Another Fourth of July is in the books, Chicago. If you're a Cubs fan, be grateful. If you're a White Sox fan, well, you can still be grateful but a little less so. You see, as the smoke cleared from the skies around my house and the last few salvos from neighborhood arsenals were launched, I found myself thinking about just how well our beloved baseball teams have fared on Independence Day. And it turns out the answer is: Not so well - at least over the last decade.
From 2001 until this year, the Cubs and Sox have gone a combined 6-14 on the date of our nation's birth. And we owe the South Siders for four of those six W's. Yes, Cubs fans, if you find yourself strangely dreading a gorgeous summer day of picnics and high explosives, it may be thanks to the North Siders' 2-8 record over the last 10 years. And three of those eight losses have featured Cubs pitching giving up 11 or more runs. (Y'know, like this year to Cincinnati.)
But let us not focus on the bad. Let us, instead, focus on the good. Here are my Top Five Independence Day Wins for the Cubs or White Sox over the last decade:
1. 2006: White Sox 13, Orioles 0
The only thing better than a blowout is a blowout shutout. (OK, maybe a perfect game or no-hitter is a little better.) And that's what the Sox accomplished at the Cell on this date. The team piled up doubles like hamburger patties (six in all), including two-baggers for Scotty Pods, Jermaine Dye and the young Brian Anderson. Juan Uribe and Paul Konerko went yard. On the mound for the South Siders was none other than Jose Contreras - who was a resplendent 9-0 with a 3.31 ERA following the game. And eventual Cub and now-injured Pirate Neal Cotts threw 1 1/3 innings of relief with three strikeouts.
The opposition: The O's lineup included a couple guys - Corey Patterson and Miguel Tejada - who would eventually find their way back to the team this year. The starting pitcher was Rodrigo Lopez (now with the Arizona Diamondbacks). He was eventually relieved by Bruce Chen and a gentleman named Sendy Rleal who, quite frankly, I don't think was (ironically enough) real. That name sounds made up.
2. 2005: White Sox 10, Devil Rays 8
Another slugfest at the Cell, this game featured a team that needs no introduction. OK, I'll introduce them: Ladies and gentlemen, your World Series Champion Chicago White Sox! Frank "The Big Hurt" Thomas, in his twilight year with the South Siders, was still on the field at this point. Thomas went 1-for-2 with three walks (nice!). Otherwise, the team showed off the offensive approach that was eventually labeled "Ozzie Ball." Only two doubles and two home runs were hit yet, as you can see, 10 runs were put on the board. The young Brandon McCarthy got the start and displayed the struggles that still haunt him to this day. He went only three innings, giving up eight hits and two home runs - five earned runs in all.
The opposition: Yes, they were still called the Devil Rays back then. And they still featured a speedy, hot-hitting left fielder by the name of Carl Crawford. The C-Man went two for five (including a home run) with two runs scored. Jonny Gomes, now tearing it up with the division-leading Cincinnati Reds, DH'd. And car jumper and Cubs footnote Joey Gathright was in center field. Japanese import Hideo "The Tornado" Nomo got the start, going only four innings and giving up eight earned runs. (Ouch.) Nomo is no longer playing in the major leagues.
3. 2010: White Sox 5, Rangers 3
It seems so long ago now; why, I can barely remember this one? Alright, alright - it was just this past Sunday. Buehrle went seven strong and Alexei hit a home run. J.J. Putz and Matt Thornton capped the game with scoreless innings, continuing their strong seasons in the pen. But, hey, it was an important game. After seeing their 11-game win streak come to a close against the Cubs, the Sox had lost a tough series to the lowly Kansas City Royals, and this game was the rubber match in the series. The win garnered them a series win and perhaps some momentum - the South Siders crushed the Angels the next night, 9-2.
The opposition: The first-place Texas Rangers, of course. The resurgent Josh Hamilton hit his 20th home run of the season. Starter Scott Feldman, who's not having quite the same season that he did last year, managed six innings, giving up eight hits and five runs (four earned.)
