ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP)—Not since Shoeless Joe Jackson have the Chicago White Sox caused this much of a commotion.
World Series, here they come—for the first time since 1959.
A.J. Pierzynski came out on the right side of yet another umpiring ruckus, Jose Contreras pitched a five-hitter for Chicago’s fourth straight complete game and the White Sox beat the Los Angeles Angels 6-3 Sunday night to win the AL championship series in five games.
“In the end, our pitching was amazing,” Pierzynski said. “I don’t know if you’ll ever see it again.”
The White Sox ran back on the field after the game to pose for pictures on the mound as their fans behind the first-base dugout cheered. They’ll get two days off before resuming workouts and will take on either Houston or St. Louis, starting at home Saturday night.
After nearly a half-century of ho-hum baseball, the White Sox will get a chance at their first title since 1917.
And they will get a shot at some long overdue redemption—they lost the most infamous World Series ever, when Shoeless Joe and his “Black Sox” threw games against Cincinnati in 1919 and gave the sport a black eye.
The 46-year gap between Series appearances is the longest in major league history. The Chicago Cubs would end up with an even longer one, if they ever get back—their last NL pennant was in 1945.
“It finally puts us above the Cubs, because they’ve been getting all the credit,” said bench coach Harold Baines, who played more than 13 of his 22 seasons with the White Sox.
The last time the Windy City’s South Side team made it this far, it was all about Nellie Fox and his Go-Go Sox of 1959, who lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games.
“We’re in the World Series!” White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf hollered in his suite after the final out.
Reinsdorf once said he would trade all six NBA titles won by his Chicago Bulls for one World Series championship, and his opportunity is coming.
“I still can’t believe it,” he said, heading to the clubhouse to celebrate with his team. “I’m numb right now. Honest to God, it hasn’t sunk in. I think something really good is happening, but I’m not sure what it is.”
It’s pitching, that’s what.
Not since the 1956 New York Yankees beat the Brooklyn Dodgers behind five straight complete games from Whitey Ford, Tom Sturdivant, Don Larsen (his perfect game), Bob Turley and Johnny Kucks had a staff thrown as many as four in a row in a postseason series.
“I think it’s great because we proved a lot of people wrong, and I think I like that,” said manager Ozzie Guillen, who at 41 wasn’t even born when the White Sox last made it to the World Series. “I call it low key. We took a lot of beatings this year during the year about my team, and we just kept playing. Good thing my players don’t listen to what I was saying to the media.”
Pitching in drizzle on an un-Californialike night, Contreras retired his final 15 batters. He followed Mark Buehrle’s five-hitter in Game 2, Jon Garland’s four-hitter in Game 3 and Freddy Garcia’s six-hitter in Game 4.
“You might call it lucky, you might call it great, but we stepped it up,” Contreras said through a translator.
It was complete domination—Chicago’s bullpen was needed for just seven pitches in the whole series—two outs by Neal Cotts in the opener.
“It seemed like they were competing against each other, trying to one-up each other,” general manager Ken Williams said. “You hope to get one (complete game) and give your bullpen a rest, but this is ridiculous.”
Chicago held the Angels to a .175 batting average and 11 runs—one more than the fewest in an ALCS of five or more games. Los Angeles had just 27 hits — the fewest in any LCS going five games or longer—and 2004 AL MVP Vladimir Guerrero was 1-for-20 (.050) at the plate.
“I’ve never seen four horses like that that come out of the gate,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “You might have to go back to Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, that group, or the group Baltimore had in, I guess, ’66.”
Escobar struck out four in a row, and five overall, before walking Aaron Rowand with two outs in the eighth.
Then, Pierzynski found himself in the middle of another contested call.
In Game 2, he struck out with two outs in the ninth but reached when umpires ruled catcher Josh Paul didn’t catch the ball. Crede followed with a winning double that tied the series.
In Game 4, Pierzynski admitted his mitt nicked the bat of Steve Finley, who hit into an inning-ending double play that ended an Angels’ rally attempt as umpires failed to make the call.
This time, he hit a comebacker that bounced off Escobar, who instead of throwing to first ran to toward the foul line to make a tag play. He tagged Pierzynski with his glove—but the ball wasn’t there, it was in his bare right hand.
“I tried to get the ball in the glove. I didn’t have a chance,” Escobar said. “Everything seemed to go their way.”
Pierzynski initially was called out, but Guillen argued and umpires conferenced and reversed the call, bringing Scioscia out for a dispute.
“They got the call right,” Scioscia admitted.
Los Angeles then brought in closer Francisco Rodriguez to face Crede. K-Rod threw a 1-2 breaking ball that the crowd thought was strike three but was called a ball by plate umpire Ed Rapuano.
“I think it was close enough to call the pitch,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez threw another ball, pushing the count to 3-2, and Crede hit a perfectly placed slow grounder up the middle as many fans in the crowd of 44,712 gasped.
Second baseman Adam Kennedy dived on the shortstop side to stop it and threw home from a half-sitting position, but the throw was off-line and late as Rowand scored the go-ahead run.
ALCS MVP Paul Konerko (2.86, two homers, seven RBIs) added a run-scoring double in the ninth and Rowand boosted the margin with a sacrifice fly.
It was the sixth AL pennant for the White Sox, who have won the Series just twice.
Chicago took the initial lead for the fourth straight game, on Crede’s second-inning sacrifice fly off starter Paul Byrd.
Kennedy’s RBI single tied the score in the third, but Jermaine Dye made it 2-1 Chicago with an RBI double in the fifth that chased Byrd.
The Angels then brought out that scoreboard Rally Monkey who became famous during their run to the 2002 World Series title—and the monkey business worked.
Chone Figgins, hitting just 1-for-15 in the series, doubled into the right-field corner and Kennedy, who was at first, was allowed to score because a fan reached over the low wall and touched the ball. Garret Anderson’s sacrifice fly put Los Angeles ahead 3-2.
After the opener, the Angels held a lead at the end of only two innings.
“They took it to us pretty good,” Kennedy said. “Whatever the controversy, they took advantage of it. They took advantage of everything they got.”
The White Sox hadn’t pitched four straight complete games since Sept. 21-26, 1974, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, when Wilbur Wood, Jim Kaat, Kaat again (following a three-day layoff) and Bart Johnson strung them together. … The fan who interfered with Figgins’ double was ejected but not arrested, Angels spokesman Tim Mead said. The Angels would not disclose the fan’s name.