SERIES: AL Championship Series; White Sox, 3-1.
Baseball fans on the South Side of Chicago have waited 46 years for this.
The White Sox can clinch the franchise’s first World Series appearance since 1959 when they face the Los Angeles Angels in Game 5 of the ALCS.
Baseball’s signature event has not been in Chicago since 1959, when the White Sox lost in six games to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The World Series nearly came to the Windy City two years ago when the Chicago Cubs took a 3-1 lead in the NLCS over Florida before dropping the final three games.
“When we play on the road, we represent Chicago, the city, and I think we’ve got something that’s going on here that’s nice for the city,” White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. “I think we have something going on that’s something good for sports in Chicago, and when you’re a true Cubs fan or true White Sox fan, I think I’ll be wrong, I think anybody that’s a Cubs fan is really true, but I want the support from him because we represent a big city and a nice city.”
The White Sox are in the same position as the 2003 Cubs, needing one win to secure their place in history.
Chicago has used outstanding starting pitching to assume a commanding lead in this series, with Freddy Garcia becoming the latest to go the distance with a six-hitter in an 8-2 victory in Game 4 on Saturday.
Paul Konerko struck early again for the White Sox, homering in the first inning for the second consecutive game. He had a two-run shot in Game 3 and added a three-run homer on Saturday.
The White Sox, who have scored seven first-inning runs in the series, led by three runs after 12 pitches in Game 3 and by three runs and 18 pitches in Game 4.
“We’ve been looking up at their dust for a while early in the games,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia lamented.
Garcia became the third straight Chicago pitcher to toss a complete game, joining Game 2 winner Mark Buehrle and Game 3 winner Jon Garland. Garcia gave up two runs and six hits, walked one and struck out five.
“Yeah, I was trying to do my job,” Garcia said. “I tried to follow those guys.”
The last team to throw three straight complete games in the postseason was the 1973 New York Mets.
The White Sox will turn to Game 1 starter Jose Contreras as they try to finish off the Angels.
Contreras came within two outs of a complete game in the opener, but had his personal eight-game winning streak stopped in a 3-2 loss.
Contreras allowed three runs and seven hits in his first loss since Aug. 15. The right-hander has never beaten the Angels, going 0-3 with a 5.55 ERA against them, including his Game 1 loss.
“I’m going to attack them the same way I have in the past and the same way I did last time,” Contreras said through a translator. “I think that’s the key against every major-league team, throw strikes and attack them. I don’t think my game plan is going to change, anything at all.”
Contreras will be facing a Los Angeles lineup that has been completely baffled in this series. The Angels are batting .177 (22-for-124) and have scored eight runs in the first four games of the ALCS.
The biggest culprit has been reigning MVP Vladimir Guerrero, who went hitless in four at-bats Saturday. Guerrero is just 1-for-16 (.063) in the series with no extra-base hits or RBIs in nine postseason games.
“After the break, it was similar,” Guerrero said through a translator after Saturday’s game. “I was swinging the same and hitting the ball, but not hard and hitting it at people. I’m just not swinging good. It’s the same pitches they’ve thrown me all year. If you watched me play all year, it’s the same Vlady.”
While their big slugger has struggled, the Angels’ normally reliable leadoff hitter—Chone Figgins—also hasn’t contributed much. Figgins, 2-for-14 (.143) in last year’s playoffs, is batting a paltry .114 (4-for-35) with 11 strikeouts in the 2005 postseason.
Scioscia believes his team can turn it around.
“The series isn’t over until that fourth game is clinched,” he said. “I told the guys that if we were in (spring training in) Tempe, Arizona, I told them we were four days away from reaching our goal of getting to the World Series and we needed to get on a three-game winning streak and we’d take it, let’s go for it. This certainly isn’t over.”
The struggling bats have put added pressure on Paul Byrd, who will start Game 5 for the Angels. Byrd outdueled Contreras on three days’ rest in the opener, allowing two runs and five hits over six innings.
The veteran right-hander bounced back after surrendering four runs and seven hits over 3 2-3 innings in an 11-7 win over the New York Yankees in Game 3 of the ALDS.
“I was just glad that Mike had given me the ball,” Byrd said. “In Game 1, they had a lot of confidence in me. Even when I struggled in New York he had a lot of confidence in me even though I was losing velocity. So I felt honored that they trusted me and gave me the ball. That doesn’t change even though the situation is different.”
Game 6, if necessary, would be Tuesday in Chicago.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: White Sox - AL Central champions; beat Boston Red Sox 3-0, AL division series. Angels - AL West champions; beat New York Yankees 3-2, AL division series.
PROJECTED LINEUPS: White Sox - LF Scott Podsednik (.290, 59 SBs), 2B Tadahito Iguchi (.278, 15 HRs, 71 RBIs, 15 SBs), RF Jermaine Dye (.274, 31, 86), 1B Konerko (.283, 40, 100, 98 runs), DH Carl Everett (.251, 23, 87), CF Aaron Rowand (.270, 13, 69, 16 SBs), C A.J. Pierzynski (.257, 18, 56), 3B Joe Crede (.252, 22, 62), SS Juan Uribe (.252, 16, 71). Angels - 3B Figgins (.290, 8 HRs, 57 RBIs, MLB-high 62 SBs, 64 BBs), SS Orlando Cabrera (.257, 8, 57, 21 SBs), RF Guerrero (.317, 32, 108, .394 on-base percentage), LF Garret Anderson (.283, 17, 96), 1B Darin Erstad (.273, 7, 66), DH Casey Kotchman (.278, 7, 22), C Bengie Molina (.295, 15, 69), CF Steve Finley (.222, 12, 54), 2B Adam Kennedy (.300, 2, 37).
WHITE SOX PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Contreras (0-1, 3.24 ERA). Contreras is 6-0 with a 2.77 ERA in his last seven road starts.
ANGELS PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Byrd (1-0, 3.00 ERA). Byrd went 6-3 with a 3.69 ERA in 15 home starts this season.
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Angels, 6-4.
STREAKS AND NOTES: White Sox - Chicago has won eight straight road games dating to the regular season. … 1B Konerko has eight RBIs in three road playoff games this season. … LHP Neal Cotts is the only reliever to pitch in the series for Chicago, retiring both batters he faced in Game 1. Angels - Los Angeles has dropped five of its last seven postseason home games. … Scioscia inserted DH Kotchman into the lineup on Saturday for his first start of the postseason and he responded with two hits. … RHP Scot Shields has allowed four hits and struck out four over 4 2-3 scoreless innings in the ALCS.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: White Sox - 3-0 on the road. Angels - 2-3 at home.