CHICAGO -- Some of the most ardent White Sox fans consider their 1-0 victory over the Twins on Sept. 30, 2008, at the ballpark then known as U.S. Cellular Field as the most exciting single game in franchise history.
And that contest, known as the Blackout Game thanks to the White Sox fans who donned all black at the game, wasn't even playoff baseball by the letter of the law. The Twins and White Sox finished the regular season tied atop the American League Central, at 88-74, with a winner-take-all outcome on the line.
"There were so many great things to me about that game," said Jim Thome, currently a special assistant to White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, but the Hall of Famer was Chicago's designated hitter who delivered the game-winning home run in the Blackout Game.
"Definitely as far as my career and my playing days from my whole life, that's certainly not even a question the biggest and coolest game I ever pitched in in terms of atmosphere, what was on the line and just the way it went," said John Danks, the White Sox starting and winning pitcher on the evening in question.
"It was one of those games where pitchers on both sides just dominated the whole ballgame," said Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire, who was the Twins' manager in 2008. "It was a playoff atmosphere, it was so tense."
"I don't think I saw the people that excited at the World Series. It was a very unique game," said Ozzie Guillen, the White Sox manager in 2008. "Maybe one of the few games that I get excited when we win. We win a lot of games. We lose a lot of games, but I never get excited for one game and I did it that day."
"Well it's certainly in the top five or 10," White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said. "It was a fun game."
Here's a look at that contest, as told by some of the people involved.
On Sept. 23, the White Sox entered the Metrodome with a 2 1/2-game lead over the Twins. Three gut-wrenching losses later, the Twins held a half-game lead.
That White Sox season-finishing losing streak would reach five in total, although the Twins' division lead never grew. Chicago needed to beat Cleveland on Sunday in the regular-season finale and Detroit on a rainy Monday in Chicago as the makeup of a previous postponement to even force the extra game.
Hahn, the current White Sox general manager who was assistant general manager at the time: We knew initially we dug ourselves a little bit of a hole, and we were without [AL MVP Award candidate Carlos] Quentin at that time. We were going to have to fight through adversity, and the coaches and [manager] Ozzie [Guillen] did a great job of keeping [the team] focused on just [winning] tonight. It doesn't matter if we have to win three if we can't win tonight.
A coin flip decided who would host the respective tiebreaker games. Hahn called heads, attributing the decision to his eldest son, Jake, who was 5 at the time, and the deciding AL Central game went to Chicago on that Tuesday. The White Sox had an 8-2 record at home against the Twins in 2008, but they were 1-8 at the Metrodome. Head-to-head record would decide home-field advantage in future tiebreakers as a result of this contest.
Twins starting and losing pitcher Nick Blackburn: They changed the rule after that year. That's when it really set in that it was kind of a crappy deal on our end. Obviously if we were in the Metrodome, it changes things.
Hahn: It was a huge split, so who knows what happens in one game at their place. It's hard to predict the result of any single game.
Jake Hahn threw out a ceremonial first pitch before the ensuing first home playoff game against Tampa Bay in honor of the coin flip success.
Hahn: Jake changed baseball [laughs]. There's a picture of him throwing out the first pitch from the Tampa Bay series up in his bedroom, a picture of him and [Mark] Buehrle up in his bedroom from that day. He denies some of his quotes at the time now that he's 15 and probably too cool for some of the things he said as a 5-year-old. His claim at the time was, "When you flip a coin, it usually comes up heads, so let's pick heads."
There was very little time to spread the word of the blackout from the last pitch of the victory over Detroit on Monday to Danks' first pitch on Tuesday. But the White Sox made the time limit work in their favor.
Brooks Boyer, senior vice president, sale and marketing, who came up with the blackout idea: We had this release ready to go about it being a blackout, and as soon as the game [against the Tigers] ended, we released it. Just one release, calling for a blackout, and it just went nuts. It was on every radio, TV broadcast. It was on everything.
Reinsdorf: It was surreal. All that black, it was incredible. I've never seen anything quite like it at a sporting event. And there was no preparation time. This wasn't a matter of telling everyone, "Six games from now, we have a blackout game." This all came together overnight. I was proud of Brooks for coming up with the idea and getting it implemented.
