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Big-Game Hunter

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Last week I wrote about John Danks' balls. Not the specifics, mind you, but rather celebrating their basic existence. It's a good thing.

Eight days ago, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was lamenting his lack of cojone-endowed pitchers, like Johan Santana and C.C. Sabathia. And hours after he spoke, the Sox won the first of three elimination games in a row to win the AL Central and the team went from the doldrums to the heights of a "no one's expecting us to win" kind of plucky underdog. Danks was the final ballsy hero, throwing eight shutout innings in a 1-0 win over the Twins last Tuesday. It was his marquee game, the kind that gives you a certain reputation.

Fast forward to Sunday and Danks bettered that rep by winning another elimination game against the Tampa Bay Rays to cut their lead to 2-1 in the ALDS. Danks, just 23, was 12-9 with a 3.32 ERA, and has definitively evolved, if only in baseball folks' minds, from being a back-of-the-rotation starter to a "big-game pitcher."

"I've never seen one guy grow so much from one year to the next," Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. Danks is beloved by his teammates because of his intense presence on the mound and his relative calm off it. In a lot of ways, he's the Lone Star Mark Buehrle, outfoxing hitters with a cut fastball.

"Basically he picked up a cutter and it's made a world of difference," Pierzynski said. "His other stuff is really good and that cutter just gets him off the fastball just enough to where it makes him that much more effective."

As Pierzynski praised him in Sunday's post-game press conference, Danks sat there with a goofy smile on his face. Without any fanfare he's evolved from a young pitcher with potential to the heir to "Big Game" Freddy Garcia's mantle on the South Side.

Danks isn't the best pure pitcher on the staff - that's Buehrle. He doesn't have the best stuff - that's probably Monday's starter Gavin Floyd. But he might be that elusive "Big Game" pitcher, the kind of guy who imbues a team with an extra dose of confidence.

He's only 23, but Danks is already earning a devoted following and proving GM Kenny Williams prescient for trading Ichabod Crane, er, Brandon McCarthy for him before the 2007 season.

I'm back at the Cell now. A packed crowd again, almost all wearing black. There are a full complement of those white Terrible Towel knockoffs being waved in the stands. A friend of mine was sitting in the upper deck Sunday night and noted that the giveaway rally rags were so cheaply made that every rotation sent a surplus of white fuzz into the air. Fans had to constantly cover their drinks and food. If you're a Seinfeld fan, it was reminiscent of the "rat hat" Jerry bought from Bob Saccamano. As in, "that's not going to be good for anybody."