- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Chicago White Sox have a long and illustrious history of lousy play in Orange County. It began in 1995, when their starting shortstop was Ozzie Guillen and their main designated hitters were Frank Thomas and a veteran left-handed batter with a sweet stroke and a .300 career average.
No, not Harold Baines. We're talking about "Baseball Tonight's'' very own John Kruk.
A lot has changed in a decade. David Eckstein and Michael Eisner came and went, and Arte Moreno and the Rally Monkey came and stayed. The ballpark underwent a multi-million dollar refurbishment and a pair of name changes. Anaheim Stadium begat Edison International Field, which gave way to the current moniker -- Angel Stadium of Anaheim.
Guillen, now the White Sox's manager, has a theory for Chicago's 15-39 record in Anaheim over the last 11 seasons. "Most of the time we'd start a trip in Oakland, the pitching staff in Oakland would give us a lot of problems, and then we'd move to Anaheim and carry the problem here,'' Guillen said.
That sounds great in theory, except that Mark Mulder and Barry Zito were still teenagers and Tim Hudson was anchoring the Auburn Tigers rotation when the White Sox dropped 15 of 18 games to the Angels here in the mid-1990s.
More likely, it was a case of the Angels running out better talent than Chicago. When the White Sox didn't have the players, who cared if Terry Bevington or Jerry Manuel was making out the lineup card?
This year, of course, there's a new dynamic to the matchup. The White Sox split two of four games in Anaheim during the regular season, with Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, Freddy Garcia and Jose Contreras all pitching into the seventh inning or beyond.
Now the stakes are higher, and the White Sox are upbeat, loose, and in the mood for some payback.
The American League Championship Series is tied 1-1, and the White Sox have several reasons to feel good about themselves. Chicago's pitchers have held the Angels lineup to a .190 batting average and have yet to issue a walk. The Sox also managed to split two games in Chicago despite some shaky baserunning and a failure to produce in the clutch.
Chicago won Wednesday's second game 2-1 on a ninth-inning double by Joe Crede after a bizarre non-third strike call that made a reluctant celebrity of umpire Doug Eddings. Let's put it this way: A Nexis internet search of the names "Doug Eddings'' and "Don Denkinger'' had already generated 20 matches as of Thursday afternoon.
Upon arrival in Anaheim, the White Sox reflected on their good fortune with no apologies or illusions about what might come next.
"We can't think things are going to just go our way magically,'' said first baseman Paul Konerko. "That's not going to happen. We have to come ready to work, because if I was in Anaheim's clubhouse, I'd have a little chip on my shoulder right now.
"If we think what happened the other night is going to propel us to winning the World Series and the job is going to take care of itself, we're going to be in a lot of trouble.''
On a gloriously sunny 80-degree day in Southern California, the Angels stayed home in bed, recovering all that REM sleep they lost in their torturous first-round series against the Yankees. The White Sox, meanwhile, took batting practice, had a snappy infield practice and sized up the surroundings.
Before Chicago took the field for batting practice, outfielder Jermaine Dye wondered if the 5 p.m. local starting times for three games this weekend might be problematic. "It's going to be tough to pick the ball up in the first three or four innings,'' Dye said.
But when the White Sox finished practice shortly after 4 p.m., the shadows had already passed the infield dirt and were halfway into the outfield. From all indications, the late afternoon start shouldn't be an issue.
Pitching has dominated the first two games of the series. Contreras and Buehrle became the first teammates to pitch at least eight innings in consecutive League Championship Series starts since Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson did it for Arizona in 2001. The Angels, conversely, have posted an aggregate 1.02 ERA while relying heavily on their bullpen.
Most notably, Los Angeles' resident hammer, Vladimir Guerrero, looks out of sync at the plate. In the Division Series against New York, Guerrero contributed six singles. Against Chicago, he's hitless in eight at-bats and he's gotten the ball out of the infield only once.
If Guerrero has physical problems that are impeding his swing, the Angels aren't saying. And if the White Sox have devised a game plan to neutralize him, they're not saying, either.
"You can't have a pattern with him, because he swings at everything and he hits everything hard,'' said White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski. "Heck, I don't know. Sometimes you just hope he hits it at guys.''
John Lackey, who might have been Los Angeles' best pitcher even before Cy Young Award candidate Bartolo Colon went down with a shoulder injury, will start Game 3 against Garland, an 18-game winner who will be making his first appearance since Oct. 1.
"I think April was the best month he had, and he was well-rested,'' Guillen said of Garland, who went 4-0 with a 1.80 out of the chute this season. "That's the way I look at it -- always positive.''
Spoken like a man unburdened by history.