No pithy branding for this one, just some good fun in recounting the top contests of 2021.
Stay tuned: There are three more celebrations to come.
April 14: White Sox 8, Cleveland 0 (Carlos Rodón no-hitter)
On this night, I was able to attend my first White Sox game in two-and-a-half years. I was experiencing catharsis from being at my first sports event since pre-COVID, combined with hope for the 2021 roster. I was not the only one feeling this, as the electricity in the air at Guaranteed Rate Field was palpable.
The Sox faced a formidable foe, the Cleveland Baseball Team, with Carlos Rodón and Shane Bieber on the mound, and going in, I thought the White Sox would more than likely lose this game. Rodón was not yet the Rodón we have come to know, in just his second start of the season. But this was the game that changed everything.
As the game continued perfect for Carlos, by the sixth inning the crowd seemed to be holding its collective breath. A moment of panic struck when Rodón hit Roberto Pérez on the foot with one out left. Although this moment robbed Rodón of a perfect game, he earned himself a no-hitter in a moment of redemption and eminence. It was the 20th no-hitter in White Sox history and the 307th in MLB history.
May 17: White Sox 16, Twins 4 (Yermín’s HR, Madrigal’s 1st career HR)
For years, the Twins have beat up on the White Sox. This past season, the tides turned.
In one game against our AL Central rivals, we saw Nick Madrigal’s first career home run, a Danny Mendick grand slam, and a seven-inning outing from Dallas Keuchel. And don’t forget the infamous 3-0 home run from Yermín Mercedes.
Keuchel pitched his best game of his season, with seven innings pitched and three earned runs.
While the lineup (including Jake Lamb, Mendick, and Leury García) was far from what White Sox fans envisioned going into the season, as injuries happened the team embraced the “next man up” mentality. Hitting is infectious, and on this night the bats were hot. Tim Anderson, Madrigal, Yoán Moncada, Mercedes, Andrew Vaughn, and García all had multiple hits.
But the biggest hit of the night came on a 3-0 count in the ninth inning, when Yermín blasted a home run off of a position player, Willians Astudillo. Mercedes shattered an “unwritten rule” of baseball, and put an exclamation mark on a game. Even sweeter that it was against the Twins.
May 31: White Sox 8, Cleveland 6 (8 innings) (Adam Eaton’s Swan Song)
A game at the end of May? Gotta be the dumbest thing ever.
Well, sure, it is. But in terms of championship leverage index, which measures how important a game is toward a championship run, it was the top White Sox win of the season.
This Chicago club displayed a lot of fight in 2021, and this was a contest that personified it. Carlos Rodón came into the game with a sub-1.00 ERA and got lit up for three homers and five earned over six innings, ballooning his average to … 1.98.
But the White Sox picked Los up, eventually. After losing a 2-0 lead in the first, Cleveland rallied to tie the South Siders at both 4-4 and 5-5. In extras, José Abreu gave the White Sox the lead with a sac fly, but Eaton slammed the door, with a two-run homer to put the Good Guys up, 8-5. Cleveland notched a Manfred Man run off of Aaron Bummer in their final bats, but that was it.
Six weeks later, even more surprisingly than Eaton heroics, was the White Sox cutting him and eating half of his salary just to run him out of town. We’ll save that move for Soxivus Miracles, though.
June 30: White Sox 13, Twins 3 (White Sox Club Six HRs)
June 30 was a beautiful night to be at a half-sparsely attended, first-place White Sox game. It was perfectly temperate, about 75 degrees with a light breeze. A week-and-a-half past the solstice, the sun was setting late enough that it was still daytime for the first few innings despite inclement weather pushing back first pitch by half an hour. With the crowd less than half-full but still far more sizable than the typical Wednesday evening game against Minnesota of years past, it was the perfect environment to send the ball flying.
I was a bit nervous because I was going to the park on a date, and Dylan Cease is not the kind of pitcher you want to see on a game-date. Half-innings that take 25 minutes with 35 pitches and three walks are a recipe to get left high, dry, and awkward as hell if the conversation isn’t consistently top-notch.
It wasn’t a problem on this June 30, though! Cease dealt, the bats rumbled, and despite sitting downstairs somewhere in between the bases, I hardly watched or noticed any of it. The conversation was great, and Cease made such mincemeat of Twins hitters that it genuinely felt like we weren’t missing much of anything.
