CHICAGO | September has once again sung a sad song for the White Sox, who at least departed their final home game Sunday still mathematically alive in the American League Central race.
No wonder the fans haven’t swarmed the U.S. Cellular Field box offices, this time falling under 2 million attendance for the first time since 2004. Almost every season since the increasingly-distant World Series triumph of 2005, the Sox have faded in the final month or more after some promising high points from mid-summer on.
After their 6-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays that reduced the tragic number for elimination to one – falling three behind the Detroit Tigers with three to go -- the Sox have lost 10 of their last 12. But that was part of a bigger, more insidious slump in which the Sox steadily coughed up a prime chance to win the AL Central.
Since the season high point of 71-55 following a rain-shortened victory over the Seattle Mariners on Aug. 26, the Sox have gone 12-21, no pace to win a division even with the Tigers often stumbling in pursuit. The annual season fades after the high points have surely deterred fans, who have witnessed just a single one-and-done postseason appearance since 2005.
From 2006 forward, here are the Sox’s season high-water marks and final records: 2006, 57-31, July 9 (90-72); 2007, 24-20, May 25 (72-90); 2008, 76-56, Aug. 26 (89-74); 2009, 50-45, July 23 (79-83); 2010, 77-60, Sept. 6 (88-74); 2011, 68-65, Aug. 30 (79-83).
This year, the clutch-hitting and starting-pitching meltdowns of recent weeks were preceded by widening craters in the middle of the lineup. No. 3 hitter Adam Dunn has driven in just 23 runs since July 24. Sox captain Paul Konerko has just 39 RBIs from the cleanup spot since May 27, when he peaked at .399 with 33 RBIs.
But the tenor of 2012 Sox is different, and improved, than the increasing chaotic final years of the Ozzie Guillen regime.
“The good thing about this team is there’s no second-guessing our approach or how we’ve prepared for games,” Konerko said. “I’ve been on teams where you go down the stretch and you see some things go in different directions. And then you don’t play well and you wonder if you went after it like you did in June and July, would the results have been different?
“The good news about this team is that doesn’t exist. Whatever our record is right now, whatever happened out there today, whatever happened four days ago ... I can tell you honestly that we’ve put the same, exact approach and preparation into our play.”
As the Sox got just five hits and two runs in Rays’ ace David Price’s 19th victory, many of the fans sensed an end of another era may have been at hand. They gave catcher A.J. Pierzynski, a free agent-to-be, a good ovation before he struck out in the ninth.
“Its’ definitely a real possibility that this would be my last game in a White Sox uniform here,” Pierzynski said. “It’s one of those things everyone goes through. We’ll see what happens in the offseason.”
That’s still off in the distance for manager Robin Ventura, who repeated his mantra about showing up for the next game and nothing else.
“You continue to play, continue to do it … regardless,” he said.