Monday afternoon, when the White Sox were 24-24 and rolling — at least by the low standards of our civic baseball drought — Adam Dunn was talking about how easy it is to start pressing when things go wrong.
"I'm the world's worst at it,'' Dunn said. "I think I'm going to hit a five-run homer to solve everything. That's the worst way to look at it. When things start snowballing, you start thinking. That's never good.''
No, it's not.
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Ernie Banks Statue, Chicago, IL 60613, USA
U.S. Cellular Field, 333 West 35th Street, Chicago, IL 60616, USA
And I bet there was a lot of thinking Thursday evening as the White Sox were flying west for a weekend series against the Athletics. The Cubs had just run them over in a City Series that was embarrassingly one-sided.
What was the best thing that happened for the South Siders? That's easy. It was the rain that wiped out Tuesday night's game with Chris Sale trailing 2-0.
The White Sox had the gunslinger, Jake Peavy, on the mound Thursday yet spent the late innings in exactly the situation Dunn had discussed three days earlier at U.S. Cellular Field. They needed a five-run home run and couldn't get it, even though the southwest wind was blowing at 24 mph.
It was a hitter's day, or in the case of Travis Wood a good-hitting pitcher's day. Wood's grand slam, the first by a Cubs' pitcher at Wrigley Field since Burt Hooton had one in 1972, will be the lasting memory from an 8-3 game that genuinely stirs an argument about which is Chicago's best team.
Sure, the White Sox have the better record (24-27) and the most at stake. They aren't rebuilding (at least not yet). But they have a minus-29 run differential. The Cubs are eight games below .500 (22-30) but are puffing out their chests over their plus-6 run differential.
Unable to hit Jeff Samardzija when the week began, the White Sox were outscored 24-6 in the three games. They will play seven of their next 10 games against the Athletics, who might be baseball's hottest team.
"Any time you have three games like this it's (unsettling),'' Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "You have to regroup. We have shown we are capable of playing better than this. (We) have to do it again.''
With Dunn's strikeouts sucking the life out of the batting order, as they did in 2011 and when it mattered most in September 2012, the Sox have a tough time making up for their mistakes. They made plenty of them behind Peavy on this windy day, with third baseman Conor Gillaspie letting a popup fall to the infield grass and Dayan Viciedo playing an Anthony Rizzo liner into a triple.
The only consolation was it wasn't quite as bad as Viciedo's drop of David DeJesus' leadoff fly ball Wednesday. But you could see why Ventura looked fit to be tied when Alejandro De Aza was cut down at second base trying to stretch a single into a double in the seventh with the Cubs leading 7-2.
WGN-Ch. 9's cameras showed Ventura blowing a bubble. It popped, and the White Sox's chances of making it a fun summer at U.S. Cellular Field are close to doing the same.
Peavy talked about intangibles afterward.
"We just have to step up and bring a little more intensity,'' he said. "That starts with me. I didn't do a very good job today. … We let our guard down here.''
If only it was that simple …
How can the White Sox save this season? How can they force Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and first-year general manager Rick Hahn to keep the team together past the July 31 trade deadline?
Desperate teams do desperate things. The Royals just installed George Brett as hitting coach. Should Hahn put in a call to Frank Thomas?
The coaching staff is a strength of the Sox; the roster is the issue, in particular the lineup.
Dunn was out of the lineup Thursday but only after Ventura sat Paul Konerko to play him in Wednesday's 9-3 loss. Dunn was 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and a too-little, too-late sacrifice fly, and takes a 1-for-25 slump to Oakland.
The only move even worth considering is telling Dunn to take his good attitude and go home. But it's hard to argue Reinsdorf should swallow the $25 million still due to Dunn, especially considering the Sox are averaging 4.7 runs in games when he has an RBI and 3.0 when he doesn't this year.
Hitters don't grow on trees. There always seems to be one available, however, and at the moment it's the Dodgers' Andre Ethier.
Would they discount his five-year, $85 million contract sufficiently to allow the Sox to release Dunn and open the designated hitter spot for Viciedo? And, ultimately, is it better to pay Dunn through 2014 or Ethier through 2017?
Tough question. Tough time.