FOULKE-LORE: RECALLING A GREAT BATTLE

Today is the 17th anniversary one of the great baseball duels I have ever witnessed.

So taken am I with this taffy-pull, I repost this blog updated every chance I get.

This was a clash between the White Sox Keith Foulke — then in his waning days as a setup man — and Seattle’s Alex Rodriguez, who was probably somewhere between “The Natural” and a 1970s era East German female Olympian at the point.

When the pitched battle had finally ended, Foulke delivered what I consider his most memorable moment as a pivotal part of one of the most surprising campaigns in team history.

The showdown also magnified why I love baseball so much. Any game at any time can give you something special.

The date was April 19, 2000 and the White Sox were playing the Seattle Mariners in a sparsely attended, rain-plagued affair on a “getaway” day at “new” Comiskey Park.

Foulke, a right-hander with the deadly change, entered the game in the seventh inning in his role as the “lead-in” to Bobby Howry.

Rain and threatening skies had emptied the park of most of its 8,425 spectators when Foulke surrendered a double to Stan Javier to start the frame.

With the Sox holding a 4-2 lead, the tying run stepped to the plate in the form of the daunting Rodriguez.

What happened next was a battle of wills that helped shape the surprise season that was 2000. I was lucky enough to have a “bird’s eye” view of this showdown from behind home plate.

The stubborn Foulke and the determined Rodriguez went head-to-head for 12 pitches with neither man refusing to relent. The at bat included nine tension-mounting foul balls with at least five coming in succession.

Foulke finally emerged as the conqueror in this donnybrook when he got “A-Rod” to ground out to Jose Valentin at shortstop.

Javier moved to third on the play and things got hairy again when Foulke walked Edgar Martinez. Foulke then came through again when he induced long-time Sox killer John Olerud to bounce into a rare and niftly-executed 3-6-1 double play. When Foulke gloved the final out in that sequence, he delivered a modest fist pump while heading back to the dugout. Foulke knew immediately what he had accomplished.

The Sox added a run in the bottom of the frame and Foulke turned in a 1-2-3 eighth before giving way to closer Bobby Howry. The Mariners went quietly in the ninth and the Sox had their 5-2 win. Sean Lowe, whom Foulke replaced, got the victory while Howry earned the save.

The triumph was an important one as the Sox moved into first place for good in the A.L. Central. The team would be outright holders of the division’s top spot for all but three of the season’s remaining days.

While Foulke was not rewarded statistically for his effort against Rodriguez, I am convinced that the sequence in which Foulke prevailed and that seventh inning was a turning point in the season.

It didn’t take long after that for Manuel to give Foulke the full-time closer’s job. It could be argued that Foulke was the Most Valuable Player of the Sox 2000 Central Division title team. In that gratifying season, Foulke went 3-1 with a 2.97 ERA and 34 saves while giving up just 66 hits and striking out 91 in 88 innings.

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