by Steve Bogira
A classic pitchers' duel was on the menu at U.S. Cellular Field last night. White Sox ace southpaw Chris Sale, winner of this year's All-Star Game, was facing the Detroit Tigers' Max Scherzer, who was seeking to become the first 20-game winner in the big leagues this season. No one else in baseball has more than 16 wins, and Scherzer's record was a ridiculous 19-2.
I could have gone to the game—the Sox will practically pay fans to attend these days. But the night was muggy. I would have watched it on cable if I had it. I might have streamed the audio to my computer and listened to the game on a Yamaha surround-sound system. Since I don't have that either, I took it in on my battered little Radio Shack transistor. Ed Farmer and Darrin Jackson sound more authentic that way, I think.
I even caught a little of their pregame show. DJ informed listeners that Sale was 2-1 against the Tigers this season, with an ERA of only 2.66. Farmer immediately added that Sale was 2-1 against the Tigers this season, with an ERA of 2.66. Stereo!
Sale is as good as Scherzer, but his record going into the game was only 10-12. That's because Scherzer has some actual hitters on his team, including baseball's very best slugger, Miguel Cabrera, whereas the Sox rely on the Big Breeze—Adam Dunn—and an aging Paul Konerko.
But the Tigers didn't have their main man for long last night.
When Miggy came to the plate in the first, Farmer said, "Here comes Miguel Cabrera, one of the best hitters I've ever seen." Then he added, "In my lifetime."
A Sale pitch sailed in on Cabrera. He started to swing and then tried to check, and the pitch hit him near the knee. Brian Gorman, the plate umpire, decided Cabrera had offered at the pitch. If you swing and miss, it's a strike, even if the pitch hits you. Cabrera complained to Gorman. A pitch later he was still complaining, perhaps with some Emanuelisms, and Gorman ejected him. Tigers manager Jim Leyland rushed to the plate to defend his slugger, and Gorman tossed him as well.
The ejection of Cabrera raised a key philosophical issue, which Farmer and DJ debated. Farmer said it was unfortunate, because a lot of fans had been hoping to see Cabrera play. DJ pointed out that Sale probably wasn't among the disappointed, and that in fact he appeared to be grinning on the mound. "He hit the best hitter in baseball—he drilled him!" DJ said enthusiastically. "And he didn't get to go to first base—it was a freebie."
"For me and the fans, [Cabrera] is one of those guys you wanna see bat," Farmer responded.
"You're very generous wanting him to stick around," DJ said. "Get him outta here! If Chris Sale gets the chance to win a game because he's not in the lineup, thank goodness."
Cabrera was hitting .353, with 43 homers and 133 RBI. He was replaced by Ramon Santiago, who was hitting .229, with one homer and 13 RBI.
Santiago completed Cabrera's at bat by grounding to short to end the inning. The Sox solved Scherzer for two runs in the bottom of the first on a Konerko single, and added three in the fourth, while Sale tamed the defanged Tigers.
In the sixth, with the Sox still up 5-0, Santiago waved at a Sale pitch that broke in on him and nailed him in the thigh. The ball bounded away from catcher Josh Phegley and Santiago sprinted for first, because it was strike three. He got there before the throw, but he was out anyway, because, as DJ explained, when a pitch hits the batter, the ball's dead, even if the batter swung at it and missed.
Crazy! One player swings and misses at a pitch that hits him, and later in the game his replacement does the same thing. I can't recall anything like that ever happening in baseball. In my lifetime. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't heard it with my own ears.
In the seventh, Victor Martinez spoiled the shutout with a homer. DJ said the long drive landed near a shirtless man in the bleachers. "You go shirtless sometimes, don't you, Ed?" he asked.
"When I shower," Farmer said.
In the eighth, with the game having dulled, Farmer teased DJ about his pitching abilities. It's a shtick that was funny when Farmer, a former pitcher, started doing it a few centuries ago. DJ was an outfielder, but he pitched two innings for the Padres in 1991, walking two and giving up two runs on three hits. "What's the fastest you threw?" Farmer asked DJ last night. "Did they have a radar gun on you, or was it a squirt gun?"
The Sox won, 5-1. Santiago was 0 for 4 with two whiffs. Dunn was 0 for 4 with three whiffs. Sale went eight innings, fanning eight, and is now 11-12, while Scherzer has slipped to 19-3.
''I was kind of like 'thank you,' the best hitter to ever walk the planet leaving after the first,'' Sale said after the game.