HOUSTON – The Chicago White Sox came pouring out of the dugout to hug and dance 88 years of frustration, foibles and futility away – World Series champions at last, at last.
As they bounced near the mound, 25 men sharing the exact same feeling of elation – a version of what most certainly was occurring en masse back in the streets of Chicago's South Side – the supposed freest spirit of them all, manager Ozzie Guillen, stayed off to the side, finding a respectful spot behind third base to just watch and simply soak it all in.
He stayed back to not show up the Houston Astros or their manager Phil Garner. He took the moment to think of his homeland, Venezuela, of which his pride knows no bounds, and the team owner that gambled on him as an unorthodox manager.
And he only watched because, at 41, no matter how much of a kid's heart beats inside of him, he knows it is always more fun to watch "my boys" celebrate than to celebrate himself.
"A lot of people thought because the way I am I was going to be jumping around (with) my players," Guillen said.
He had every right.
Players play, like shortstop Juan Uribe's two sensational defensive gems in the ninth inning. Players pitch, like Freddy Garcia's seven-shutout-inning masterpiece. Players make the clutch hits, like MVP Jermaine Dye's eighth-inning single that gave the White Sox the game's only run to close out a four-game sweep of the Houston Astros on Wednesday.
But Guillen was more than just the guy setting the lineup and pulling the pitchers. His carefree personality, team-first attitude and pure love of the game was not just everywhere on this club but it was also essential for this club.
A franchise that goes nearly nine decades without winning a single playoff series, let alone winning it all, that still stings from the 1919 scandal where they threw the Series and that went years of playing in mediocrity-induced near-obscurity, isn't supposed to walk into the playoffs and run off 11 victories in 12 games.
It isn't supposed to shrug in the face of various errors, missteps and mistakes. It isn't supposed to stay loose when the game gets tight, find heroes from unlikely spots deep on the bench and simply act like a champion with a "Why worry?" attitude.
But that was these White Sox.
Take the eighth inning Wednesday, where a botched routine foul pop, a hit batsman and a wild pitch gave Houston life and would have frozen lesser teams. Instead, everyone on the Sox just took a deep, relaxing breath and slammed the door on the Astros.
These playoff-novice White Sox showed up and played like the Yankees. Or at least like the Yankees used to play.
"I think his personality rubbed off on everybody," said Dye, the veteran right fielder. "He's a laid-back guy. He'll say whatever is on his mind and he keeps everybody loose. He wants you to go out and have fun, stay positive, no matter if you're down.
"And he just knows to win."
Guillen doesn't always talk like a manager, act like a manager and manage like a manager, but he is undeniably the best young manager in baseball.
While he jokes when he wants to joke (which is most of the time), he is also serious when he needs to be serious.
"I am not trying to take the heat away from my players because, if you read my quotes over the years, I throw my players under the bus a lot of times," the second-year manager said. "I just pick the right time to do it. I lead the league in throwing my players under the bus."
His players love him for it. This was a team that followed his simple mantra – no finger pointing, no blame, no excuses. When a teammate makes a mistake, Guillen demanded the only reaction would be of support.
He got them to believe in themselves and then play for each other.
"We don't have egos on this team," Dye said. "Everybody just wanted to win and go out there and do what we could to win. And guys stepped up at the end of the season and even though we were going bad (in late-September), I think guys got refocused."
From that point on, they won 16 of 17 games.
And so a collection of players will go down in South Side folklore, toasted forever at the bars from Bridgeport to Western Ave. – Paulie, A.J., Jermaine, Uribe, Buehrle, Crede, Podsednik, El Duque, Garland, Big Bobby Jenks and on and on. It was an entire team of heroes.
"Everybody was pulling on the same rope," Dye said.
They were all there in the middle of Minute Maid Park in pure joy and pure jubilation. "My boys, jumping back and forth," Guillen smiled.
It was a party he inspired, he planned and he delivered.
And for once, he didn't want to join. For once, Ozzie Guillen wanted to watch someone else do all the laughing. For once he wanted a quiet moment to think of how his bosses, Jerry Reinsdorf and Kenny Williams, were feeling. For once he wanted to imagine how the celebrations were raging from Chicago to Caracas.
For once, Ozzie just wanted to watch all the fun because, in his greatest moment, that was much more than enough.
- Ozzie Guillen
- White Sox
- Houston Astros