You see, it hasn't always been the easiest of runs for the White Sox leading up to the Midsummer Classic, especially for a first-place team. It's the ability to bounce back and fight through even extreme on-field trouble, though, that has truly made this group special.
"It's really a certain amount of resiliency," said White Sox general manager Ken Williams of the key to his team's first-half success. "With so many losing streaks that we've had, the ability to bounce back and fight through it and still be in the position we are right now ... well, there's a little bit of fight in these guys."
"That's the thing about this team," added White Sox third baseman Joe Crede, who returned from season-ending back surgery in June 2007 to be selected as an All-Star for the first time in 2008. "Players don't get too panicked over a loss here or there."
Losses have come more than "here or there" for the White Sox during the first half, although they have been few and far between of late. Check out some of the following situations that the South Siders have overcome:
Six straight losses on a road trip to Minnesota and Toronto from April 29-May 5.
Four walk-off defeats courtesy of momentum-breaking home runs from Tampa Bay's Cliff Floyd (May 30) and Gabe Gross (June 1), Detroit's Miguel Cabrera (June 12) and the Cubs' Aramis Ramirez (June 20). The blasts from Floyd and Ramirez came against right-handed reliever Scott Linebrink.
Series sweeps suffered at Comerica Park (June 10-12), letting the Tigers back into the division race, and at Wrigley Field (June 20-22), giving city bragging rights to the North Side.
These instances don't even include a couple of public diatribes put forth by manager Ozzie Guillen, or dealing with a blow-up doll issue in Toronto -- yes, a blow-up doll issue. So, how did the White Sox respond?
They put together winning streaks of eight games (May 14-22) and seven games (June 3-9), respectively, and evened the intra-city Interleague series with a sweep of their own at U.S. Cellular Field (June 27-29). Linebrink has held strong as one of the game's best setup men, while the White Sox were utterly dominant at home, winning nine in a row at one point.
|TEAMNAME TOP PERFORMANCES|
4/7, CWS 7, MIN 4 -- For openers, having a blast
Joe Crede crushes a grand slam in the bottom of the seventh to lift the Sox in their home opener.
5/6, CWS 7, MIN 1 -- Floyd flirts with no-no
Gavin Floyd tosses 8 1/3 innings of no-hit baseball before Joe Mauer's double.
5/26, CWS 6, CLE 3 -- Century mark for Jenks
Bobby Jenks pitched a scoreless ninth to earn his 100th career save.
6/28, CWS 6, CHC 5 -- Quentin's blast sinks Cubs
Carlos Quentin broke a 5-5 stalemate in the bottom of the seventh with a home run to deep right field.
6/29, CWS 5, CHC 1 -- Thome passes Stretch
Jim Thome blasts his 522nd career homer, passing Hall of Famer Willie McCovey for 16th place all-time.
Most of all, they never let a little adversity cloud their focus on the primary goal at hand. That goal starts with winning the American League Central.
"We have veteran guys and know how to do it," Crede said. "We know how to approach the game, even during tough times."
"You spend how many days in first place, the better part of [three] months, and you start to get used to it and start to visualize a fun summer," Williams added. "You don't want to let that slip away and understand the sacrifices that need to be made to start seeing better team play as a whole. The individual stuff goes out of people's minds, and the team goals become paramount."
This resilient characteristic stems from Guillen's basic philosophy of taking one day at a time. If Thursday brought you a loss on a walk-off home run, then put it behind you Friday and bring back a victory.
Of course, with one of the game's best pitching staffs, it's hard to fall into too many prolonged slumps.
"Our team plays bad baseball, and then turns it around a few days later," Guillen said. "It's kind of amazing."
Yet, with all of this bounce-back ability, White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper doesn't believe the 2008 version is the most resilient team witnessed during his tenure. That honor belongs to the 2005 squad, who watched a 15-game lead over Cleveland on Aug. 1 drop to 1 1/2 games on Sept. 24, but eventually claimed a division title and put together a 11-1 run to claim the organization's first World Series title in almost nine decades.
Ultimately, that World Series target remains front and center in 2008.
"Nobody tops that 2005 team until we do it again," Cooper said. "When you think about it, there's really no alternative to fighting back. Either lay down -- let people continue to beat you up and pound you and get in the fetal position -- or come back swinging.
"I do believe this will go down to the wire. This will be a test of mental toughness."