Vazquez unable to stop bleeding
Four-run third inning sends Sox to ninth loss in 11 games
CHICAGO -- During the White Sox 10-week offensive plunge to begin the 2007 season, Ozzie Guillen has tried everything in his power to shake his team loose from its doldrums at the plate.
He's altered the batting order, changed it again, and then for good measure, adjusted it one more time during the 44 various lineups he has employed. The White Sox manager has tried to ride the hot hand with veterans and youngsters alike, that is, when a hot hand appears for a team now hitting a Major League-low.233.
But after Wednesday's 5-1 loss to the Yankees, during which the White Sox produced a mere five hits against Chien-Ming Wang (5-4), Guillen reiterated the only real option is to continue putting these proven hitters out on the field and hope something clicks and clicks soon.
Guillen also understands how his team could look listless, as it did during Wang's third career complete game, when nothing really takes place on the basepaths.
"Every inning I see people go by me. They touch first base and come back," said Guillen after watching the White Sox lose for the ninth time in 11 games. "You cannot [play with] any emotion when there is nobody on base.
"When your on-base percentage is low and you don't get on base the way you should, it feels like nine dead people walking. It's really not easy when you are not hitting."
The challenge becomes even tougher for the pitchers, who know only a small room for error really exists. On Wednesday, it was Javier Vazquez's turn to walk the tightrope on the mound.
For five of his six innings, Vazquez (3-4) pitched aggressively and emerged absolutely unscathed. He fanned seven amongst Joe Torre's potent lineup, including the first four outs of the game. But a four-run third, in which the first six batters reached base safely, inflicted enough damage to drop the White Sox to 26-29, three games under .500 for the first time since April 8, 2006 (1-4).
That third inning could have been worse if not for Alex Rodriguez (two hits, two RBIs) getting thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double and Jorge Posada being nailed at second by Jerry Owens trying to tag up on Hideki Matsui's sacrifice fly. The Yankees (26-31) were thrown out four times on the basepaths, but those mistakes weren't enough to offset the White Sox offensive shortcomings.
Vazquez put the blame on himself, pointing out how he can't give up big innings and expect to upend a team such as the Yankees. He also supported the offense, even if it's abundantly clear how tough the struggles have made life for the starters.
"It's tough, no doubt about it," said Vazquez, who allowed four runs on seven hits, while throwing 114 pitches. "Those guys have hit all their life. Hopefully, they will start hitting soon. They are great hitters and hopefully the pitching staff can do their job until guys start hitting better."
"Our starting pitching has been really solid," added designated hitter Jim Thome, who had one of the team's five singles Wednesday. "They've kept us in a lot of games. I know our offense hasn't picked them up yet. The bottom line is to win games and we haven't done it. We need to focus in and continue to work hard and try to improve this thing."
Trailing by a 4-1 margin in the sixth, Owens reached with one out on an infield single and promptly picked up his third stolen base since last Friday. Tadahito Iguchi followed with a single to center, extending his hit streak to eight games, but Melky Cabrera fired a strike home to Posada to shoot down Owens at the plate.
Even when the offense came through, it was unable to produce.
"You can't pinpoint what's happening. It's just not happening," Thome said. "You try to work hard and come to the ballpark every day and put your work in. If we didn't have a good team, this would be OK. But we do. It's not very fun."
So, what changes does Guillen have left to make? He talked about getting a day off for Juan Uribe (.219 average), who drove in the White Sox only run with a third-inning groundout to shortstop Derek Jeter, or a day off for Iguchi and possibly using Andy Gonzalez as a spot starter. Of course, Iguchi's .341 average over his past 11 games makes him hard to bench.
Postgame talk also centered on possibly getting Jermaine Dye and his .224 average a break in Thursday night's series finale against the Yankees. With Dye holding a .400 career average over 50 at-bats against Mike Mussina, that break might not come until the weekend Houston series.
Some of the problems on offense can be tied to the rash of White Sox injuries, with third baseman Joe Crede becoming the latest regular contributor to be sidelined for a while. But injuries have never been an excuse during Guillen's four-year managerial regime, and he doesn't intend to change that policy now.
Wednesday's loss was as much about Wang as the White Sox dearth of offense. The combination makes it tough for Guillen's crew to put together any sustained run.
"This kid threw the ball unbelievable," said Guillen of Wang, who is 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA against the White Sox in 2007. "This kid, every time we face him [he's tough], he won 19 games last year and that's not because he's lucky.
"To top it off, we didn't swing the bat good the last couple of days. But I've been watching a few games like that this year. It's like another ballgame."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.