The Chicago way

The critical play in Monday night's Mariner win, from future manager Luke Raley

Whenever my Mariners season ticket group gets together for the preseason ticket draft, I scan the schedule for a home series against the Chicago White Sox to make sure I get at least one of those dates. This is because my friend Dave is a Chicago transplant and a Sox fan and it's become a sort of tradition for us to take in an M's/Sox game every year. Well, the White Sox are in town this week for a series against the host Seattle Mariners and I had my tickets, so off Dave and I went to the ballpark by Elliott Bay on this fine, almost-summery Monday evening.

For those that are not baseball followers, the White Sox this year are historically bad. They recently snapped a 14-game losing streak and figure to challenge the Major League record for most losses in a season, a dubious honor now held by the expansion 1962 New York Mets, who tallied 120 defeats against 40 wins (and two rainouts). Dave, of course, knows this, but even a lifelong fan like Dave has been hard-pressed to follow the hapless flailing of this year's Sox. When I mentioned that I hadn't heard of more than two or three guys in the White Sox' lineup, he could only recognize one or two others.

Yet, he was aware of the various ways the White Sox had lost games both last year and this year—including one by balking in the winning run in the 9th inning, one on a bogus interference call on an otherwise routine infield popup, another after their first-base coach went missing during a rain delay—and how they had lost many games that they had at one point been winning (24 so far this season). So despite the fact that Chicago had managed to get into the late innings with a 4-0 lead, he knew not to count any metaphorical chickens. "Whenever I see the Sox here," Dave said (paraphrasing), "the Mariners end up staging a late comeback."

The view from Section 327,  Josh Rojas at the plate

Sure enough, the Mariners, who had been utterly stymied by Chicago starting pitcher Erick Fedde (whom neither of us was familiar with), went to town on the Sox bullpen. Dominic Canzone, about whom I had earlier in the game said was going to have to pick things up if he didn't want to be optioned to Triple-A, led off the home 8th with a first-pitch laser-beam homer for the first Seattle run. That was the end of Fedde's night. Reliever Michael Kopech took over and promptly loaded the bases, but in tried and true Mariner fashion, the next two batters failed to score the easy RBI from 3rd by striking out. (The second of those batters, Cal Raleigh, objected strenuously to the strike three call—manager Scott Servais ran out of the dugout to keep Raleigh from doing anything to get ejected and was instead ejected himself—but it was a good pitch on the black according to MLB Gamecast.)

Chicago White Sox fan, 2024 edition

I thought the Sox were going to get out of it. Dave knew better.

Mitch Haniger followed Raleigh's K with a single to plate two, and then Luke Raley came up and delivered the best part of the entire game: a two-out, expertly-placed bunt single to score Josh Rojas from third and tie the score. Just brilliant. It was the third time this year I'd seen Raley bunt for a hit, and each time it was not a play dictated by the bench but a sharp exploitation of the opposing defense; I continue to be impressed by his skill at a facet of the game that has largely been forgotten in the 21st century. It was a thrilling dose of "Harr-ball" in a homer-happy world. (If Luke Raley decides to become a manager after his playing days, I bet he'd be quite good.)

It remained tied at four into the 9th, when the M's decided to once again "panic with Stanek"; the Seattle reliever did his typical tightrope walk, going deep into counts with some not-remotely-close-to-the-zone pitches and serving up a couple of hits, but managed to strike out the side and take the tie into the home 9th.

This was when Dave made a prediction. Based on the way the season has gone for the White Sox thus far, Dave predicted that the game would end when the Mariners load the bases, the batter works the count to 3-and-something, and the Sox pitcher is called for a pitchclock violation. Not just a walkoff walk, but a walkoff three-ball walk. It would be only fitting for the 2024 Chicago White Sox.

Rookie Ryan Bliss led off the Seattle 9th with a groundout. Then J.P. Crawford drew a walk. Then Josh Rojas walked. Then Julio Rodríguez singled to short left. The bases were loaded. Then Cal Raleigh came up and took ball one. Hm. Then Raleigh took ball two. I glanced over at Dave and called him Nostradamus. Which, of course, jinxed Dave's prediction as Raleigh crushed the next pitch deep into the night for a game-winning grand slam home run.

"Sorry we didn't get your walkoff pitchclock violation," I said. "But a walkoff slam is also appropriate, right?"

"I guess," came the reply. But it was wistful. I get it. Walkoff grand slams are unusual and exciting—and fun for the home crowd!—but they don't reek of bizarre. And the ’24 Sox need to stumble into as many bizarre ways to lose as possible on their way to 121+.

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