By James Fegan
One good week of baseball, a 5-2 start to the season that doubles as the White Sox best opening to the year since 2008 – also the last year they made the playoffs – is enough to add some meat to the story of a happy and unified clubhouse that they have been trying to tell to anyone who would listen. At least since their owner and Chairman expressly forbid them from talking about Adam & Drake LaRoche.
“It’s energy!” Brett Lawrie said of the Sox dugout in his typical double-time pace after Saturday’s come-from-behind 7-3 win over Cleveland. “You see it in there, it’s a lot of energy, everyone’s positive, everyone’s excited for each other.”
The comeback was a focal point of post-game comments Saturday, as everyone is convinced this year’s team, as opposed to previous year’s teams, is one that can fight back when the situation demands.
“It’s a little more veteran lineup that doesn’t react to you being down or giving up a lead,” Robin Ventura said. “They continue to grind through it. I think it’s not a comfort level, but I think there’s not a panic either, because you’re able to come back.”
Saturday was the Sox first come-from-behind victory all season, and they trailed by one run, and for only for as long as it took them to pick up their bats and crush Cleveland reliever Bryan Shaw in the very next half inning after they lost their lead. But the Sox scored 22 fewer runs than any other team in the American League team last season; any offensive heroics feel like a breakthrough.
”It may or may not have been different a year or two in the past,” said Chris Sale, tiptoeing between optimism and not slamming previous teams he was a part of, “We all know what’s going on here and we just keep riding until the last out.”
It’s a rare club that isn’t optimistic a week into the season, and a truly nihilist one that can’t even toss a platitude in the vein of “it’s a good group,” about their teammates in mid-April before the reality of a dreary, loss-filled summer has even set in. But the Sox have not posted a winning record in April since 2009. Winning cures all ills, even in a clubhouse that may or may not have split over the presence of a 14-year-old, and the Sox have not benefited from that tonic this decade. The quotes might be the same-old positive cliches, but they’re coming from players with fresh eyes.
Media is often critiqued for slapping their own narratives over reality and greasing the corners when the fit isn’t perfect, but players often do the same. Like anyone facing long odds and looking to convince themselves that their situation is uniquely conditioned for success, they need to find their own reasons to believe in what they are doing.
For the Sox, the new blood they have injected is largely of the veteran variety; guys on one-year deals with an immediate opportunity to prove themselves still capable. It doesn’t take any deep exploration of Chicago sports history to find an example of this mold turning disastrous, with everyone checked out and ready for their next gig. But for now, with the wind at the Sox backs, every one of their team characteristics doubles as the reason for their success. Consider the alternative.