The 40,354 fans each received a black towel to go with their black attire, although the short turnaround prevented those towels from featuring the White Sox logo. Nonetheless, the crowd was intimidating and something to see.
Thome: I have a picture of that home run from the side [angle] in my weight room, and I have got to tell you, still to this day, I look at it and the crowd in all black with those towels, it was the coolest moment. I remember going out stretching, warming up, and it was like, it brought chills. It honestly brought chills up and down thinking our fans did this.
White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski: When I walked out from the bullpen I was like, "Oh, man, this is really cool." It was such a different atmosphere than what you are used to. Granted, it was a one-game [tiebreaker]. But just when you walked out and saw everybody in black in the whole stadium, it kind of took your breath away for a second. It was definitely intimidating.
Danks: What I remember is every pitch, every strike, there was a reaction. Every out, there was a reaction like it's the biggest play of the game. There were some big plays in that game, but even just the average groundout or the flyout would get a pretty good reaction.
Danks vs. Blackburn
Danks threw eight scoreless innings, striking out four, walking three and yielding two hits in what was the best outing of his career. He was forced into action on three days' rest because of the frenetic nature of the White Sox season close.
Danks: I was the only guy that was basically capable of pitching, I guess. But it's funny, maybe a little more than a week before, we went to Minnesota, and we got swept, I believe. I got skipped in that series because my numbers against the Twins were so atrocious. It's funny how it fell back on me, however, long later. I definitely didn't think it was going to be a 1-0 game, that's for sure.
Reinsdorf: Absolutely the best game he ever pitched.
Hahn: I'm guessing there might be an outing along the way with a higher game score, but that was the biggest outing in my mind. When I think of John Danks' highlights with the White Sox, it's at the top of the list.
White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams, who was general manager at the time: John had a lot of good games. Unfortunately, we didn't have a lot of big games during the time he was here, but when he was called upon, he stepped up and stepped up in grand fashion.
Blackburn had defeated the White Sox on Sept. 24 during the Twins' home sweep, leading Guillen to comment that the White Sox lost because they didn't get the clutch hit and not because anything special done by Blackburn. After Blackburn allowed one long Thome home run over 6 1/3 innings, Guillen was effusive in his praise for the right-hander.
It was year No. 2 for Danks in the White Sox rotation and the first year as a starter for Blackburn. Both acquitted themselves like seasoned veterans.
Blackburn: That's the thing: If I'm going to give up the home run, there's not too many better than Jim Thome to give it up to. But it was just a fun environment to be involved in. I wish it would have turned out the other way for us. It was a great experience and something I always will look back on and kind of enjoy even though it was a loss.
Danks: What a cool night it was. It's something when I think about I still get goosebumps. I guess you could say the highlight of my career.
Play at the plate
Michael Cuddyer gave the Twins a chance to break the scoreless tie in the fifth with a leadoff double. He moved to third on Delmon Young's flyout, which brought Brendan Harris to the plate.
Harris connected on a fly ball to center field, grabbed by future Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr., a Trade Deadline acquisition by Williams. Griffey fired a strike home to nail Cuddyer, with Pierzynski's grab completing the double play.
Reinsdorf: Game-saving throw by Griffey Jr. I still don't know how A.J. held on to the ball.
Williams: Typically, at that stage when you are trying to add veterans to the club here and there, you do so because they can add to the clubhouse, and they can give you a little lift here and there on the field and because they have been there and done that. That [Griffey] throw was indicative of that.
Danks: I threw a changeup that I didn't get down and away nearly enough. Grif camped under it, made a one-hop throw, maybe even a little short two-hop throw, but what I really remember about that is the play A.J. made.
Guillen: It's funny because one of the biggest home run hitters in the game hit a home run and one of the best center fielders in the game threw the guy out. Everything clicked for us that day. That was the coolest part.
The throw left Pierzynski's left arm and the left side of his body exposed to Cuddyer. But he held on to keep the game scoreless.
Danks: There [were] still no rules at the plate. It was fair game on a catcher, and he picked the ball on a short hop and had a big old guy in Michael Cuddyer bearing down on him and was able to hang on to it. A.J. was wide open and ready to get lit up. That's pretty much the only way to describe it. Somehow, he held on. A.J.'s a gamer. That's how I would always describe A.J. Definitely the guy you want on a play at the plate.