Of course, the offense was the main event that night, and it was equally fantastic for maintaining conversation. We didn’t hardly have to pay attention to them, either! It was quite simple. Sox hitters would mill around for a while, and every so often, we’d hear a particularly loud crack and re-focus just in time to see the ball leave the yard. Brian “Kick Rocks” Goodwin. Andrew Vaughn. Yaz Times Two. The early chapters of the Legend of Gavin Sheets. The roar for the sixth homer was just as loud as the roar for the first. Dingers rarely get old. Each rocket over the wall reminded everyone why we were there, and that great fun was to be had by all.
These were the games that made one truly appreciate a competitive team. There’s nothing remarkable about a weeknight game in June against Bailey Ober. It was made remarkable by a Sox offense that, in spite of maddening inconsistency, did its best to give fans a show whenever it could. It’s rare that you get to see fireworks six times in one night, but on this random summer Wednesday, the Sox put on an electric factory that would have been a joy for any baseball fan in the world. After a decade of Ls, it’s simply gratifying to have a team capable of doing that once again.
Ultimately, my date that night was very much like the 2021 White Sox: A few months of fun ending in heartbreak, despite a number of clearly visible red flags that I made a conscious decision to simply ignore. But living and experiencing are what those warm summer nights are for, right? And with a good baseball team, even a perfectly ordinary Wednesday evening can turn magical for those few moments when the fireworks and flashing lights go off.
July 18: White Sox 4, Astros 0 (Another Rodón Masterpiece)
I present to you, with no context outside the rest of this article, an assortment of items from my phone’s camera roll on July 18th, 2021:
The White Sox won a lot of games this summer with lineups that had absolutely no business winning. Carlos Rodón was as big a part of it as anybody on the club.
July 18 was far from the first day I had sent a text message like the above. But there’s a real argument that this was the Sunday that the White Sox season peaked. After a game-of-the-year candidate win, they were 20 games better than .500 for the first time in more than a decade. Despite having won five of seven, the odds of a Cleveland challenge seemed to dwindle by the inning. The Sox had just banked two brutally dominant wins over another first-place team with four (now five) straight ALCS appearances. And, particularly if you were in the park that day, it was hard to leave without the impression that Rodón was the best pitcher in baseball.
We’ve been bearing witness all month to how nightmarishly difficult it is to put Houston’s bats to bed, and Rodón earned every out of his seven one-hit innings. Averaging a hair over 97 mph, his fastball was utterly overpowering: it made hitters like Yordan Álvarez and Carlos Correa resemble children struggling at MLB: The Show against a very unsympathetic adult.
All in all, Astros hitters whiffed 12 times on Rodón’s fastball that day. Only two other pitchers reached 10 this year — Max Scherzer and *checks notes* Andrew Heaney. That’s how dominant Rodón was. The fastball-slider combo was so untouchable that he only needed to throw three curveballs and a single changeup. Again, we just saw what that lineup can do to even the best pitchers — and he did all that with just a fastball and slider. If another reunion between he and the team is in the cards this offseason, ensuring that this version of 55 doesn’t peter out with two months yet to play might be the single top priority of the 2022 season.
July 31: Cleveland 12, White Sox 11 (The Seby Zavala Game)
On July 31, I headed to Guaranteed Rate Field to see the White Sox take on Cleveland, who was in second in the division but who had a long way to go (nine games back) to change that. At this point, the White Sox were already clear favorites to win the AL Central. The main thing on my mind was whether or not the White Sox could finish with the No. 2 seed and get home field advantage for the ALDS. This is, even in the sports world, a very first-world problem, so we were entering a chill part of the schedule.
My girlfriend was with me for her first ever trip to GRF. She asked me which players would be most likely to play well for the White Sox, and my answer was Tim Anderson and José Abreu. These two players had decent games (Anderson: 1-for-5, 2B; Abreu: 1-for-4, BB, RBI), but they were definitely not the main story from July 31. Brian Goodwin opened up the scoring with a solo home run in the bottom of the second, but he was not the main story, either.
In the third, catcher Seby Zavala stepped up to the plate to lead off the inning. Zavala entered this game with a slash line of .143/.226/.214 in 33 plate appearances. In addition, Zavala’s numbers in Triple-A were not exactly promising (.168/.263/.355). The only reasons why he was even in the majors were because Yasmani Grandal was injured, and Zack Collins is horrendous behind the plate. I told all of this to my girlfriend and was in the middle of saying that we should not expect any hits from Zavala, when suddenly, he cranked one to center. Solely because of Zavala’s track record at the plate, I assumed this was going to be a routine fly ball. Then, I looked at Cleveland center fielder Myles Straw, who, to my disbelief, was backing up, getting close to the warning track, then on the warning track, then to the wall. Is he actually running out of room? It can’t be. Straw jumped, but he could not rob Zavala of his first major league home run. I was hyped and also stunned at how quickly Zavala proved me wrong. His fly ball interrupted me mid-sentence as I was saying how bad of a hitter he was, and all of a sudden, he goes deep.
