SERIES: AL Division Series; White Sox lead 2-0.
Boston Red Sox fans may be wondering if this is the start of another comeback or another curse.
Following a game which evoked the memory of Bill Buckner’s infamous error, the Red Sox now hope to start putting thoughts of their amazing rally in last year’s playoffs into the minds of the Chicago White Sox, or their reign as world champions will be over.
“They’re not going to quit,” White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. “They’ve been down 2-0 before; they’ve been down 3-0 before. They’re not going to go away. We’ve got to find a way to win one more game and it’s not going to be easy in Boston.”
Chicago not only could put a quick end to Boston’s postseason by pulling off a sweep in this AL division series, but one more win would give the franchise just its third playoff series victory and first since the 1917 World Series.
The Red Sox won the championship the following year, but then they sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees and many Boston fans felt the team had been cursed since, as the Red Sox went 86 years without a title. That all changed last year when the Red Sox became the first team to come back from an 0-3 deficit, doing it against the Yankees in the ALCS, before sweeping St. Louis in the World Series.
“Last year was last year; this has nothing to do with last year,” Boston’s David Ortiz said. “We made a comeback, but it was last year.”
The image most associated with the Red Sox and the curse was the ground ball that rolled through Buckner’s legs at first base in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series against the New York Mets, and it was hard not to think of that exact play Wednesday night.
With Boston leading 4-2 in the fifth, second baseman Tony Graffanino let a potential inning-ending, double-play grounder go through his legs. One out later, Tadahito Iguchi hit a three-run homer that put the White Sox ahead, and they went on to win 5-4 to take a 2-0 series lead.
“Everybody who’s ever been in the game has been in a situation where they screwed up the game. It crushed me,” Graffanino said. “We’re losing, and it’s my fault.”
He’s not the only one to blame for Boston.
The Red Sox have left seven runners on base in each of the first two games. The White Sox have stranded a total of five in the series.
Boston was sixth in the majors this season with 199 homers, one behind the White Sox, but did not hit one in Games 1 or 2.
“I think people know what the Red Sox did to the Yankees last year and with that lineup, we can’t slow down,” Buehrle said. “We’ve got to go out there and finish these guys as quick as we can.”
Tim Wakefield hopes to prevent that from happening. However, he’s been awful in six division series appearances, going 0-3 with a 9.92 ERA.
Wakefield’s most recent outing came in a playoff-type atmosphere, facing the Yankees at Fenway Park on Saturday with Boston tied atop the AL East with its archrival. He was ripped for seven runs and seven hits, including three homers, in five innings as the Red Sox lost 8-4 while the Yankees clinched the division crown.
The last team to score that many runs against Wakefield was the White Sox on July 22 in Chicago. The knuckleballer lost that game, but beat them at Fenway on Aug. 13 by throwing 6 2-3 solid innings in a 7-4 victory.
“Playing them during the regular season, they’ve hit the ball very well against us,” Wakefield said. “We just have to stay aggressive. We’ve been in this situation before. Now that we’re back at home playing in front of our home crowd, there’s still a chance.”
Wakefield will be opposed by Freddy Garcia, who hasn’t appeared in the playoffs since 2001 with Seattle. He’s 3-2 with a 3.71 ERA in six postseason starts.
Boston has won eight of its last nine playoff games when facing elimination, including coming back from an 0-2 deficit against Oakland in the 2003 ALDS.
“It’s good to know that we have” done it before, said Graffanino, acquired from the Royals at midseason. “Because now we have to.”
HOW THEY GOT HERE: White Sox - AL Central champion. Red Sox - Wild-card winner.
PROJECTED LINEUPS: White Sox: LF Scott Podsednik (.290, 59 SBs), 2B Iguchi (.278, 15 HRs, 71 RBIs, 15 SBs), RF Jermaine Dye (.274, 31, 86), 1B Paul Konerko (.283, 40, 100, 98 runs), DH Carl Everett (.251, 23, 87), CF Aaron Rowand (.270, 13, 69, 16 SBs), C Pierzynski (.257, 18, 56), 3B Joe Crede (.252, 22, 62), SS Juan Uribe (.252, 16, 71). Red Sox: CF Johnny Damon (.316, 10 HRs, 75 RBIs, 117 runs, 18 SBs), SS Edgar Renteria (.276, 8, 70, 100), DH Ortiz (.300, 47, 148, 119, 102 BBs), LF Manny Ramirez (.292, 45, 144, 112), RF Trot Nixon (.275, 13, 67), C Jason Varitek (.281, 22, 70), 1B Kevin Millar (.272, 9, 50), 3B Bill Mueller (.295, 10, 62), 2B Graffanino (.309, 7, 38).
WHITE SOX PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Garcia (14-8, 3.87 ERA). The right-hander had a fairly inconsistent second half, but closed the season with two solid efforts. He beat Minnesota and Detroit, allowing three runs and 12 hits with two walks in 15 innings. Garcia had won only once in his previous nine outings. He has a 6-2 record and 4.50 ERA in 12 starts against the Red Sox, though he hasn’t faced them this season. Garcia has gone 10-3 with a 3.40 ERA on the road.
RED SOX PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Wakefield (16-12, 4.15 ERA). Before getting knocked around by the Yankees on Saturday, Wakefield had pitched extremely well in September, posting a 1.99 ERA while walking seven and striking out 34 in 40 2-3 innings. Left-handed batters hit .202 against him this season. He’s 5-10 with a 5.42 ERA in 25 appearances against the White Sox. In 15 postseason games, including eight starts, Wakefield has gone 5-4 with a 6.07 ERA.
STREAKS AND NOTES: White Sox - Rowand, who drove in a run in Games 1 and 2, homered in both games he faced Wakefield this season. He’s 10-for-14 with four HRs lifetime against him. … Chicago’s bullpen, fourth in the majors this season with a 3.26 ERA, has thrown 3 1-3 scoreless innings through Games 1 and 2. … Uribe has hit .370 against Boston this year, including 3-for-7 with a HR in this series. Red Sox - Ortiz, who is 3-for-17 (.176) against Garcia, has homered once in his last 11 games. … RHP Matt Clement might be available for relief in Game 3 after allowing eight runs in 3 1-3 innings in Tuesday’s 14-2 series-opening loss. … Boston walked a major league-high 645 times during the regular season, but has drawn just two in this series.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: White Sox - 0-0 on the road. Red Sox - 0-0 at home.