- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
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ANAHEIM -- Kenny Williams' first priority is to bring White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf a championship and reward the loyal fans who have suffered for so long without a shred of the sympathy accorded, say, Cubs fans.
"I've had ample time to feel White Sox fans' pain," Williams, the team's general manager, said in the visiting dugout before Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.
Once this October joyride ends, Williams' top priority is re-signing first baseman and cleanup hitter Paul Konerko. Williams makes it clear with every word and gesture that there's a place for Konerko in his heart. The question is, does he have room for Konerko in his budget?
Konerko, whose national profile badly lags his production, is getting it done on the type of national stage that makes reputations and enhances investment portfolios. In Game 3 of the series Friday, he played the role of fire-starter with a two-run, first-inning homer on a full count to stake Jon Garland to an early lead and send the White Sox on their way.
And Saturday? Konerko hit a three-run, first-inning homer on a full count to stake Freddy Garcia to an early lead and send the White Sox on their way. Some moments are so emotionally fulfilling, you just have to savor them twice.
With an 8-2 victory in Game 4, the White Sox are now a victory away from their first World Series appearance since 1959. But they're approaching it with the same live-for-today mantra that sustained them in September when Cleveland was charging hard and things didn't look so good.
They win as a team and lose as a team. But mostly, they win as a team.
"The way our team is playing right now, anybody could have hit that home run," Konerko said. "We're so selfless right now, it's not even like one guy is getting that hit. It's like every single guy is swinging the bat all at once."
The White Sox continue to get otherworldly pitching. Mark Buehrle, Garland and Garcia became the first starters to throw complete games in a postseason since Tom Seaver, Jon Matlack and Jerry Koosman did it for the 1973 Mets.
Throw in Jose Contreras' 8 1/3 inning effort in the series opener, and Chicago's starters are the first to work at least eight innings in four consecutive outings since the 1963 Dodgers of Sandy Koufax, Johnny Podres and Don Drysdale.
Meanwhile, Chicago's relievers have resorted to keeping themselves amused by holding impromptu trivia contests and making hand shadows in the bullpen.
Angels starter Ervin Santana, who pitched with such cool detachment in emergency relief of Bartolo Colon in the first-round clincher against the Yankees, was all over the place in this one. He walked Scott Podsednik to lead off the first inning, then plunked Tadahito Iguchi on the arm. After the runners advanced on a flyout by Jermaine Dye, Konerko stepped to the plate looking resplendent in White Sox black-and-gray with matching locked-in mode.
"When there are guys on base, his eyes sort of light up," Podsednik said. "That's what he gets paid to do -- drive in runs."
The Angels squawked when they thought Konerko went around on a 2-2 pitch, only to have it ruled a checked swing. With the count full, Santana opted for the slider, and Konerko sent it high and far over the left-center field fence.
"I gave him no reason not to throw me a slider," Konerko said. "I didn't look good that at-bat against the slider, and I didn't look good against it the last time we faced him. I don't look good on a lot of people's sliders."
Either Konerko is being modest, or he pounds the fastball to the point of relentlessness. He's driven in 100 runs in each of the past two seasons, and this year he became the first White Sox hitter with back-to-back 40-homer seasons since Frank Thomas did it in 1995-96.
If the White Sox win their first World Series since 1917, it could create a feel-good dynamic that will make it difficult for Konerko to tear himself away emotionally. Then again, sentiment can get lost when supply and demand intervene. The Red Sox, Orioles, Mets, Dodgers and several other clubs could use a power-hitting first baseman, and the market is sufficiently thin to jack up Konerko's asking price.
Last winter, teams in search of pop could make a run at Richie Sexson, Carlo Delgado, Troy Glaus, Adrian Beltre, Carlos Beltran and J.D. Drew, among others. This winter, it's Konerko and a whole lot of Plan B's. A Brian Giles here. A Jacque Jones and a Preston Wilson there.
The Angels, who could use another righty power bat, have also been mentioned prominently in speculation. Konerko went to high school in Arizona and broke into pro ball with the Dodgers organization, and Southern California can be an awfully appealing place.
"I've heard those rumors about him," Williams said. "He's sure giving them an up-close-and-personal look at the kind of player he is."
Williams' regard for Konerko extends well beyond his OPS. The player and general manager play golf together in the offseason, and Williams likes to solicit ideas from Konerko and get opinions on potential acquisitions. He marvels at Konerko's "cerebral" approach and says Konerko is destined to make a fine big-league manager or front-office executive one day if he so desires.
It sure sounds like the basis for a long-term union.
"Paul wants to be here and we want him here," Williams said. "Whether that happens or not, hell, I don't know. Right now I'd like to just focus on today."
If it's half as satisfying as yesterday and the day before, you can hardly blame him.
1dKevin Van Valkenburg