4. 2008: Cubs 2, Cardinals 1
Cubs-Cards on July 4th? Am I in heaven? Uh, only if the Cubs win, of course. And they did - in a hard-fought game that pitted Carlos Zambrano (how come he's never in the news these days?) vs. Braden Looper (how come he's never in the...oh, never mind). It was a game that gave spectators both a non-fireworks-on-display outing by Big Z (just six innings of no-run, four-hit, five-strikeout baseball) and an actual display (or at least sound) of fireworks by the City of St. Louis. The Cubs scored thanks to a home run by Kosuke Fukudome and a two-out RBI by catcher Geovany Soto. Kerry Wood capped off the win with a quick one-hit, one-strikeout save. (Want more details? Read Al Yellon's archived recap here.) That 2008 team went on to accomplish great things ... in the regular season.
The opposition: The usual St. Louis suspects. King Albert went 2-for-4 with a home run, naturally. Skip Schumaker (then a right fielder, now a second baseman) was in the lead off spot (went 1-for-4). And a fleet-footed, mega-slugging fellow by the name of Aaron Miles played shortstop. (Sarcasm!) Let's not forget perennial Cardinal and Cubs-killer Jim Edmonds either. Wait a sec - he was wearing a Cubs uniform that day! Jimmy Ballgame went zero for four with three strikeouts. Ouch. Welcome back, welcome back, wel-come back.
5. 2004: Cubs 2, White Sox 1
I have a confession to make. When I first went to write this feature, I was going to use runs scored (per game) as the criteria for the rankings. But if I did that, the Cubs would have only one game on the list and, well, I wanted to give the poor guys at least a couple of mentions. And, hey, what better way to end the list than a closely played matchup between our two city teams such as that which occurred on July 4, 2004? (Oh, by the way, yes - the Cubs' only two Independence Day wins in the last 10 years have been 2-1 victories. Weird.)
Anyway, did anyone out there attend this game? It featured dueling southpaws - Mark Buehrle vs. Glendon Rusch. I assume I need not go into too much detail about the brilliance of Buehrle. (Read my previous feature, Top 5: Chi-Town Southpaws, for that.) Rusch, on the other hand, was a journeyman pitcher who spent three seasons (2004-2006) with the Cubs. I wouldn't look for him in Cooperstown any time soon, but he seemed to be a solid, everyday-Joe kinda guy.
Notable names in the Cubs lineup: Grudzielanek (2-for-4 in the leadoff spot), Sosa (0-for-3 with a strikeout and a walk), Lee (as in Derrek, 3-for-3 with a home run). And the Sox: Lee (as in Carlos, 3-for-4 with a home run), Uribe (now a Giant, 0-for-3 that day at shortstop), Burke (who?! Jamie Burke - catcher, now with the Washington Nationals, apparently).
And how did the Cubs edge the Sox on this pleasant, 83-degree July day? For that, let's go back to our man on the scene, Al Yellon, who reports via the miracle of Web site archives:
It was an obvious move to intentionally walk Michael Barrett to set up the DP, but it took a visit by Sox catcher Jamie Burke and a mound conference, complete with UN translator (no, I made that last part up), to figure this out. Then [Shingo] Takatsu couldn't find the plate and walked [Ramon] Martinez too. We were all glad when Ozzie took him out, because the [Damaso] Marte-Todd Walker matchup was much better for the Cubs. ... Marte... threw four straight high fastballs to Walker; he fouled two of them off, then fouled off a changeup, and then Marte threw ball four, another fastball into the dirt, ending the game.
I actually remember precisely where I was when that last pitch was thrown. I was attending a Fourth of July family gathering at my in-laws house. I'd snuck up to a bedroom and tuned into the game via an ancient clock radio. Following Marte's ball four, I did a couple triple-back-flips and returned to the party a happy man.
My own tempered partisanism aside, here's to hoping both teams have better fortunes on Independence Day in the coming decade and many thereafter.