sox signed him in January. In 14 relief appearances covering 18-plus innings this spring, the righthander has been touched for just three hits while walking two and striking out 21. His WHIP is 0.273. If there has been a more effective relief pitcher this season, let him step forward now. Wade Davis and Andrew Miller are close, but still have yielded more hits and walks.

Tommy Kahnle followed Swarzak on Saturday. Kahnle is another reason that only Cleveland has had a more effective bullpen than the White Sox over the season's first six weeks. However, a 98 mph fastball that buzzed Myers' ears may have awakened the Pads' first baseman because he sent the very next pitch out of the park for a 4-4 tie. Not exactly weird but certainly alarming at the time.

However, a seventh consecutive loss was averted when Yolmer Sanchez's single up the middle just barely scored a sliding Tyler Saladino with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth for the first walkoff win of the season for the boys.

The usual hijinks following a last at-bat victory was somewhat muted since the Padres challenged the call at the plate. Yes, Sanchez and Saladino engaged in a joyful man hug, and there was a lot of jumping around, but things calmed down quickly as the umpires donned the ever-present headphones before officially declaring the game over, all in keeping with the uniqueness of the weekend.

Oh, by the way, Sox pitchers struck out 17 batters in the victory. The major league record is 20, a mark not shared by the Sox. So if this wasn't the most strikeouts by Sox pitchers in a game, it certainly was close. This also was the second time this season that the Padres have fanned 17 times. Only three teams in MLB have whiffed more. Conversely, the San Diego crew is tied for fourth in home runs.

It was the home run again on Sunday that put the Sox in a 3-1 hole after Hunter Renfroe, another young prospect in the San Diego rebuild, tagged a Jose Quintana pitch with two men on in the top of the seventh. Quintana was clinging to a 1-0 lead, a run that scored in the first inning after the Sox loaded the bases with no one out against former Los Angeles Angel Jered Weaver, who is trying to hang on with the Padres this season.

In 11 seasons with the Angels, Weaver was 12-2 with a 1.89 ERA against the Sox, so you can imagine that, despite being 0-4 with an 8.19 ERA, he wasn't exactly reluctant to take his turn in the rotation in the series finale. At age 34 with arm ailments behind him, Weaver no longer is the guy who led the AL in strikeouts in 2010. On Sunday, radar clocked him no quicker than 84 mph, and his tantalizing breaking balls were reaching the plate in the low to mid-70s. And the Sox couldn't do a thing with him for six innings.

Meanwhile, the fumbling White Sox botched two outfield pop-ups, the first when two Garcias, Avi and Leury, lost a high fly in the fourth inning. Leury at least had the wherewithal to hustle the ball to Saladino, who then nailed Myers trying to advance from first to third. In the top of the eighth, Sanchez called off Avi in short right and then couldn't corral Myers' towering pop-up. Manager Rick Renteria has said on a number of occasions that the Sox were going to play "clean" baseball. Hmmm. This was anything but.

However, the Padres were not going depart Chicago without leaving a grand gift. Reliever Ryan Buchter entered to pitch the eighth inning. After getting the first out, he walked Sanchez and Abreu before shortstop Luis Sardinas bobbled Avi Garcia's grounder to load the bases. Buchter then walked Todd Frazier on five pitches to bring the Sox within a run.

San Diego manager Andy Green did what most managers would do. He summoned his closer Brandon Maurer for a five-out save. Renteria countered with pinch hitter Melky Cabrera, who had a rare day off. Melky drove a grounder between first and second, the Sox first hit of the inning, giving the home crew a 4-3 lead.

Then in what will be one of the stranger plays this season, Saladino popped up a bunt that Myers caught at first base. However, Wil nonchalantly turned his back to the infield, which was something that Frazier, who was on third, noticed immediately as he made a break for the plate, easily beating Myers' errant throw.

Two walks, a hit batter, singles by Willy Garcia and Sanchez and a double by Leury Garcia followed as the White Sox put up an eight-spot for a 9-3 lead.

Reliever David Holmberg got the last three outs amid fans joyously do The Wave which lasted more than five minutes.

So there you have it. A Mother's Day Weekend with first-pitch homers, alarm clocks, a challenged walk-off win, lost pop-ups, a streak for home, and a liberal amount of philanthropy by the visiting team.

Next up is a 10-game road trip out west to Anaheim, Seattle, and Phoenix. Let the weirdness continue.

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Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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