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White Sox look ahead to ALCS

White Sox look ahead to ALCS

BOSTON -- It has been an especially successful 2005 campaign for the baseball franchise on the South Side of Chicago.

Ninety-nine victories. An American League Central title. The first playoff home victory since the World Series of 1959. The first playoff series win since the World Series title of 1917. A few players might have even received better rates on insurance from Geico.

But between the craziness making up the White Sox clubhouse Friday, following the completion of the Division Series sweep of the defending World Series champions from Boston, the prevailing opinion was that the best still is yet to come for this current squad.

"This is a great accomplishment, but we aren't over," said White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, after setting an unofficial record with his sixth champagne spritzing inside of five minutes. "We've had a fabulous year, but we are greedy. Let's see what happens. We've been sitting around since 1917, for crying out loud."

"Our team can beat anyone right now," added White Sox designated hitter Frank Thomas, who has put off the next examination on his fractured left navicular in California until the White Sox season comes to a close. "They do the little things. Pitching, hitting, defense and they play well together."

The next opponent for the White Sox will either be the New York Yankees, who have more World Series titles than the South Siders have postseason victories, or the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. And everyone knows about that dreaded West Coast jinx or hex where the White Sox are concerned.

New York took a three-game series from the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, from Aug. 19-21, with a Shawn Chacon shutout on Aug. 20 proving to be one of the few low spots in this uplifting season. The White Sox already had taken two of three in New York, from Aug. 8-10, with Aaron Rowand still chasing down fly balls in center field at Yankee Stadium.

The Angels posted a 6-4 record against the White Sox, including a three-game sweep at U.S. Cellular from Sept. 9-11. The Yankees have Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, while the Angels have Bartolo Colon, John Lackey, Francisco Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero and Chone Figgins.

Chicago has its fourth eight-game winning streak of the season and another load of champagne hopefully on ice. They also have no real preference as to their next opponent.

"I don't think it really matters," White Sox third baseman Joe Crede said. "I mean, these were the defending champs we just eliminated."

"I'm not even thinking about it," first baseman Paul Konerko added. "I hope [the Yankees-Angels series] goes five games and they all go 15 innings."

The ALCS is scheduled to begin Tuesday night in Chicago, but that date appears to be written in pencil and not pen. A strong wave of thunderstorms has been forecast to hit the East Coast for the next four or five days, a problem the White Sox avoided via Friday's victory.

When the competition actually begins, the White Sox roster could feature at least one significant change. Damaso Marte, who has been shaky at best down the stretch, might have pitched himself to the sideline by loading the bases with nobody out in the sixth inning of a one-run game Friday. Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez cleaned up Marte's mess, but the fact that manager Ozzie Guillen didn't really say much to Marte as he left the mound might spell future trouble for the once valuable left-hander.

Even though Neal Cotts would serve as the only left-hander in relief, Brandon McCarthy could be activated.

"We'll talk about it," said Guillen of the Marte-for-McCarthy swap. "I need Marte. If Marte continues to struggle, I don't have any other choice.

"He put the team on the line. I don't mind if you get beat, but don't beat yourself. If you get beat, that's fine. Hey, everybody goes out there and gets beaten. But when you go down there and don't want to throw the ball and are flat with pitches, it shows me you don't have confidence in yourself."

Guillen has a great deal of confidence in Jon Garland, who won a career-high 18 games during the regular season. But he wouldn't commit to Garland as his opening starter for the ALCS. Any member of the White Sox rotation but Freddy Garcia, who pitched his second straight clinching game Friday, would be ready to go on regular rest. The White Sox haven't really messed with their rotation all season, and they might not want to switch things.

Then again, Garland was 0-2 with a 6.92 ERA against the Angels and 0-1 when facing the Yankees. Jose Contreras, the White Sox ace, finished 0-1 against Los Angeles but held a 2-0 record with a 0.60 ERA when facing his old team from the Bronx.

"You know what, when that moment comes, I'll be focused," said Garland, who last pitched in Cleveland on Oct. 1. "Right now, I'm celebrating with this team. We got further than anyone thought we could."

Anyone but the members of this organization, that is. And when it comes right down to the ALCS opponent and the possible matchups, the White Sox just want to get their next party started. Even closer Bobby Jenks, who was released by the Angels and given up on in the offseason, doesn't have an axe to grind where the ALCS is concerned.

"It doesn't matter," Jenks said. "We just have to take one game at a time and make sure we do all the things that make us successful."

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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