Sox win pennant! Sox win pennant!
In winning the AL pennant, the White Sox pulled off what was thought to be impossible: a trip to the World Series. Jim Caple explains.
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Headlines most of us have never seen our entire lives.
"Ozzie To Reporters: 'No Comment' ''
"Harvard Awards Carl Everett Honorary Degree In Paleontology''
"Opponents Vote A.J. Pierzynski 'Most Nice' ''
And, of course, the biggest one of all, the one that has eluded generations of fans on the South Side since the days of the Go-Go Sox, the one that seemed as if it would not arrive until after there were no longer newspapers to even print headlines: "Chicago Wins Pennant!!!''
Pinch yourself. A Chicago team is actually going to the World Series. Yes, it's true. The White Sox, who threw a World Series more recently than they won one, are going to the series for the first time since 1959. No, really. There are witnesses. Maybe not Vladimir Guerrero, who was MIA all week, but plenty of others.
There's starter Jose Contreras, who threw Chicago's fourth consecutive complete game. And Pierzynski, who started another winning rally against the Angels with another bizarre play (what is it about that guy anyway?). And Joe Crede, who knocked in the game winner again. And ALCS MVP Paul Konerko, who stomped on first base for the final out to give the White Sox their first American League pennant in 46 years and set off a Chicago group hug so large it should have been inside Oprah's TV studio.
"Generations of people have not seen this,'' White Sox general manager Kenny Williams said in Chicago's champagne drenched clubhouse after the 6-3 victory Sunday. "I've personally carried around that weight on my shoulders to a degree that probably isn't healthy. It's been so long and so many people have come and gone and not seen us in the World Series. For the fans celebrating in Chicago -- I can't imagine the sound in the bars -- it must be great.''
When the Sox won the pennant in 1959, the city infamously sounded air raid sirens that plunged the populace into panic. This time, the fans might make enough noise to drown out even Ozzie Guillen. As the players celebrated on the field an hour after the game, a group of loyal fans serenaded them in the rain with the traditional White Sox song.
"Na-na-na-na, Na-na-na-na, Hey-hey-hey ... Good-bye!''
"Enjoy it. Enjoy it. Have a great time,'' Guillen said. "Don't get too crazy in the street. Be careful. I know people are going wild right now. We don't want to hear anything happened in the street tonight. Feel proud about this team. Feel proud about what we did.''
What they did was almost as mind-boggling as the concept of a Chicago pennant: They threw four consecutive complete game victories, the first team to do so in the postseason since the 1956 Yankees. Jerry Reinsdorf, the ever loveable White Sox owner who scrupulously watches the bottom line (the sparkling wine used to celebrate the city's first World Series since Eisenhower was Korbel and Asti Spumante), could have saved some travel expenses by leaving his team's bullpen in Chicago.
The White Sox used only one reliever the entire series -- left-hander Neal Cotts, who threw exactly seven pitches. "Poor Cotts,'' Pierzynski deadpanned. "He had to throw two-thirds of an inning.''
"The way baseball is set up now, with closers and setup men and all the specialization, you're probably never going to see that again,'' Pierzynski said. "Any adjective you can come up with for 'great' is what those guys did.''
The White Sox pitchers had a 2.20 ERA against the Angels and walked just four batters while the White Sox batters hit five home runs, stole five bases and made the AL West champions look dead. Cotts not only was the only reliever the White Sox used, his appearance with one out in the ninth inning of Game 1 was one of just two moves Guillen made the entire series. Small wonder he called this series the easiest games he's managed all season.
|“||Generations of people have not seen this. I've personally carried around that weight on my shoulders to a degree that probably isn't healthy. It's been so long and so many people have come and gone and not seen us in the World Series. For the fans celebrating in Chicago -- I can't imagine the sound in the bars -- it must be great. ”|
|— White Sox GM Kenny Williams|
And to think, just a little over two weeks ago, people were calling the White Sox chokers and wondering whether they would blow what had been a 15-game lead over Cleveland. And it might have been that scare that has helped Chicago this postseason.
"It was going to be two stories, one or the other,'' Konerko said. "It was either going to be we got overtaken by Cleveland and it was a nightmare ending and we all go home and we'll never forget that. Or we hold on and play well enough just to clinch the division -- and if we could do that, I think everybody in the clubhouse knew that it was going to be a big weight off everybody's shoulders. We just had a second boost of energy.''
Evidently. Since that lead shriveled to 1½ games, the White Sox have won 15 of 18 games, including a final weekend sweep at second-place Cleveland, a sweep of Boston in the Division Series and the final four games of the ALCS.
Konerko was named the MVP for his two home runs and seven RBI, but Pierzynski might have played as big a role as anyone in postseason history who batted .167. His decision to run to first on that "dropped'' third strike helped the White Sox to their Game 2 win, his uncalled catcher's interference Saturday helped in their Game 4 win and he was in the middle of it again in the ninth inning of the clincher. "It's amazing,'' Angels reliever Kelvim Escobar said, "everything that happens always seems to involve him.''
With two out, one on, the scored tied 3-3 and Escobar mowing down the White Sox, Pierzynski bounced a ball back to the mound. The ball bounced off Escobar, who chased it down near the first base line with plenty of time to either tag Pierzynski or throw him out at first base. Escobar chose to tag him. Unfortunately, he chose to tag him with his glove when the ball was in his bare hand.
After initially calling Pierzynski out, the umpires huddled and changed the call. One batter later, Crede -- whose double was the winning hit amid the Game 2 confusion -- singled up the middle to score Aaron Rowand with what proved to be the deciding run.
"If Joe doesn't get those big hits,'' Pierzynski said, "nobody cares about what I did.''
Chicago undoubtedly was helped this week by wrapping up its Division Series in three games. While the Angels went the limit with the Yankees and came into the ALCS with their staff drained ("We might have caught them at an opportune moment,'' pitching coach Don Cooper said), the Sox were well rested. And they will be so again for the World Series. Heck, Garland, who pitched on 12 days' rest in Game 3, might pitch on 10 days' rest in the World Series.
"I'm going to have to call people up this week and see if I can get some games together,'' Williams joked. "I've got to get our guys some innings.''
Asked what he knew about Chicago's World Series drought, Pierzynski replied, "I know I wasn't born the last time they were in it, I know that. They were last in it in 1959, right? And won it in 1917?''
Well, there is plenty of time for history lessons. The World Series doesn't start until Saturday. But compared to how long Chicago has waited for this, the days will fly by.
Say it. Chicago won the pennant. Say it again. The White Sox are going to the World Series. Sure, it sounds weird. But eventually, by Game 1 Saturday, maybe it will sink in.
Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," was published by Plume. It can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com.