An amazing thing happened Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field. More than three months of baseball were neatly summarized in 12 innings.
The Cubs couldn't hide the failures that have dropped them into the National League abyss. And the White Sox displayed the fire that has rocketed them a mind-boggling 25 games over .500.
"They understand the mentality to fight, to battle," Sox manager Jerry Manuel said after his team's 4-2 win. "That's been our rallying cry."
The cry was answered in the 12th, when Frank Thomas lined the game-winning single to left off longtime nemesis Todd Van Poppel.
"He has a wicked delivery," Thomas said of Van Poppel, against whom he had been 6 for 25 with six strikeouts. "I wasn't looking for anything special. I was just trying to hit something hard."
The Cubs, meanwhile, simply stopped hitting after Damon Buford's two-run homer in the second broke a scoreless tie.
Forget about doubles, triples or homers. The Cubs managed just five singles as they were shut out over the remaining 10 innings.
"That's been our MO," manager Don Baylor said wearily. "We can't get the big hit. Sometimes guys go up and try to hit home runs when we just need baserunners. We haven't been able to get either."
The Cubs had two prime chances to win the game.
Sammy Sosa stranded a runner at third in the ninth by chasing Keith Foulke's rib-high 1-2 fastball.
Two innings later Joe Girardi stood 90 feet from home plate as Ricky Gutierrez dug in. Gutierrez hit a sharp ground ball to the left side, but third baseman Herbert Perry made a diving stop and threw out Gutierrez from his knees.
"I didn't think I had a chance," Perry said. "But the grass is pretty long here and it eats up a lot of balls."
Just as the Sox's bullpen flirted with perfection, Cubs reliever Tim Worrell shut down the opposition for three innings. But it all fell apart when Van Poppel entered the game in the 12th.
Ray Durham led off with a single and Jose Valentin sacrificed him to second.
As Thomas stepped to the plate, the rowdy Wrigley Field crowd of 39,112 sounded loud enough to be heard by people on the lake.
Baylor considered walking Thomas, who had gone hitless in five at-bats. But that would have brought Magglio Ordonez to the plate with two men on.
"We thought we could get Frank in that situation," Baylor said.
Thomas pounded a 2-1 pitch through the left side for a single, and third base coach Wallace Johnson didn't hesitate to send Durham home.
"Frank hit that ball hard," Johnson said. "It would have been a disservice not to try to score him."
Left-fielder Brant Brown, who had been inserted four innings earlier for defense, fielded the ball and came up firing. But his throw landed in another ZIP code.
"We had no chance with a throw like that," Baylor said. "He air-mailed it."
Thomas took second on the errant throw, and Perry drove him home with a double for the game's final run.
The win moved the Sox to 3-1 against the Cubs this season. More importantly, it gave the Sox 55 wins, five more than any other team entering Friday night's games.
"It's growing, really growing," Thomas said of the team's surging confidence. "The guys want to win and expect to win."
The Cubs? Better luck next year.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun