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We Should Know Better

It was just a pop foul that eluded catcher Tyler Flowers in front of the visitors' dugout last Tuesday evening. A tough play because the ball was spinning away from him while first baseman Jose Abreu was playing too deep to offer any chance of making the play.

What was a tad surprising - the play came with no one on in a scoreless game - is that many in the crowd of 18,439 chimed in with a chorus of boos once the ball bounded away from Flowers. Poor Tyler. He had made an honest effort on a ball few catchers would have corralled, yet all he got was the disapproval from fans who have expected so much more from this team thus far.

Were they booing Flowers, a .205 hitter, personally? Or was this simply frustration over a perceived defensive flub that characterizes most Sox games? Probably some of both.

The fans were in a much finer mood by the end of the night, a 4-2 Sox win over the Astros that featured another strong outing by rookie Carlos Rodon, who pitched six scoreless innings. In fact, once the White Sox knocked off the West Division-leading Astros 4-1 the next night to complete the three-game sweep, why wouldn't you feel a twinge of optimism as our athletes headed to Tampa Bay for three games over the weekend?

We should know better. Losing all three to the Rays by a total of four runs once again displayed the glaring flaws that happen daily with these guys.

Many are on defense where shortstop Alexei Ramirez blew Saturday's 5-4 decision with two misplays. Jose Abreu dropped a throw on Friday, leading to three runs in the bottom of the sixth. Flowers let two pitches elude him Friday night. He was charged with one passed ball, but neither pitch should have gone to the backstop. The lack of communication in the three games between Ramirez and second baseman Carlos Sanchez led to a couple of Rays reaching base on what should have been routine outs.

And it doesn't matter who's pitching for the other guys. Runners - if indeed there are any - are left in scoring position time after time. On Friday, rookie Matt Andriese, making his fourth start ever, picked up his first career win. On Saturday it was Chris Archer, a legitimate Cy Young candidate. The Sox nicked him for three runs in seven innings, but obviously it wasn't enough thanks to the porous defense.

Even though Chris Sale turned in another stellar performance on Sunday, pitching into the seventh inning on a yield of three hits and two runs while fanning 12, he still was tagged with his third loss. Nathan Karns gave up the lone Sox run in the 2-1 decision as Asdrubel Cabrera's unlikely two-run homer in the seventh off Sale was the difference. Karns had pitched in just five big league games coming into this season.

Pitchers of varying ability and experience must salivate when their turn comes up against the White Sox.

However, one area where the Sox have shown improvement is home attendance, which shows a 5 percent boost over a year ago. Not exactly a dazzling development since the average of 21,420 puts the South Siders 27th in MLB. The Marlins (20,512) and Rays (14,429) have drawn fewer fans. Why would anyone put a big league franchise in Florida?

Then there's Cleveland where the Indians sold out 455 straight games from June 1995 until April 2001. Winning six division titles in seven seasons will do that. Way back in their championship season of 1948, the Tribe drew 2.6 million. Not until the Dodgers moved into Dodger Stadium in 1962 did any club outdraw the Indians that season. In Cleveland - just like on the South Side - if you win, they will come.

Obviously the Indians have fallen from the heights of yesteryear. They are a mere one-half game better than our White Sox. Their fans appreciate quality. Going to the ballpark to watch a lousy team is not a popular idea in Cleveland. That's why the average attendance is 16,788 this season.

Because the Sox signed Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche while purportedly shoring up their bullpen, preseason ticket sales spiked a bit prior to Opening Day. According to Crain's, the Sox front office predicts that the team will draw approximately 1,770,000 this season. If so, the team will stop an eight-year streak of declining attendance.

However, the Sox won't have to pay a per ticket fee to the Illinois Sports Facility Authority (ISFA), the government agency created by the Illinois General Assembly in 1987. The ISFA was the brainchild of former governor Jim Thompson and Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf as a way to use taxpayer money to build The Cell. Without a new place to play, Reinsdorf had threatened to move the team to Tampa, where, as previously stated, no one comes to the ballpark despite a winning team that just spanked Reinsdorf's club.

To be fair, the White Sox do pay rent to the ISFA. The tab comes to approximately what Geovany Soto is making as Flowers' backup. Soto is hitting .214 while throwing out two of 14 would-be base stealers. I'm confident the Sox are much happier about their stadium deal.

Once Sox attendance reaches 1,950,000, the team must pay a per ticket fee to the ISFA. Thank heaven that won't happen. Maybe the retained cash can sign more players like LaRoche, who was 1-for-12 in Tampa with seven strikeouts.

This is far too cynical for Monday morning coffee, but just when you think our favorite ballclub has bottomed out - like getting swept in four games by Minnesota early last month - they lay another egg like the past weekend in Florida. On the heels of sweeping the Astros no less.

Now it's on to Pittsburgh for two games before returning to The Cell on Wednesday to face those same Pirates, who have won four straight. The Bucs play with energy and enthusiasm. If the Sox don't match that approach, you're going to hear a lot more boos.


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

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