Cleveland got one run back in the fourth, but the White Sox still had a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the fourth. Gavin Sheets led off with a double, but that was followed by fly outs from Yoán Moncada and Andrew Vaughn. Then, Cleveland starter Triston McKenzie struggled with his control, walking Goodwin and Adam Engel on four pitches. That loaded the bases for, you guessed it, Zavala. As Cleveland used a mound visit to settle McKenzie down, I told my girlfriend, “I wouldn’t count on him coming through again. He’s still a very bad hitter, and I hate how he’s the one to bat in this important of a situation. But, it’s not impossible.” I added, “If he somehow hits a grand slam, though, I don’t even know what I’ll do.” McKenzie fell behind in the count, missing with his first two pitches to Zavala. That extended his streak of balls to 10. Please just throw two more of those, I thought. Force in a run and give TA a chance. What happened, though, was better. McKenzie threw a fastball on the inner half, and Zavala turned on it and launched a deep fly ball to left. It had plenty of distance, and the only question was whether or not it would stay fair, and it did. 6-1 ballgame. Bedlam in Chicago. I was part of it.
I remember holding my girlfriend’s hand during Tim Anderson’s at-bat, which succeeded Zavala’s slam, and I could not get my hand to stop shaking. When Zavala’s grand slam left the yard, it was as though everything bad in the world vanished. Regardless of how successful the regular season was going, the White Sox were probably not going to win the World Series, but at that moment, none of that even crossed my mind. All I could think of was, “Holy crap. This is really happening.”
Disaster struck in between Zavala’s second at-bat and his third at-bat. Dallas Keuchel could not finish strong, and the bullpen just did not have it that night. Michael Kopech struggled against the bottom of Cleveland’s lineup, which was made up of hitters with unimpressive slash lines. By the time Zavala batted again, Cleveland led, 10-6. Did the White Sox still have a chance? I don’t know, let’s ask our hero, who led off the bottom of the sixth inning with his third home run of the night.
Absolutely incredible. Even though the White Sox still trailed by three, the crowd went crazy. With this home run, Zavala became the first player in history to hit his first three major league home runs in the same game. If someone had told me before the game that someone would hit three home runs, Zavala would have been my 18th choice out of the 18 hitters in the starting lineups. One could make the case that Owen Miller and possibly Yu Chang were less likely to do so, given their stats entering that game. But Zavala’s only value in the majors was as a defensive catcher who could hold down the fort while Grandal was injured. Also, Zavala had a poor slash line in Triple-A and an even worse MLB slash line. So, this three-HR outburst was completely out of the blue. Zavala went on to finish 4-for-4 after his eighth-inning single. It would not be enough, as the White Sox eventually lost, 12-11. However, I will never forget Zavala’s insane night.
August 12: White Sox 9, Yankees 8 (Tim Anderson’s Field of Dreams Walk-Off)
I get a lot of flack when I say I didn’t like Field of Dreams. So, as expected, the idea of translating the movie to an actual game seemed incredibly, for lack of a better word, corny. The opening ceremony certainly was, as Kevin Costner and starters from the White Sox and Yankees walked straight out of the cornfield to be announced. José Abreu connected on an 0-2 pitch to be the first MLB home run ever scored in Iowa. Aaron Judge answered in the third, putting the Yankees up by two. Tim Anderson sent Adam Engel home and Eloy Jiménez had a three-run shot, putting the good guys up 5-3. Remember Seby Zavala? He had a home run, too.
Alas, it’s the Yankees meaning no lead is safe for long. Liam Hendriks let a few runs come in facing Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, putting the Evil Empire up, 8-7, in the ninth.
But the White Sox just don’t quit, and just like out of a movie, Anderson knocked the ball into the corn for a walk-off, two-run home run. Fireworks shot into the sky, the White Sox bench cleared to celebrate at the plate, and TA is the hero at the end of the movie.
The game-winner was the 15th walk-off homer by the White Sox against the Yankees. The first, in case you’re curious: Shoeless Joe Jackson. July 20, 1919.
August 20: White Sox 7, Rays 5 (11) (Tim Anderson Straps the Sox to His Back)
Undoubtedly the best game this year and quite possibly even one of the best games in baseball history was the Field of Dreams game in Iowa.
