On his fledgling and excellent twice-weekly podcast “Unsupervised,” Chicago broadcast legend Dan McNeil recently posed the following question to his guest, White Sox fan extraordinaire Tim Vanzo:
“(Of all the members of the 2005 World Series champion White Sox) which player were you happiest for?”
What an incredibly great query to ponder in the 12-year afterglow of the Sox first World Series title in 88 seasons.
Vanzo acknowledged the stalwarts but then deferred to the lesser-known, bit, role or reserve players such as Ross Gload, Willie Harris and Timo Perez.
“Guys like that, I think, are the guys that appreciate it more because they were the guys had to struggle their whole careers every year: ‘Can I make the team coming out of camp?’ For a guy like that to get a ring — Gload and Willie Harris and Timo Perez and Chris Widger, the backup catcher …,” Vanzo told McNeil (@DanMcNeil2017) his long-time friend.
If I could pick two my answer would be Geoff Blum and Jon Garland.
If you MADE me pick one it would be Garland.
The “nobody believed in me/us” is one of the most overused and mis-used phrases in sports.
In Garland’s case, though, that was true.
As I remember it, the right-hander was a frequent whipping-boy of fans and media alike in the seasons leading up to and even during 2005.
Underachiever, they said.
Disappointment, they said.
Doesn’t care, they said.
Too much “California cool,” they said.
Bust, they said.
I admit it. I was one of the doubters.
After all, this was a former first-round pick who was touted as the Sox ace of the future.
He was a tall, lanky, right-handed pitcher from California who was taken in the first round … of course he was the next Jack McDowell.
The fact that Garland was swiped from the hated Cubs for middling reliever Matt Karchner intensified the yearning for his success.
At the time, there was a trade with the crosstown rivals that needed to be forgotten or redeemed.
While Garland was climbing (and struggling) through the Sox farm system, Sammy Sosa was hitting home runs for the Cubs like no one had ever done before … hmmmm.
To refresh your memory, the Cubs got Sosa AND Ken Patterson from the Sox for an aging George Bell prior to the 1992 campaign.
Things didn’t start well for Garland in the Sox organization.
The native of Valencia, Calif., was 6-11 in Class-A in 1998 and 1999 before the minor league light went on.
Expectations for Garland started to soar when he went a combined 12-3 with a 2.65 ERA in 24 starts AS A 19- AND 20-YEAR OLD at Double-A and Triple-A in 1999 and 2000.
So when he made his big league debut for the Sox at the age of 20, the fanbase was excited.
On July 4, 2000 in Kansas City, “Gar” was torched in his premiere giving up seven earned runs on eight hits in just three innings. He absorbed the loss in a 10-7 setback.
Things only got marginally better for Garland.
He was in the big leagues to stay in 2002 but compiled records of 12-12, 12-13 and 12-11 heading into 2005.
Those pedestrian outputs really had the critics clamoring and doubters yapping on the brink of that championship season.
Garland signaled 2005 would be different when he was named American League Pitcher of the Month in April.
A Player of the Week Award followed on May 1 and Garland was off and running to a breakout season which would see him win 18 games.
Garland, despite leading the team in wins, was the fourth starter so there was no call for him to pitch in the three-game sweep of defending champion Boston in the Division Series.
I admit it: Those old doubts crept back into my cranium as Garland’s first postseason start in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series in Anaheim approached.
Frankly, I wondered if Garland was indeed mentally tough enough to handle the Sox important game of the season on the heels of a 13-day layoff.
I’m certain some of my fellow Sox fans were just as concerned.
WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME GARLAND PITCHED IN A BIG GAME?
That worry dissipated in one half inning.
The Sox gave Garland a three-run cushion in the first thanks to an RBI single from Jermaine Dye and a two-run home run by Paul Konerko off John Lackey.
Displaying the “California cool” that was once an albatross, Garland was quite comfortable on that cushion, thank you.
Garland did walk the first man he faced but that runner was erased on a double play.
He cruised to the sixth and picked up two insurance runs along the way before encountering some turbulence.
Orlando Cabrera touched Garland for a two-run homer with two-out in the sixth.
Instead of letting that blast, which pumped some much-needed life into the crowd of 44,725, unnerve him, Garland had no problem just brushing it off.
In fact, Garland pitched as if that dinger never happened.
Garland retired the last 10 batters he faced in giving the Sox a 2-1 lead in the ALCS, their second of four consecutive complete games and actually obliterating any doubts anyone had about him.
Garland’s start in the Game 3 of the World Series took a different path than his go-round in Game 3 of the ALCS.
Baseball’s biggest stage provided Garland with another opportunity to flash the mental toughness that many thought he had been lacking prior to 2005.
Instead of plowing through the lineup with his good stuff as he did 11 days earlier, Garland had to competently grunt through this appearance.
In the first, Garland gave up a run but deftly squelched any hopes the Astros had of a big inning by letting his burrowing sinker net an inning-ending double play ball.
Following a scoreless second, Houston touched Garland for two unearned runs in the third thanks to a botched rundown (Juan Uribe error) that wound have caught Adam Everett stealing. Instead, he and Craig Biggio eventually scored on singles to put the Sox in a 3-0 hole.
The Astros jacked their lead to 4-0 and jacked up the 42,848 at Minute Maid Park when Jason Lane led off the fourth with a home run.
Instead of crumbling at that point (as maybe the old Garland would have done), he stood firm.
While his offense got him a lead thanks to a five-run fifth, Garland retired nine of the final 10 Astros he faced.
He finished with a flurry when he got Biggio, the future Hall of Famer, on strikes with Brad Ausmus on second to end the seventh.
Garland was robbed of a victory when Cliff Politte gave up a run in the eighth.
Garland, though, wasn’t robbed of the fact that he came up big when it mattered most for both himself and the White Sox.
And that has forever endeared him to White Sox fans who never questioned anything about him again.
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