Billy Koch was the first reliever brought in during the off-season. In previous years, Koch's fastballs blazed past opposing hitters like bullets. This season, though, the bullets are going the other way, landing not only in the gaps, but all too often in the beautiful blue outfield seating sections of the Cell. Koch has watched his ERA soar to 9.00, and he has already blown two saves in this short season.
The first omen of Koch's struggles occurred April 3 at Kansas City. In that game, the Royals scored four runs off Koch, delivering the heaviest barrage of punches since the last Lewis-Tyson fight. Yogi Berra would have called it déjà vu all over again when the Royals dialed long distance off Koch on April 15 (using U.S. Cellular, one would hope). The Royals' four-run smack down once again cost the Sox a victory. Koch has watched himself go from closer of the year to a late inning circus in just 6 months. Don Cooper has blamed Koch's problems on his mechanics. Until Koch works through those difficulties, there's no doubt opposing hitters will continue to enjoy late-inning batting practice.
Tom ‘Flash' Gordon was acquired as a free agent over the off-season. Gordon has watched his fastballs morph into frozen ropes this season, and has blown two saves. He looks more like Gary Gaetti on the mound nowadays rather than a former All-Star. At his current pace, Gordon may need to drop ‘Flash' from his name simply to make room for his hefty ERA.
Then there's Rick White, who from a distance resembles a right-handed David Wells. Unfortunately for Sox fans, White also does a dead-on imitation of how Wells pitched in a Sox uniform - poorly. White pitched terribly in spring training, but appeared to pull things together in time for the season - he began the year with a low 1.59 ERA. Through April, though, White served up a few whoppers and his ERA currently weighs in at a husky 4.82.
Now on to the incumbents: Damaso Marte, Kelly Wunsch. Marte may have been a great reliever last year, but this year he is pitching similar to Koch and Gordon - throw the heat, watch it soar. Marte's 2.61 ERA doesn't sound terrible, but he too has squandered two saves, equaling Koch and Gordon. Do I sense a bit of competition?
Gary Glover and Kelly Wunsch have been the exceptions. Both have pitched extremely well, forming the White Sox bullpen equivalent of Drysdale and Koufax. In fact, Wunsch hasn't yet yielded a hit in six innings. And to think that Manuel questioned his ability to pitch this spring!
While the bullpen is performing its rendition of a Stephen King nightmare, Sox fans are left wondering what happened to the successes of Bobby Thigpen, the 1996 performances from Roberto Hernandez, and the heroics of Keith Foulke just two years ago. What has happened to this Sox bullpen? Let's all try to read a bit deeper into Manuel's words, shall we? "We have to get that area straight. " Thank you, Captain Obvious. In the meantime, Sox fans, find your Pepto-Bismol. This suddenly looks to be a gut-wrenching season. And the end of this one may very well leave us feeling like we've just been snowed, Chicago-style.