Saturday, May 07, 2005

Chicago 5, Toronto 3

The White Sox survived a Timo Perez start in center field to pull out a 5-3 win at Toronto on Friday. A.J. Pierzynski's bloop single scored two runs to make a winner out of Orlando Hernandez, who pitched seven solid, if not spectacular innings.

I mentioned earlier this week that I secretly root for Timo Perez because he bunted for a base hit in a key bases-loaded situation during an important game against the Twins. Not only did he reach base on one of the best bunt plays I've seen the last few years, but he also drove in the tying run (nevermind that the Sox went on to lose the game 5-4).

But it goes deeper than that.

Like I'm sure other baseball fan's do, I pick and choose teams to root for in league opposite of my favorite team's league. Not the same team every year, but whichever squad I latch onto for some reason or another. In 2000 it was the New York Mets.

At first it had nothing to do with Perez. It had more to do with Robin Ventura, who was one of my favorites when he wore a Sox uniform. But there were a lot of interesting dudes on that team: Mike Piazza, who's always seemed like a swell guy whenever he's not coming across as a homophobe; Mr. Hawaiian Puch Benny Agbayani, the kind of career minor leaguer that's fun to root for; Rick Reed, who I like despite his would-be-union-busting past; Turk "99" Wendell; two guys named Bobby Jones; and Rickey Henderson, still in his prime when it came to referring to himself in the third person.

Even some guys I don't like to root for were having decent seasons, like "Operation Shutdown" Derek Bell (101 OPS+) and the mostly useless Lenny Harris (117 OPS+ in 132 at-bats over 76 games).

So I was rooting for the Mets, and when Perez came up and gave them an .809 OPS in 49 at-bats, it was neat. And then in the postseason, he batted .300 in the NLDS and NLCS combined. Especially in the NLCS against the Cardinals, it seemed like he scored every time he got on base. And I guess with seven hits, one walk and eight runs scored, he did.

Moreover, at the time we all thought he some 23-year old. He was young. He had potential. He had some upside for a Mets outfield that was mostly old and lousy.

If Timo's .643 OPS in 2001 didn't kill his prospectdom, then it was completely done in when he aged two extra years the winter before the 2002 season like a lot of other Latin American players.

So things have really stayed unchanged since then. He still sucks with the bat, and he's no great shakes with the glove either. Witness Friday night in Toronto:

In the second inning with two two Blue Jay runs in, Perez charged in and caught a Russ Adams fly ball for the second out. Rather than regroup and at least threaten a throw home, he flipped the ball to second base in an attempt to double off Alex Rios. Rios was safe and the slow-ass Greg Zaun scored from third. Darrin Jackson, calling the game on TV, said the run was likely to score anyway. But I don't think they send Zaun's not-so-fleet-feet if Perez come's up looking to throw home... even with his soft-tossing arm.

Then in the ninth inning, Adams made Perez his puppet again when he hit a ball to center that Perez charged to catch, but didn't come near enough to catching. The ball went past him for a double. It was a play that probably gets made by either Aaron Rowand or Scott Posednik. That might be an unfair comparison since both of those guys are superb defenders. But by comparison Timo looked bad.

So Perez isn't a good hitter and isn't a great defender. So why root for him?
Because he's the underdog. Because there's no reason root against him. Because I'm sure he'd be a nice enough guy if I ever meet him sometime.

Maybe if Timo were stealing time from some young, up-and-coming outfielder becasue of some manager's fetish for his "veteran presence" or some crap like that. That would be a good reason to hate him, to root for him to fail or wish he were somewhere else.

But Perez is the team's fourth outfielder. Once Frank Thomas comes back and Carl Everett
becomes a part-time DH/fourth outfielder, Perez will pretty much be the team's fifth outfielder. If the Sox had a young outfielder in that role, it would be a crime against that player's career.

Perez is now 30-years-old. His upside is gone, so what's left is a guy can at least handle all three outfield positions, has enough power to hit at least the once-in-a-while home run and can bunt well enough to more the runners and steal the occasional base hit on the play. And that's all you really need from a fifth outfielder.


Up and down:
Sox bullpen on Friday: Seven batters faced, six sat down. Nice work again.

Mostly up:
Tadahito Iguchi stayed hot, raising his average to .340 with a 2-for-5 night. After being among the team's underachievers just a couple weeks ago, he's probably playing a bit over his head with that batting average. But his .772 OPS is probably the right neighborhood. In fact, it will probably get a little better as his power comes around.

Busting out?:
Paul Konerko broke an 0-for-26 batting slump with an eighth inning hit. He'd come around to score one of the winning runs.

Konerko is one of my favorite guys on the team, and has been one of the team's best players since coming to the Sox for Mike Cameron before the 1999 season. But compared against what he earns, which is $8.75 million this season, he doesn't provide the team with a tremendous amout of value.

For that reason, I was concerned that he might command an even bigger deal from the Sox as a free agent this winter. I don't know how likely he is to get a much bigger deal after this recent slide. I'm sure he'll rebound and have a nice overall season, but his recent streak brings back images of his prolonged slump to begin the 2003 season. It also cements his reputation for being proned to such slumps because of his high-maintenance mechanics at the plate.

After Paulie smacked 41 home runs last year, it was hard to convince some Sox fans that Konerko was overpaid. But with two bad starts in three years, it's a little easier to do that. I imagine it will also be harder for teams to open up their wallets next winter to hand over something like a 4-year, $40-million deal.

Lets just hope this doesn't end up like past free agent situations for the Sox.

In five trips to the plate, Posednik went 1-for-4 and walked once. That lifts his OBP to .376. That's not too shabby. Why didn't he get the nod in center? I know manager Ozzie Guillen has to keep Perez fresh enough at the position to be able to use him there once in a while, but if something were to happen to Rowand, I'd assume it would be Scotty because of his great range and speed. So doesn't he need an occasional start there?

On Deck:
It's already happening. Jon Garland allowed a run, but the Sox have scored six with home runs from Juan Uribe, Iguchi and Konerko. That's where the score stands after two innings.

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