2005 Chicago White Sox Closer’s Role was Truly Unique

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With no live sporting events due to COVID-19, NBC Sports Chicago has begun re-airing games from the 2005 White Sox World Series season. The 2005 championship team was a memorable one because it marked one of the best defensive and dominant pitching teams in White Sox history. For as good as the pitching was for the team, many fans forget how odd the team’s closer role was given the team’s success.

When the 2005 season began, the White Sox had their closer in place with Shingo Takatsu. Takatsu was signed by the team in 2004 when he came over from Japan, where he held the record for most career saves. In the second half of the 2004 White Sox season, he took over the closer’s role from Billy Koch and saved 19 games while posting a 2.31 ERA.

What made Takatsu a good closer was his submarine pitching style and his change-up that was nicknamed the frisbee as it would slide up and down fooling batters. In the first game of the 2005 season, the Japanese pitcher would work a perfect ninth to pick up his first save of the season. Following Opening Day, opposing batters figured out Takatsu’s motion and timing as he lacked a fastball to offset his changeup. In the third game of the season against the Cleveland Indians, he would give up three straight home runs to earn his first blown save of the season.

Takatsu would pick up seven more saves by early-May, but proved to be unreliable as he couldn’t consistently work clean innings. Manager Ozzie Guillen made the switch to veteran reliever Dustin Hermanson, a move that might be the most underappreciated decision of the 2005 season. Hermanson had served as both a starter and the closer for the San Francisco Giants in 2004. He started 18 games while also recording 17 saves.

Hermanson would assume the team’s full-time closer role in mid-May as he recorded 34 saves through early-September. He was one of the most dominant relief pitchers in 2005, posting a 2.04 ERA with 38 strikes over 36 innings pitched. Hermanson’s success was cut short near the end of the season due to a serious back injury, which limited his availability. The injury came at the worst time for the White Sox as they were in a fierce divisional race with the Cleveland Indians.

Most teams, let alone a team that had the best record in baseball, would not be able to overcome one change to its closer’s role, let alone two. Somehow in 2005, the White Sox were able to overcome that obstacle replacing both Takatsu and Hermanson. Guillen would appoint 24-year old rookie Bobby Jenks as Chicago’s new closer down the stretch in September of 2005. Although Jenks lacked experience, he made up for it with his arm talent as he featured a near-100mph fastball with a hammer curveball.

Jenks would record his first save for the White Sox on August 25th and would record five of six saves for the season from mid-September on. He would prove to be vital to the team’s post-season success recording two saves in the Divisional Round and the World Series. Outside of recording the final out of the World Series, Jenks is also remembered for facing Astros’ Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell in game one of the World Series. The rookie closer overpowered one of the best sluggers of the 1990s with constant 100mph fastballs. Bagwell, who was notoriously one of the best fastball hitters in his prime, could not catch up to Jenks’ fastball. The rookie struck out the slugger in a moment similar to that of the classic movie Major League.

The 2005 White Sox would win 99 games that season while Takatsu, Hermanson, and Jenks would combine for 48 saves. Furthermore, Chicago would lead the division wire to wire, something only five World Series championship teams have ever done in baseball history. When a team loses its closer due to injury or ineffectiveness, it spells dooms as a manager has to scramble to re-organize his bullpen. A reliever who has been reliable in a setup role may struggle once assigned to the closer’s role costing the team even more.

In 2005, Chicago overcame several changes to the closer’s role with pitchers in house and did not need to trade for a proven closer. Each reliever had a different makeup and ability in how they closed games as the team went from a pitcher who relied on finesse to one who relieved on overpowering talent. Of all the memorable aspect to the 2005 World Series season for the White Sox, the success of their closer’s situation may be the most astonishing.