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White Sox punch ticket to ALCS

White Sox punch ticket to ALCS

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BOSTON -- Through the rivers of flowing champagne, the tears of joy from family members and screams of jubilation and triumph from the players, Frank Thomas slowly made his way across the crowded White Sox clubhouse to chairman Jerry Reinsdorf following Friday's 5-3 victory over Boston before a sellout crowd of 35,496 at Fenway Park.

This exciting win completed the White Sox improbable three-game Division Series sweep of the defending World Series champions, sending them to the American League Championship Series starting Tuesday, and produced the first postseason series victory for the South Siders since 1917. It's the second postseason series win for any Chicago baseball team in that same time frame.

Thomas remains inactive in the postseason as the newest fracture of his left navicular continues to heal. But the longest tenured player on the team deserved this celebration as much as any individual on the field who had a hand in this trio of most impressive victories.

It also took Thomas five words to sum up the feeling on this special day, as he leaned in to hug the soaking wet White Sox leader.

"Special," said Thomas to Reinsdorf, repeating himself in case the champagne dripping down Reinsdorf's face temporarily impaired his hearing. "This is something special."

Actually, "special" only begins to describe the White Sox accomplishment.

Despite winning 99 games during the regular season and holding on to first place in the American League Central from start to finish, nobody expected this team to advance in the postseason. When the White Sox lead over Cleveland slipped from 15 games to 1 1/2 games late in September, there were some doubters who thought they were witnessing one of the biggest final-month disasters in baseball history.

But there were 25 guys in the clubhouse who always believed. Not to mention their manager and coaches, a general manager who was the Frank Lloyd Wright of this success story and a supportive group running the show upstairs. Now, the Division Series is only a taste of what they ultimately want to celebrate.

"I don't know if people watching think we are satisfied or that we reached a goal," said White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko, who homered twice during the three-game sweep. "But already people in here are saying we can do this two more times. Enjoy it, but don't get too caught up."

The postseason mantra from Ozzie Guillen and his players has been "11 victories" since Monday's first workout session. Now, it has changed to "eight victories," with the same level of cool confidence.

"That's what we have to do. Take it one day at a time," said Guillen, surrounded by his wife, Ibis, his children and other friends and family members in the visiting manager's office. "Prepare yourself mentally and physically and don't get too high.

"We beat one of the best teams in baseball, but fly real low. Don't get too excited."

Guillen's composure came in handy during a hair-raising sixth inning, in which the White Sox took the lead on Konerko's two-run home run off Tim Wakefield, and then almost gave it back in the bottom of the frame. Manny Ramirez homered for the second time off Freddy Garcia leading off the sixth, signaling the end of Garcia's day.

Damaso Marte replaced Garcia, and promptly gave up Trot Nixon's single before walking Bill Mueller and John Olerud to load the bases with nobody out. Guillen responded by summoning Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez from the bullpen.

El Duque induced a popup to Konerko from pinch-hitter Jason Varitek, who is 1-for-19 lifetime against the right-hander, for out No. 1. He then got a popup to Juan Uribe from Tony Graffanino at the end of a 10-pitch battle and struck out Johnny Damon with a biting curve to end the threat.

A biting curve, that is, with the bases loaded and a full count.

Short and Sweep
With Friday's victory, the Chicago White Sox became the sixth team to sweep the American League Division Series since it began in 1995.
YearTeams, results
2005Chicago 3, Boston 0
2004Boston 3, Anaheim 0
2000Seattle 3, Chicago 0
1999New York 3, Texas 0
1998New York 3, Texas 0
1995Cleveland 3, Boston 0

"I don't know. I guess it's good luck," said Hernandez, as he puffed on a victory cigar. "People think I separate the postseason from the other games, and I don't. It's just another baseball game. Maybe it's the atmosphere."

"That was big-game pitching at its best," Graffanino added. "He had absolutely no room for error and he made quality pitches, battled and had the guts to throw slow curves on 3-2 counts with the bases loaded. He saved the game for them."

Hernandez entered the game with a 9-3 record and an earned run average of just under 3.00 for his career in the postseason. After pitching out of the sixth-inning jam and hurling two more scoreless innings, his ERA dropped to 2.57 and his strikeout total rose to 105 in 105 innings.

Reinsdorf shared a story after the victory that he had pushed for Brandon McCarthy to be put on the postseason roster and not El Duque. Both Reinsdorf and Guillen agreed that it was good he doesn't make those decisions.

When Bobby Jenks coaxed Edgar Renteria into a ground ball to second baseman Tadahito Iguchi for the game's final out, nobody was thinking about postseason rosters. Players flocked onto the field, hugging and exchanging high fives, before they joined together as one massive group, jumping up and down to the right of the mound.

Together and celebrating. It seems to be a common theme amongst this special group of players.

"It means everything to me," Thomas said. "These guys are amazing. They're playing at such a high level. I'm really missing being in there, but I'm loving every minute of it."

"We have a lot of work yet to do," Reinsdorf continued. "We have to get to the World Series. But this one gets a little of the monkey off the White Sox back."

"The celebrations are getting better," added Jenks, whose two Division Series saves were preceded by a Central Division-clinching save in Detroit. "I hope we have a couple more left."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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