COM­PELLING CROSSTOWN CLAS­SIC

For first time since 2008, Cubs-Sox has mean­ing on both sides of town, even with­out fans in the stands

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - BY STEVE GREEN­BERG

Fri­day night at Wrigley Field was the first time since June 2008 that the Cubs and White Sox each brought a win­ning record into a reg­u­lar-sea­son game against the other.

That’s a lit­tle more than 12 years where we come from. Too long. Silly long.

Oh, what this crosstown se­ries could be if win­ner vs. win­ner were more than an in­fre­quent pe­cu­liar­ity. In 2008, both teams were en route to di­vi­sion ti­tles. But that sea­son was the last time the Sox made the play­offs. It was the last sea­son of rel­e­vance for that it­er­a­tion of the Cubs, too. Since then, the so-called Crosstown Cup hasn’t ex­actly run­neth over.

Still a fun ri­valry? Sure. But in need of a charge, a jolt, an over­hand right to the jaw, if you will? Ab­so­lutely.

The good news: On a scale of 1 to Michael Bar­rett clock­ing A.J. Pierzyn­ski, this is the high­est the Cubs-Sox ri­valry has mea­sured in quite a while. The Cubs seem to be the class of the Na­tional League Cen­tral. The Sox are the up-and-com­ers of the Amer­i­can League. If you be­lieve young Sox ace Lu­cas Gi­olito, the tal­ent gap be­tween the teams — which se­verely fa­vored the Cubs the last sev­eral sea­sons — has dis­ap­peared.

It would, of course, be bet­ter if fans were in the stands to crank up the in­ten­sity and drink in the spec­ta­cle. Cubs right fielder Jason Hey­ward, who sees the Sox as ‘‘a team that has a lot of ex­pec­ta­tions, and right­fully so,’’ found him­self look­ing ahead to the week­end — but not to the all-toofa­mil­iar sight of empty seats — dur­ing the sec­ond game of the dou­ble­header Wed­nes­day against the Car­di­nals.

‘‘My heart goes out to the city be­cause they don’t get to come out and en­joy that,’’

Hey­ward said.

They’ll en­joy them­selves plenty if both teams can share in a higher call­ing — be­ing good at the same time — for a while.

It would be nice to be­lieve the Cubs, even though Kris Bryant’s fu­ture with the team is un­known, even though Jon Lester is in the twi­light of his ca­reer, even if the Rick­etts fam­ily piggy bank is a few nick­els light, will con­tinue to hold up their end of the deal. They have too much go­ing for them to be­gin fad­ing like it’s 2009.

Whether they can keep up with the Sox is an­other story.

The 2008 Sox were like an ag­ing fighter, still strong and crafty but hardly magnificen­t. The first six spots in their lineup for the fi­nal game of the sea­son against the Cubs fea­tured five play­ers — Or­lando Cabr­era, Pierzyn­ski, Jer­maine Dye, Jim Thome and Joe Crede — whose av­er­age age was 33. Paul Kon­erko, 32, was on the dis­abled list for the first time in his ca­reer. Ken Grif­fey Jr., 38, was still a month away from join­ing the team.

Look at the Sox now, with Tim An­der­son, Yoan Mon­cada, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Gi­olito and oth­ers who are just get­ting started. No one yet is count­ing down to the ex­pi­ra­tion of their con­tracts. No one is ru­mi­nat­ing yet about when the win­dow of op­por­tu­nity will close for this core of play­ers.

These Sox are charg­ing across the ring at what­ever chal­lenges await them and, yes, have a chance to be magnificen­t. For the sake of this ri­valry, one would hope they soon are able to stand toe-to-toe with the Cubs — if they aren’t al­ready — and that a fever­ish, pro­longed and mem­o­rable fight will en­sue.

Be­cause it has been too long. Silly long. Though, please, let’s keep the over­hand rights metaphor­i­cal. ✶

AP

The Sox’ Jose Abreu cel­e­brates with Tim An­der­son af­ter hit­ting the first of his two home runs Fri­day against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

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