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West Coast Woes

This was supposed to be fun.

The idea of blowing Saturday's 5-0 eighth-inning lead with Chris Sale headed for another masterpiece wasn't part of the new plan. The package wasn't advertised to include Jose Abreu swinging and missing pitches in the dirt as he struck out four times. After taking two of three at Dodger Stadium earlier in the week, certainly a split of the six games played in Los Angeles and Anaheim wasn't asking too much.

Apparently it was. Toss in Sunday's 4-2 limp effort, concluding the three-game sweep at the hands of the Angels, and one can't blame Sox fans for thinking, "Is that all there is?"

Three games doesn't make a season, so all the clichés - "You have to have a short memory" and "Play them one at a time" - now are required.

Before looking at the brighter side, Saturday's heart-breaker bears one more painful review. Sale was doing just that - sailing along. He didn't allow a hit until Josh Hamilton singled in the fifth inning, the first hit by a left-handed batter that Sale had given up all season. Lefties were 0-for-33 before Hamilton's hit.

After six innings, the Sox ace had fanned five and walked one in addition to Hamilton's single. He retired the first two hitters in the seventh before David Freese and Hamilton managed back-to-back singles. Sale responded by striking out C.J. Cron.

However, Erick Aybar doubled to open the fateful eighth, and he was driven home on Chris Iannetta's base hit. So that made four hits in the last five batters. The Sox lefty had thrown 98 pitches to that point. If Sale wasn't losing it - his fastball still was 95-plus - maybe the Angels were figuring him out. Maybe it was time for manager Robin Ventura to pat him on the back, say, "Great job," and summon a bullpen that has been quite solid recently.

Post-game, though, Ventura said, "You're not going to pull him out the way he's going there. You have to let him have his game."

Of course, we now know that an Alexei Ramirez error (he couldn't get the ball out of his glove) and another single loaded the bases for Mike Trout, whom Sale later called "the best in the league." And we are painfully aware that Sale dueled Trout for seven pitches before Trout drove Sale's offering far into the night over the left-center field wall to tie the game at 5.

That's when Ventura replaced Sale with Jake Petricka, still with no outs. Petricka retired the first two Angels he faced but then gave up a run on three straight singles. The Sox went down in order in the ninth, and the Angels earned an unlikely 6-5 victory.

On Sunday's telecast, Hawk Harrelson and Steve Stone supported Ventura's decision, and I haven't noticed any second-guessing of Ventura's reasoning, especially by folks like me who never have walked in Robin's shoes.

However, one of the attractions of the game is to think along with the manager and either applaud his moves or conclude that - to be kind - he was sorely mistaken.

A somewhat similar situation occurred Sunday in Tampa Bay where King Felix Hernandez of the Mariners was lifted by manager Lloyd McClendon after seven innings of a scoreless tie. The King had given up four hits to that point while walking one and striking out a career-high 15, including the last two hitters in the seventh with the lead run on third base. He had thrown exactly 100 pitches.

McClendon, who seems to be doing a decent job in Seattle this season after managing the Pirates for five years to a .430 winning percentage, said that the stress of stranding the runner on third took enough out of Hernandez for him to make a change.

The Mariners scored five in the ninth for a 5-0 win.

Two games. Two of baseball's elite pitchers. Two different approaches by the managers. Two different outcomes. Is this a great game or what?

Of course, the Sox had a much merrier time when visiting Dodger Stadium before the dismal trip to Orange County. Jose Quintana easily could have beaten Clayton Kershaw on Monday had his teammates not made a couple of errors, turning a 2-0 lead into a 5-2 loss. All of the Dodger runs were unearned.

However, the Sox rebounded for impressive 4-1 and 2-1 wins, meaning that Sox pitching yielded just two earned runs in 27 innings. Abreu came back from two weeks on the disabled list by stroking two homers and driving in five runs in the first two games.

At the invitation of my nephew Lester, I went out to see the two Sox wins in Los Angeles at baseball's third-oldest park. When the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958, they played four seasons at the Los Angeles Coliseum before moving into the state-of-the-art, 56,000-seat Dodger Stadium in 1962.

(In the 1959 World Series, the Sox and Dodgers drew crowds of more than 92,000 for all three games played at the Coliseum. The Dodgers helped celebrate 50 years in Los Angeles in 2008 by returning to the Coliseum for a pre-season exhibition with the Red Sox. Using all the seats, they drew 115,300.)

There is much to like about Dodger Stadium. It still goes by its original name. Even when the team suffered under the McCourt ownership, they didn't sell the name in a city where "marketing" is a way of life. Size does matter at Dodger Stadium with four decks - that's an "e" not an "i" - rising above the field in Chavez Ravine. Since the stadium doesn't sit on a hill but rather in a hill, upon entering you more or less discover the ballpark. Driving and walking to the entrances give no hint of what lies embedded in nature.

While not being of brick and mortar, Vin Scully is arguably the gem of the Dodger experience. His countenance appears on the video boards prior to the game as he provides background and current records and then says, "Don't worry about the numbers, just sit back and relax and enjoy the game." His commentary on the death of Don Zimmer last week was trademark Scully: simply outstanding.

Of course, Dodger Stadium has deficits - like no beer vendors. You need to visit the concession stand to purchase 24-ounce cans of a variety of brews, most of which cost $12. A Super Dodger Dog was especially disappointing. Skinny. No grilled onions. A Wonder bun. Woeful.

Super Dodger Dog.jpg

And, yes, beginning in the sixth inning, the Dodger (un)faithful start departing, purportedly to beat the traffic. Crowds announced at 44,477 and 45,540 on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, numbered maybe half that by the time the ninth inning rolled around.

"Where are they going?" I asked Lester. "Don't they know that Belisario is our closer? He played here. They should know better."

Maybe I should, too. Belisario retired all six batters he faced in two consecutive saves for John Danks and Hector Noesi, who hadn't recorded a victory in more than two years. Noesi is one of those guys the Sox nabbed off the junk heap earlier this season when the Rangers, who had purchased him from the Mariners, decided he couldn't pitch and put him on waivers.

General manager Rick Hahn hasn't had much success with guys like Felipe Paulino or Frank Francisco, broken-down, unwanted pitchers looking for one last chance to show they still have something left. But Noesi has averaged six innings in his last six starts with a 3.46 ERA. He was especially tough against the Dodgers with men on base, stranding eight runners over six innings.

Noesi will have to continue his effectiveness this evening when Detroit comes to The Cell for the first of four games. The resiliency of this season's White Sox has been praised time and time again. They score a lot of runs late. They're never out of a game. After a disheartening three losses in Anaheim, we'll see just how resilient the Sox are beginning tonight.

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

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