Column: Chicago White Sox fans pick up in the home opener where they left off in October – The Denver Post
Never mind the Chicago White Sox trying to live up to the hype this year.
It’s the same story as 2021 with most of the same cast of characters that breezed through the regular season until hitting a roadblock in the playoffs.
The real question is whether Sox fans can live up to the high standards they created last October during Game 3 of the American League Division Series, one of the most raucous nights in the history of South Side baseball.
The ”blackout” game against the Houston Astros showed how crazy it can get at Sox Park when all the stars are aligned. The 40,288 black-clad fans that night were into every pitch from start to finish, and a 4-hour, 27-minute game never seemed to drag.
Of course it’s easy to create that kind of atmosphere in the playoffs and much more difficult to replicate for 81 regular-season games.
Could Sox fans pick up where they left off?
The crowd of 36,948 at Tuesday’s home opener against the Seattle Mariners was relatively staid early on, like it was feeling the team out in the first round of a 10-round fight. Maybe it was the traffic gridlock around the park before the game as confused drivers tried to find the correct parking lot, or maybe it was the long lines for the bathrooms and popular concessions.
Opening day is seldom as perfect as you remember because no one is into their routine, from the traffic cops to the vendors.
But the energy picked up as the afternoon wore on. Luis Robert’s running catch of a Jesse Winker shot in the third started it off, Robert’s go-ahead homer in the sixth got the crowd cooking, Aaron Bummer’s strikeout of Winker with two on in the seventh super-charged the ballpark and the buzz reached a crescendo in the eighth when Kendall Graveman caught Jared Kelenic looking at a third strike with the tying run on second.
And when closer Liam Hendriks escaped another scary ninth by striking out Mitch Haniger to preserve a 3-2 win, most Sox fans remained stirred, albeit a little shaken.
Bummer said the players fed off the “constant buzz” on a Tuesday afternoon.
“We were talking in the bullpen: Our stadium is different when it’s full,” Bummer said. “It’s buzzing and these guys are locked into every pitch. It’s an awesome environment to play in front of, and honestly it’s a blessing because there are a lot of other stadiums that don’t have that buzz going.
“As long as we keep winning games and they keep showing up, this is going to be a lot of fun.”
It makes sense that some fans already feel shellshocked after a slew of Sox injuries, from Yoán Moncada and Lance Lynn to Lucas Giolito and AJ Pollock.
The Sox, like everyone else, are hoping to get off to a great start. But perhaps they’ll have to temper expectations with Giolito out for at least two starts and Lynn for possibly two months.
“Not yet,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “Look, man, we have very high aspirations for this club. We have very high hopes and goals in terms of what we want to accomplish. From a shorter-term view, that means winning the division.
“Putting it even shorter, that means winning series to put ourselves in the best position to win the division. Right now, given everything we’re dealing with injury-wise, I view these first six to eight weeks as a bit of a ramp-up period.
“Not quite sure what tomorrow holds from a health standpoint. But I look forward to, ideally, that situation stabilizing, getting some guys back and in the meantime, fighting through and grinding through each day. Yes, we have lofty, long-term goals. Right now, it’s a matter of let’s get through the next few weeks.”
The next month should be a good indicator of how ready the Sox are to prove they’re championship material. After the opening homestand against two probable contenders in the Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays, they have 10 straight division games against the Cleveland Guardians, Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals. Before the end of May, they’ll have played a pair of two-game series against the crosstown Cubs and home-and-road series against the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.
We should know by June what this team is made of. Until then, nothing can be taken for granted, in spite of all the preseason predictions of the Sox running away with the division.
Bummer said there’s no added pressure on the bullpen to make up for the losses of Lynn and Giolito.
“We’ve just got to go out there and do our thing,” he said. “It’s unfortunate with the injuries we’ve had, but it’s exciting to watch the young guys go out there and do their stuff.”
The Sox need Hendriks to get back to the form he showed in 2021. He blew a save in the opener in Detroit and allowed a run Tuesday in a 25-pitch ninth inning that resulted in his first save.
“The first one is always the hardest,” he said. “Last year the first one was five outs and I gave up a two-run shot to (Shohei) Ohtani. At least I only gave up one run (Tuesday).
“It’s one of those things. Once you get into that groove … it’s a lot more noticeable when you do it at the start of the year. … It’s a long season. This is Game 4 of 162.”
And Sox fans have 80 more home games in the regular season to try to keep a constant buzz going.
Pace yourselves and make sure you hydrate.
October will be here before you know it.
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