White Sox drop fourth straight
Politte serves up deciding homer in one-run loss
KANSAS CITY -- Moral victories basically are reserved for teams or players who aren't quite good enough to consistently expect success.
So, both the White Sox and reliever Cliff Politte took very little solace in the way the Royals' 4-3 victory ultimately played out Saturday afternoon before 18,031 at Kauffman Stadium. The South Siders did rally for two runs in the eighth inning off of Andrew Sisco, Kansas City's hard-throwing southpaw, briefly claiming a one-run lead.
And Politte did make two seemingly sound pitches in the bottom half of the inning, pitches that nine times out of 10 will result in the opposing hitter not reaching base. Saturday was that proverbial exception to the rule.
Politte jammed Mark Grudzielanek to open the eighth, only to have the Royals second baseman single to left-center. Politte (0-1) then battled Mike Sweeney, who has done more career damage against the White Sox than any other team in baseball, for six pitches before throwing a 2-2 slider low and away on pitch No. 7.
Sweeney went down and got that slider, launching it to left for his first home run in 2006 and 29th of his career against the White Sox (1-4). Ambiorix Burgos' scoreless ninth finished off the White Sox fourth straight loss. It also marked the Royals' fourth straight victory over the White Sox at Kauffman Stadium and sixth in seven games, dating back to 2005.
"I never feel comfortable with any lead here, and I always feel like we can come back with any deficit," said White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko of the White Sox strange fortunes in Kansas City.
"For some reason, we have either been left on that field a lot or lost a lot of games here late," Konerko added. "I can't explain it. But [Kansas City manager] Buddy Bell's teams definitely are going to play hard."
To put this slow start in a little bit of World Series perspective, the 2005 White Sox did not lose their fourth game until April 17 in Seattle. Ozzie Guillen's crew went on to win their next eight in a row for a 16-4 start.
Politte had one loss against seven victories in 2005, and the defeat came on Sept. 26 in Detroit.
Saturday's late-inning setback ended the first week of the White Sox title defense on a sour note. Guillen again pointed to his team sticking together and supporting each other, a message he delivered to his team Friday night, after the Royals (2-2) rallied from a six-run deficit and claimed an 11-7 victory.
In the long run, the only way to really judge a team is through wins and losses. That judgment gets put further under a magnifying glass when talking about a team which won the last World Series title, a team in position to win a second straight.
"It really comes with the territory of having the personnel to win," Konerko said. "The World Series is separate. I don't think it's something that should be dragged into this year. But what you can drag in is we have the players to win games. We have the right pieces to win. So if we don't win, it's going to be magnified, as well it should."
The White Sox didn't have much success against Kansas City starter Denny Bautista for the first six innings Saturday, as the young right-hander allowed just one hit and one run. But Javier Vazquez's dominance on the mound kept the White Sox in contention moving into the eighth inning.
Vazquez threw an efficient 98 pitches over seven innings in his White Sox debut, with 65 of those pitches going for strikes. He struck out seven and walked one, with only one sixth-inning blip on his pitching radar, when Reggie Sanders doubled home two runs for a 2-1 lead.
Brian Anderson broke loose from a 1-for-11 slump with a double to right-center to start the eighth-inning uprising. He moved to third with nobody out when Scott Podsednik served a soft single to left, snapping a 0-for-16 slump to start the 2006 season.
After Tadahito Iguchi popped out to shortstop Angel Berroa, Jim Thome launched a run-scoring double off the left-field wall to tie the game at 2. A.J. Pierzynski followed an intentional walk to Konerko, loading the bases, with an infield single, which first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz gloved but couldn't make a play, allowing Podsednik to score.
It was the sort of rally featured by the White Sox in 2005, when they won 61 times in games decided by one or two runs. The White Sox slipped to 0-2 in one-run games in 2006. But even with the first-week struggles, doubt has not crept into the mind of the man in charge.
"No, why? I'm fine. We've been here before," Guillen said. "This isn't the first [lousy] start I've had. I believe in the team I have, I believe my guys go out there and give me 100 percent every time they go out, regardless if they fail or succeed.
"That's all I can ask my players. Go out and play hard and we'll see what happens."
Of course, actual on-field victories wouldn't hurt the cause, either. Positive signs and uplifting moral efforts are not what the 2006 White Sox want to be about.
"We don't really care about moral victories. We want the actual victories, the wins," Konerko said. "It was good signs that there were games like Cleveland and today where we scraped back, that's all great and all. But the sun rises and sets with winning and losing.
"There is no other assessment besides the record. That's all that matters."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.