Renewed spirit evidenced in loss
Thome homers twice; Buehrle exits after 1 2/3 innings
CLEVELAND -- Look beyond Cleveland's 10-8 victory Monday before 41,872 frenzied fans at Progressive Field for the true meaning of the 2008 season opener to the visiting White Sox.
At least, that's the message Ozzie Guillen's crew was sharing in the upbeat losing clubhouse, following a 3-hour, 21-minute contest featuring the twists and turns of a playoff game. The result wasn't what the White Sox wanted, but the process to get to the end certainly stood out as exactly what this revamped team desired.
"We had that fight today," said White Sox left fielder and leadoff man Nick Swisher, who had two hits and scored two runs during his Chicago debut. "We came back, what, two or three times? And that's a great sign to have early."
"There were a lot of positives that came out of that game today," added White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who chipped in two of the team's 13 hits. "We battled to get that game tied and have a chance against the Cy Young Award winner."
The White Sox actually trailed by a 7-2 margin after two innings, due primarily to an Opening Day start Mark Buehrle would like to forget. The southpaw allowed seven runs on seven hits over 1 2/3 innings, marking his shortest start since lasting 1 1/3 innings on April 5, 2007.
A Ryan Garko line drive to the wrist knocked him out of that particular game. Seven Cleveland smashes on Monday meant a stunningly early exit for Buehrle, who might have been a little too amped for his sixth season-starting trip to the mound in seven years.
"I was joking around with him that he was throwing too hard," said Pierzynski of Buehrle. "I was looking at the gun and it was 89 and 90 [mph]. For him, it takes away movement."
"Most of his pitches were up," Guillen added. "When Mark gets the ball up and doesn't stay down in the zone, he's going to get in trouble because Mark is the type of pitcher that's always going to get hit."
Thome's second two-run blast off of C.C. Sabathia cut the lead to three in the third, coming after Thome had 11 career hitless at-bats entering Monday against the big left-hander, including seven strikeouts. The White Sox battled all the way back in the seventh to tie the game on Paul Konerko's two-run double to right off of Rafael Perez. Orlando Cabrera ran through third-base coach Jeff Cox's stop sign at third to score the game-tying run.
This impressive rally actually looked as if it would produce a victory when the White Sox loaded the bases with nobody out in the eighth against Rafael Betancourt, behind doubles from Joe Crede and Juan Uribe and an intentional walk issued to Swisher. Crede couldn't score on Uribe's double because he had to wait to see if left fielder Jason Michaels could make the catch of the hard-hit drive in the gap.
Crede's momentary hitch cost the White Sox a run, as the team fell victim to a pair of strange calls that ended its eighth scoreless. Crede was tagged out at the plate by catcher Kelly Shoppach, on a play where Crede said Shoppach missed the tag. Thome then ended the inning when his slow-roller to second was ruled a double play by second-base umpire Bruce Dreckman because Cabrera appeared to interfere with Peralta's relay by grabbing his leg.
To the White Sox credit, the umpires did not become the story in this opening loss.
"He grabbed it," said Guillen of the Cabrera interference call. "Some of those things can go either way, but I think he made the right call."
"Those couple of instances go our way, and it's a totally different game," Swisher added. "But you win some and you lose some."
"He is a fastball hitter and I wanted to throw my fastball away," Dotel said. "If I did, I thought I would have a chance to get him out. This time it was right in the middle. He wins this time."
"It's one of those situations where you almost find a way to get out of it and it breaks your heart a little bit," Pierzynski added. "But that's the way this game is."
For five innings, Thome's two two-run home runs were the primary White Sox highlights. He now has 41 career multi-home run games and became the first White Sox hitter to drive out two long balls on Opening Day since Sammy Sosa did so in 1991 at Baltimore.
Thome typically played down his personal heroics, which included two other hard-hit outs in his five at-bats, focusing more on the team's second straight Opening Day loss to Cleveland. But this setback was different than last year's 12-5 annihilation.
Sabathia got touched up for five runs on six hits before exiting after 5 1/3 innings. The White Sox didn't end up winning but the team made a small statement it hopes lasts for the season's long haul.
"Last year, as soon as that first or second inning hits, it would have been, 'Oh, we lost. Let's pack it in,'" Buehrle said. "This time, we battled back."
"From a fan's point of view, what a great game," Thome added. "Unfortunately, we didn't get it done. But coming back like that showed a lot of character and heart."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.