Pierzynski: Nowadays I don't know what would have happened. He would have had to go around me and probably would have been safe actually. It was a weird play. Griffey threw like a 12-hopper -- I was like, "Hurry up and get to me," because I knew Cuddy was going to come get me. It was clean, and he did nothing wrong. And then obviously the play at the plate, and just the excitement. It was a huge momentum swing and a huge boost for us.
Prior to Thome's seventh-inning at-bat against Blackburn, the Hall of Famer was 0-for-2 with a strikeout.
Thome: He had been throwing me slider/cutter inside all day. And as that game unfolded, I said to myself, "I've got to sit changeup. And if I get a changeup out over the plate, I can do damage on it."
Blackburn: My thought process is, "He's looking in at this point, and if I leave one over the plate, he's going to hit one 600 feet to right." I hung a changeup, and he hit it about 520 to center. If I execute the pitch, I'm confident I get the out right there.
Danks: We knew right away he hit a homer. None bigger in my career than the one Jimmy hit.
Thome's home run, coming on a 2-2 changeup, was his 34th of the regular season. There's a plaque in center at Guaranteed Rate Field commemorating the memorable blast. When Blackburn and Thome became teammates on the Twins in 2010, they had a chance to discuss the game-changing pitch and became good friends.
Thome: What most pitchers think about hitters is, "I don't want to miss in." But in that case, for me, missing in was probably better for him because of the way his ball was moving. As that game unfolded, he threw me a couple of changeups I think I took because he had me so tied up inside.
I remember, not that I was looking changeup, 2-2, but I remember saying to myself, the way the changeup came out of his hand was much different than when he was throwing me slider/cutters inside. I thought, "Man, if I could get another changeup, I'm going to be aggressive to it."
Blackburn: The game plan can only carry you so far if you don't execute. That was the biggest part of it. I didn't execute on a changeup and, he certainly made me pay for it.
Gardenhire: They just had one more big swing, and that was Thome. That's why we picked him up [in 2010], so he couldn't do it to us again.
Celebration and aftermath
The final three outs were recorded by closer Bobby Jenks, picking up his 30th save in support of Danks' 12th victory. Center fielder and defensive replacement Brian Anderson made a diving catch on Alexi Casilla's line drive to center to make the White Sox AL Central champs.
Hahn: That was a fun celebration afterwards. In '05, we didn't [win] any [decisive games] at home. So that was a pretty special feeling. That wasn't too long after '05 so we still were able to appreciate the fact we are doing this at home in front of our fans.
Danks: We hung out at the ballpark for quite a while. It was a fun time for sure. It was a fun celebration. It was fun to be going into the playoffs. Relief is not the right word, because at that point we were feeling like the work is just getting started. Definitely it was a sense of: first goal is accomplished and now we move on to the next one.
There was no next one for the White Sox, who lost in four games to the Rays in the Division Series. They were without Quentin and didn't have their pitching set but still will have that one shining Blackout moment to remember.
Gardenhire: Frustrating for us, but they were a great team. We battled them all summer long, and it came down to one game. You know what, we did everything we could do.
Williams: Unfortunately, that game cost us with regards to being able to set our rotation the way we wanted to heading down to Tampa Bay. So looking back, I would have rather not played it and see what we could have done in the playoffs.
Pierzynski: I remember we were out on the field forever, it seemed like, which was awesome. I really liked that aspect of it, how long we were on the field and how much the fans seemed like they were a part of the celebration. It just seemed like they were a huge part because of the whole blackout thing and just the way that whole game went.
That team was like, "Oh, man, we made it. I don't know how the heck we did it, but we pulled it off. We pulled off some sort of a miracle."
Guillen: Win or lose that game, I know the fans appreciated our effort, the players' effort. Then the players went out and did a great thing. That's the greatest thing, to finish up that day and that season like that. It was outstanding.
Thome: To look back and have people still approach me to this day and say, "Oh my god, one of my favorite games is the White Sox with the Blackout Game. You hit the home run, Griffey throwing out Cuddyer, Danks' pitching performance." To me, there were so many guys that played integral parts of that game. Then obviously to get us into the playoffs was even more special.
Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.