- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago White Sox took batting practice and worked out Monday morning at U.S. Cellular Field, did the obligatory press interviews at their locker stalls, then vacated the premises en masse before noon. That gave them the bulk of the afternoon to play with the kids, watch soap operas or do whatever else it is that big-league clubs with time to kill typically do in October.
The mood was so laid-back and leisurely, it's a wonder that manager Ozzie Guillen didn't have the affair catered.
For more than two days, the White Sox have been in a state of suspended animation, waiting to learn which team they'll play in the American League Championship Series. Anxiety-producing? A little. But when the Chicago players contemplate the bleary-eyed, waterlogged, jelly-legged alternative, uncertainty is no great hardship.
As the Angels and Yankees complete the Ferdinand Magellan leg of the postseason, there isn't a Chicago player who would switch places with them. The White Sox have TVs, and they're watching the other series play out with lots of interest and minimal sympathy.
"I just hope they play 20 innings," Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen said in advance of the Yankees-Angels series finale. "I hope they play 20 innings and the pitchers get tired, and hopefully we'll take advantage of that."
It's amazing how perceptions can change so quickly. Two weeks ago, when the White Sox's lead over Cleveland had shriveled from 15 games to 1½, they were derided both locally and nationally as choking dogs, unable to shed the burden of the franchise's onerous history.
Then Team Ozzie regained its equilibrium. The White Sox held off the Indians with a three-game sweep at Jacobs Field on the final weekend of the season. They bounced the Red Sox in three games in the Division Series. And Guillen's decision-making process in assembling his ALCS roster gives you all the evidence you need that the White Sox are living in a different hemisphere than the Yankees or Angels.
Consider: Rookie Brandon McCarthy, who failed to make the Division Series roster even after going 3-1 with a 1.69 ERA in August and September, has been omitted from the Championship Series roster as well. Guillen chose to carry Damaso Marte, who was shaky against Boston, but gives the White Sox a second lefty in the bullpen to complement Neal Cotts.
While Joe Torre and Mike Scioscia push their staffs to exhaustion, Guillen will start 18-game winner Jon Garland in Game 3 on 12 days rest. And in the event any Chicago starter has a rough night, Guillen can call on Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, a bona fide postseason weapon, to make things right in long relief.
Hernandez reestablished himself as an October force by pitching out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the series clincher against Boston.
"I think that sent everybody a little message," said third baseman Joe Crede. "We already had a strong bullpen, and now here's somebody else with experience who can go shut people down."
As the White Sox watched New York and Anaheim run the cross-country gauntlet over the weekend, they heard rumors that Major League Baseball might push the ALCS opener to Wednesday night to give the other series winner a chance to recuperate. That prospect wasn't well-received in the Chicago clubhouse, for obvious reasons.
"I think we've earned what we got," said White Sox outfielder Aaron Rowand. "To take away that advantage wouldn't be fair. If it was the other way around, I'm sure the Yankees or the Angels would feel the same way we do. It's just part of the road, you have to take to get where you have to go. Sometimes it's a little tougher for some than for others."
Rowand's advice to the Angels and Yankees: Get as much sleep as you can on the plane, guys.
Now that it's clear the American League opener will take place Tuesday as planned, the White Sox seem to have everything going in their favor. Guillen is around to keep everybody loose. The rotation is deep and set up perfectly. The Sox are assured of four games at Comiskey Park, where the crowd will be nuts and their 47-34 home record was the fourth best by an AL team this season. And Chicago comes into this series hot, with eight straight victories.
Ozzie's lovable and unsung squad might even enter the next round as -- perish the thought -- favorites.
"It's funny," said pitcher Mark Buehrle. "In the spring, a lot of people had us finishing fourth or fifth in our division. Some people had Detroit finishing ahead of us, and a couple had Kansas City finishing ahead of us. It just shows you the way our guys came out and didn't care what people thought."
The White Sox were so oblivious to perception, they're on the verge of the franchise's first World Series appearance since 1959. All they need now is an opponent.