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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

A Whole New Ballgame!
by Hal Vickery

Three wins down, eight to go. It’s still a long way to the Promised Land, but the Sox made it past the first hurdle last week, but it was a gut-wrenching experience.

Fans were a little bit worried when the Sox bats teed off on Matt Clement in game one of the ALDS. Callers to sportsblab radio shows expressed a fear that the Sox had scored so many runs that apparently in their minds, there wouldn’t be any runs left in them.

In one sense they were right. In the next two games the Sox scoring total was four runs short of the number they scored in the first game. However, their first-game total was five runs greater than Boston’s total for all three games.

It wasn’t easy, though, by any stretch of the imagination. The only Sox starter who had a chance to coast to a win was Jose Contreras in Game 1. The others had to work for their wins.

Mark Buehrle’s outing Wednesday night started out as anything but stellar. Buehrle gave up four runs in the first three innings, two in the first and two more in the third, while David Wells mowed down the Sox in his first four innings of pitching. Then it happened: a typical 2005 White Sox rally.

It started with an RBI double by Aaron Rowand, driving in Carl Everett.. Joe Crede drove in Rowand with a single, but Wells was still up 4-2 with one out. Then Juan Uribe hit a grounder to Tony Graffanino that had DP written all over it. Instead the ball rolled between Graffanino’s legs as Graffanino tried to hurry the play as Uribe hustled down the first base line.

Graffanino’s error left men on first and third for Scott Podsednik who popped up. It looked like Wells was going to pitch himself out of the jam until Tadahito Iguchi saw Wells’ second consecutive curve ball. Iguchi held back on it and drove it for a 3-run homer. Suddenly the Sox had the lead. They weren’t about to give it up. Buehrle held on through the seventh, and Bobby Jenks came in for a two-inning save.

The Sox did score three runs on homers, but it was the two shorter hits and Graffanino’s error that put the Sox in a position for the home run to win it. Great teams take advantage of opponents’ mistakes.

A few Sox fans dared talk of a sweep in Boston. Some refused to mention the word, remember what happened last year in the ALCS when the Yankees had the Red Sox down 3-0. They had shown last year that anything was possible in the post-season.

But that was last year. This year was a whole new ballgame.

Freddy Garcia’s outing Friday apparently wasn’t pretty. I say apparently because I had to listen more than half the game on my car radio as I drove back home from Illinois State University, where I was attending the annual meeting of the Illinois Association of Chemistry Teachers.

The Sox drew first blood off Boston starter Tim Wakefield in the third inning on doubles by Uribe and Podsednik. Iguchi then singled in Podsednik for a 2-0 lead. However, Garcia who was struggling, in part due to a tight strike zone being called by plate umpire Mark Wegner, gave up back-to-back homers to David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez an inning later.

The score remained tied until the sixth inning when Paul Konerko hit a two-run homer, scoring Jermaine Dye. Terry Francona pulled Wakefield after an Everett ground out. By the time the Sox half of the inning was over, Chad Bradford, Mike Myers, and Jonathan Papelbon had appeared on the mound for the Red Sox.

Unfortunately Garcia didn’t react to getting a lead the same way Buehrle had done on Wednesday. Instead he gave up a leadoff homer to Ramirez, his second of the day. Guillen had seen enough and replaced Garcia with Damaso Marte. Marte gave up a single to Trot Nixon and then walked Bill Mueller and John Olerud, loading the bases for pinch hitter Jason Varitek. It was just about this time that I arrived home and was able to catch the rest of the game.

During Marte’s stint on the mound, Guillen was all over Bill Wegner’s ball-strike calls. At one point Guillen made it to the top step of the dugout but wisely remained there while yelling at Wegner.

After the second walk, Guillen brought in Orlando Hernandez who had made the post-season squad over the objections of some in the Sox front office. All El Duque did was get both Varitek and Graffanino to pop out, the latter on a full count after nine pitches. Johnny Damon also worked Hernandez to a full count and then broke the plane with a check swing on what should have been ball four. Wegner did not hesitate in calling strike three.

It took something like fifty-six minutes for that sixth inning, and any Sox fan whose stomach wasn’t tied up in knots had to have been unconscious at the time. The Sox were out of a huge jam and kept the lead. They added to it in the top of the ninth when Pierzynski, the unofficial series MVP, doubled, went to third on a sacrifice bunt by Joe Crede, and scored on a squeeze bunt by Juan Uribe.

Enter Bobby Jenks. Exit Red Sox.

After the blow-out in Game 1, Sox fans were treated to two of the most exciting, gut-wrenching games in franchise history. And no, I’m not exaggerating. I’ve watched this team for over fifty years now, and I can’t think of any games that have had me more tied up in knots than the last two games of this year’s ALDS.

The Sox have made it past the Red Sox, but they still haven’t won anything more than the Central Division championship and the right to go on to play for the American League championship. The Sox are no farther no than they were in either 1983 or 1993, years when there was only one round of playoffs before the World Series.

There is still a long way to go, and the competition only gets tougher. Ozzie Guillen seems to have convinced his players of this, and they appear to be ready for whatever faces them.

Through 165 games, the Sox have managed to score just enough runs to win. It has been a year of one and two run victories. Nothing has come easy for either the players on the field or the fans who sit nervously through all the close games.

Judging from the ALDS, there may just be a run on tranquilizers and antacids at the drug stores as the Sox continue on this week.


Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

More features from Hal Vickery here!

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