White Sox hope they've found spark to slay mighty KC
CHICAGO -- Almost exactly 15 years ago, White Sox lefty Jim Parque plunked Dean Palmer with a pitch, and the Tigers third baseman headed toward the mound.
That night, an incident broke out at U.S. Cellular Field that just got uglier and uglier. Blood was shed in the infield, and when the White Sox looked back at the end of that season, an out-of-nowhere ride to the American League Central title, that fight -- one that yielded 16 suspensions totaling 82 games -- would be pointed to as a significant milestone.
"Bottom line is, we won the game and we killed them," Parque said at the time. "I hope they have enough guys so we can beat them again."
Within the White Sox clubhouse, there are players who hope the fight that Yordano Ventura and Adam Eaton triggered on Thursday night will provide a spark for a team that has gotten very tired of being beaten by the Royals.
"It can happen," manager Robin Ventura said before Friday night's game, which was suspended because of rain tied at 2 through eight innings. "It can happen with somebody. People are bringing up stories of their teams that had that happen. Just the unity of this team you like to see. You want to see some positive come out of it."
This might sound silly, but when you've lost 15 of your last 18 games to a team, along with every season series since 2011, you can't be blamed for grasping at straws. The White Sox need something that will change the way this river is flowing, although perhaps the most telling part of Thursday night's game was that the Royals would persevere to win 3-2 in 13 innings.
As is often the case for many opponents, Kansas City's speed and bullpen eventually proved to be too much for Chicago. Ned Yost, the Royals' manager, believes that his team's toughness had something to do with it too.
"This is a team that plays with a lot of emotion and a lot of energy," Yost said. "If you notice, the only team we haven't had problems with is Minnesota, and they've beaten us three times. We've only lost four games all year, and Minnesota's beat us three times. If you think doing things to get under our skin is going to work, it's not been so successful so far."
No, it certainly hasn't. The Royals have picked up in 2015 where they left off in '14, when they were separated from a World Series championship by 90 feet.
Counting the playoffs, they were 52-27 after July 22 last season. They have opened this season 12-4, joining the perennial Central champion Tigers as one of the two best teams in the AL.
That's the hill the White Sox seemingly must climb to turn this into the magical season that was envisioned when general manager Rick Hahn traded for Jeff Samardzija and signed free agents Melky Cabrera, David Robertson, Adam LaRoche and Zach Duke, among others.
Late in Spring Training, Cubs manager Joe Maddon talked about how his 2008 Rays used on-field skirmishes to get the attention of the Red Sox and Yankees. They would improve 31 wins in the regular season (from 66 to 97) and knock off Boston in a seven-game AL Championship Series before losing to the Phillies in the World Series that year.
"It was probably fighting with the Red Sox that got us over the top," Maddon said. "All this [confrontational] stuff is necessary sometimes. Nothing is going to be given to you. ... You got to take it, man. That's the whole thing. Leadership is not given; leadership is taken."
That said, the White Sox players know that they have to assert themselves with their baseball, not their willingness to throw down.
"We're not boxers, we're baseball players," Chris Sale said. "We're not here to set any tones or beat anybody up. It just happened. Tempers flared a little bit, got a little hot, but this isn't going to turn into Fight Club or anything like that. It's baseball. We got a little upset, tempers got a little high and then that's it. I think everyone's just making a little bit bigger deal than it really is."
Samardzija, who joins Sale and Kansas City's Ventura and Edinson Volquez on a list of starting pitchers awaiting discipline, echoes Sale.
"Listen, we're playing a big man's game here," said Samardzija, a Northeast Indiana native who grew up rooting for the White Sox. "I think a lot of things get blown out of proportion. ... Nobody wants to act that way. In a way it's embarrassing, and you want to come back and show [that] you want to be known for what you do on the field and the way you play the game. Obviously [you] look back on it and you're not happy about it, you're not proud about it, but I wear my emotions on my sleeve and I care for my teammates, and I want to win every game."
Samardzija won't be able to help his team win if he is suspended and has to miss a start, maybe two. He and Sale know that they may have done their team short-term damage with the actions that caused them to be among the five players ejected on Thursday.
Seldom has a team had both of its 1-2 starters suspended from the same incident. That's the outlook that the White Sox face as they also consider the bigger question of how to turn the table on the Royals.