It's Not Over Forever

While tailgating a few years ago in Seattle prior to a Bears-Seahawks game with my older son, who lives in the Emerald City, I discovered what a sheltered life I had been leading.

"What the hell are you doing," was my reflex reaction when a kid - I had no idea who he was - jabbed his car keys into a full can of beer.

"You old geezers don't even know about shotgunning a beer," the kid sneered as his key punctured the middle of the can thoroughly soaking him before he could get his mouth around the hole. He was lucky if half the beer reached the intended destination.

My approach was and remains, See Beer, Open Beer, Drink Beer. If that's being an "Old Geezer," so be it.

Last Thursday, I had a somewhat similar encounter at the Cell with a young - maybe late 20s or early 30s - fan who had driven from Detroit with a friend for the finale of the Sox-Tigers' four-game series. The White Sox managed to avoid a sweep in a 7-4 win behind Jake Peavy in what might have been his much-ballyhooed final appearance at the Cell in a Sox uniform.

I like the Tigers. I mean, I like their professionalism, coolness, and skill. (Maybe jealousy and envy are in play here.) So I'm surprised that they're not running away with the American League Central, nursing just a three-game lead over Cleveland.

"The Tigers ought to be 20 games over .500," I said to the visitor from the Motor City.

"Are you a baseball guy?" he responded. "Do you follow the game?"

At least he didn't call me an Old Geezer, but I was speechless. Regaining my equilibrium, I said that I had an interest in the game. Believe me, this kid would not have been the least bit impressed that my Beachwood Reporter business card was tucked away in my wallet - which is exactly where it stayed.

It also was clear that the guy didn't make the drive simply to buy a $7.75 Bud Light.

The assessment he gave about his hometown Tigers went something like this: The two areas of strength on this team are starting pitching and power hitting. With Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello and Doug Fister, the Tigers are able to trot out a formidable starter each and every day. (The same could be said about the White Sox, although the favorable comparison then ends abruptly.)

And Detroit is fourth in the league with 119 home runs; coupled with their .280 team batting average, the Tigers have scored more runs than anybody.

Detroit now sits atop the AL Central, 14 games above the break-even point. So why not a more dominating season to this point?

"They have a weak bullpen," pointed out the freaking know-it-all.

Of course, he was right again. Tiger relievers have a 4.01 ERA, ranking 10th in the AL. With the ineffectiveness and departure of Jose Valverde, 36-year-old Joaquin Benoit has stepped up with 10 saves as the team's closer. But he's still Joaquin Benoit.

The rest of the pen is even shakier. Last Wednesday, for example, it only took Dayan Viciedo leading off the bottom of the ninth with a homer, cutting the Detroit lead to 6-2, and a one-out single by Alejandro De Aza for a nervous Jim Leyland to summon Benoit for the final two outs. Silly man.

Then again, Leyland was simply disclosing his honest feelings about his middle relievers.

My fine friend shared with me two other areas where the Tigers are mediocre and weak: defense and team speed. The rap on the infield is that shortstop Jhonny Peralta handles everything hit to him but has limited range. You couldn't tell that on Thursday as Peralta moved both left and right like the pro that he is. He's made only four errors all season. What we'd give to have a shortstop who averages an error every 25 games.

Talking about shortstops, I finally scored a few points with the Detroit visitor when he called Alexei Ramirez a "human vacuum."

"You know how many errors the White Sox have committed this season?" I asked, going in for the zinger.

Neither Mr. Expert nor his pal knew the answer. "Seventy. The same number they made all last season. And you know how many of those Ramirez has made?"

For the first time, silence smothered the conversation as our friend found out that Ramirez leads the league with 17 errors, five more than any other American League shortstop. Suddenly Jhonny Peralta didn't seem so slow.

Even though a hip flexor has recently hobbled Miguel Cabrera so that his torrid pre-All-Star Game performance has leveled out a bit, his production along with Peralta, Prince Fielder, Torii Hunter and others covers up a lot of deficits for a team like the Tigers. They left Chicago after Thursday's loss and went home to sweep the Phillies, scoring 22 runs over the weekend after edging the Phils 2-1 on Friday.

The Sox stayed home only to lose three straight to the surging Royals, scoring a sad three runs in the entire series. There you have it folks, the difference between a team headed to the playoffs and the other ready and willing to trade players of value.

But things change rather quickly in baseball. Last year's World Series champion Giants are dead last in their division and sinking fast. Yasiel Puig shows up in Los Angeles in June and the Dodgers lead that very same division.

Or consider: Alexei Ramirez made just 12 errors last season, yet he's been simply horrible this year. Justin Verlander was both MVP and Cy Young winner just two years ago, yet Thursday marked the second time the White Sox beat him in a little over two weeks. The team that could hardly score last weekend raked Verlander for 12 runs and 23 hits over 13 innings in those two outings. I'm not sure how the guy from Detroit would explain that one.

Sixty-one games now separate White Sox Nation from a merciful end to this woeful season. A year ago the Sox had a 55-46 record and led second-place Detroit by two games. That was a lot more fun. It's those memories and the hope for a rapid turnaround that keep Old Geezers coming back.


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

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