- Wayne Drehs
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CHICAGO -- They play in the same city. They drink the same water, eat at the same restaurants, read the same newspapers and deal with the same unpredictable Windy City weather. Yet there is something profoundly different between this city's two professional baseball teams. It goes beyond fans, stadiums, leagues and colors.
On the North Side, the Cubs fell victim to a three-game sweep at the hands of the Dodgers, melting under the pressure of the postseason like only they know how. But here on the South Side on Sunday night, the White Sox responded to their fourth do-or-die scenario in a week, defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 5-3 at U.S. Cellular Field.
While the Cubs head for the golf course facing an offseason of questions and uncertainty, the White Sox now live to see another day. A win Monday, when Gavin Floyd (17-8) faces Andy Sonnanstine (13-9), and the best-of-five series will head back to Tampa, Fla.
"All season long we've faced these little bumps in the road and it has sort of become a habit to play from behind and be the underdog," first baseman Paul Konerko said. "It's just become a habit to fight. We know this isn't life or death. We know that as long as we go out there and fight, there's no pressure. If the other team beats us, they beat us."
White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, of course, has another explanation.
"Maybe we don't like our wives and don't want to go home," Pierzynski said, before adding, "Just kidding. I love you, honey."
On Sunday, the team that led the majors in home runs kept its season alive by playing uncharacteristic small ball. Whether it was Dewayne Wise walking, stealing second and scoring on a base hit in the third or Konerko and Ken Griffey Jr. tagging up from first and second on a fly ball to center and later scoring on a Wise double, Sunday was all about the White Sox doing whatever it took to score.
"If you're going to go down, you're going to go down swinging," Griffey said. "If I was out or got doubled up, I figured we'd still have a guy on third."
The three-run third helped the White Sox build a 4-1 lead they wouldn't lose. The sudden reincarnation of the "Go-Go Sox" tacked on an insurance run in the sixth when Brian Anderson came in to run for Griffey after a leadoff walk in the sixth, stole second, advanced to third on a groundout and scored on a two-out single by Juan Uribe.
After the game, the excitement level in the Sox's clubhouse was comparable to what you'd find after a spring training game. Pierzynski checked his fantasy football team on his cell phone. Anderson asked if a Sox staffer could text him the winner of the Angels-Red Sox game so he knew what time to show up to the ballpark Monday. And reliever Matt Thornton watched tape of his one inning of hitless work.
There was no screaming, yelling or jumping up and down. There wasn't even any music. Players spoke in quiet, hushed tones. The only noise came from the clubhouse televisions, which were tuned to the Red Sox and Angels. If you didn't know any better, you would have thought the White Sox lost.
That's by design. Win or lose, before the game or after, June or October, this team is the same.
"Guys are happy being here because there's no pressure on anyone," said winning pitcher John Danks, who gave up three runs and seven hits over 6 2/3 innings. "No one acts like this is do or die, guys are playing cards up to 30 minutes before the game, we had the football games on guys approach it like it was a game in June. And that takes the pressure off a bit."
Counter that with Chicago's other team, which included Mark DeRosa irking manager Lou Piniella by declaring Game 2 a "do-or-die" proposition for the Cubs earlier this week, and maybe it isn't hard to understand why one team will soon be drinking coladas on the beach and the other is one of five teams still playing for a championship.
"This team has been the most resilient team I've ever been around in my career," Pierzynski said. "I've never seen a team in big games act as normal and unflappable as this team has been. Everything's the same. No one changed a thing."
Griffey gives the credit to Guillen for the White Sox's even-keeled approach.
"If your manager doesn't panic, you don't panic," he said. "Ozzie has never panicked. And that's all you can ask for."
White Sox players know their work is far from done. Though the series is developing into a battle of home fields, a showdown between the veteran-laden team that won't go away and the inexperienced but ultratalented kids who everyone had expected would collapse at some point this season, Tampa still leads 2-1 with a potential Game 5 at home.
After Sunday's win, Chicago closer Bobby Jenks joked that perhaps the White Sox should just continue this formula for the rest of the postseason, falling behind early in a series before pulling out the World Series title in the end.
Konerko has other ideas.
"If we get through this one, it wouldn't be a bad idea to try and work ahead, make it a little easier next time," he said. "Believe me, this is not the recipe you want. You want to win games. And we're still behind here, we're not out of the doghouse yet."
Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The White Sox again stared elimination in the face and, unlike the Cubs, answered the bell, writes Wayne Drehs.