But arguably the second-best game of the season for the White Sox was another Anderson masterpiece, the South Siders’ 7-5, extra-innings victory in Tampa Bay almost a full week after Field of Dreams. TA almost single-handedly willed the Sox to victory by hitting a leadoff home run in the top of the ninth to tie the game at 5-5, as well as hitting the go-ahead, leadoff RBI single a couple of innings later to give the Sox a 6-5 lead and eventual win.
Anderson finished that game with a 3-for-6 effort with those two important RBIs as well as scoring four of the team’s seven runs.
The game would be a huge turning point in the season for the Sox, too. As it would move them just three games behind Tampa Bay for the best record in the American League, as well as just a half-game behind Houston for the second-best record and home field in the ALDS.
August 27: White Sox 17, Cubs 13 (Sheer Ridiculous Win)
Our rocker-scribe was so overwhelmed by the sheer ridiculousness of this 16´´softball game posing as Major League Baseball, he wrote 950 words about it.
October 10: White Sox 12, Astros 6 (ALDS Game 3)
Game 1 did not go as planned for the White Sox, who could not solve Lance McCullers Jr. at all. Then, in Game 2, the South Siders squandered a 4-2 lead and the White Sox found themselves in a dangerous, 2-0 hole entering a much-anticipated Blackout Game at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Initially, Dylan Cease appeared to be breaking the unfortunate trend of White Sox starting pitchers struggling against Houston. Cease retired all three batters he faced in the top of the first, throwing some serious heat. Matters got better in the bottom of the first, when the White Sox showed off their strengths. Tim Anderson hit a leadoff single, and with two outs, Yasmani Grandal walked. Then, Eloy Jiménez smacked an RBI single to drive in the first run of the game, and the crowd went wild.
The positive vibes did not last long, though. Cease ran into trouble in the top of the second, walking the first two batters he faced. Those walks came back to bite him, as a double by Kyle Tucker drove in both. Two batters later, Tucker scored an insurance run on a single by Jake Meyers. Then, in the third, Tucker drove in two more runs, as his home run made it a 5-1 ballgame.
Right after Tucker hit that homer, the White Sox had a 16% chance of winning the game and a 4% chance of winning the series, per B-Ref. I had a feeling of resignation, as did much of the crowd. During the commercial break in the middle of the third inning, I found myself looking back at the season. Was it a success? Sure, the regular season was, as I did not expect the White Sox to cruise to an AL Central title or even win the division at all. On the other hand, the White Sox appeared to be dead in the water in Game 3 of the ALDS, and another early playoff exit would be hard to overlook.
I continued to contemplate the success of the season as Luis Robert led off the bottom of the third with a walk, and José Abreu struck out. Then, Grandal stepped up to the plate and launched a fly ball to left. At first, I thought left fielder Michael Brantley would have enough room, but he didn’t. 5-3 game. Suddenly, I stopped reflecting on the season, but I was still telling myself, “It’s still unlikely, so let’s not get our hopes up.” In fact, Grandal’s homer increased the South Siders’ Game 3 win probability to only 30% and their series win probability to only 8%.
Jiménez hit an infield grounder for out No. 2, but the White Sox were not done scoring that inning. Yoán Moncada and Gavin Sheets extended things with back-to-back singles, and that brought up Leury García. García faced Yimi García, who took over on the mound right after the single by Sheets. Yimi García threw three straight pitches that missed the zone by plenty. García’s 3-0 fastball was placed nicely on the outside corner, but the 3-1 fastball was not nearly as successful, and Leury crushed it. There was no doubt about Leury’s 436-foot home run to center field, and suddenly, the White Sox had a 6-5 lead. Just like that, the South Siders’ Game 3 win probability increased to 63% and their series win probability increased to 16%.
I was aware that coming back to win the series was still a tall order. However, the mood in my apartment and at Guaranteed Rate Field were entirely different than just a few minutes earlier. Their pitchers can’t fool us at this stadium. Hold on tonight, ride the momentum in Game 4, then pull off an upset in Houston behind Giolito in Game 5. The path to a heroic comeback was there.
The Astros tied it in the top of the fourth, but a bizarre bottom half poured cold water on the Astros’ hopes of winning Game 3. Abreu hit an RBI single to put the White Sox ahead once again. Then, Grandal appeared to interfere on a throw home, but to my surprise, he was not called for any infraction, and Luis Robert scored. Eloy kept the rally going with an RBI single to make it 9-6, and the bullpen took care of the rest. The White Sox added three more in the eighth to blow the game wide open.
I told myself before Game 3 that no matter what happened, October 10 was a success; this was my birthday, and I had a great time. But, I am thankful that it did not end with a thud, as a blowout loss to end the season would have been a lame way for the day to wind down.