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White Sox close in on AL pennant

White Sox close in on AL pennant

ANAHEIM -- It all began on the afternoon of Sept. 29 in Detroit, when the White Sox locked up the American League Central behind Freddy Garcia.

As celebrations go, the postgame revelry in the South Siders' clubhouse was a little tamer than expected. Maybe they simply were growing accustomed to postseason success.

That party picked up a notch last Friday in terms of intensity at Fenway Park, when Ozzie Guillen's crew swept Boston in the Division Series. But these little bits of clubhouse chaos only were the hors d'oeuvres to the main course possibly on tap Sunday night at Angel Stadium.

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By virtue of Saturday's 8-2 shellacking of the Angels before a silently observant crowd of 44,857, the White Sox took a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series. A team previously unable to win on the West Coast now sits one victory away from clinching its first World Series appearance since 1959.

The champagne might not be quite yet on ice, but it certainly resides in the Anaheim area. Don't try to convince the White Sox this series victory is a done deal. Not when the team's most defining characteristic all season long has been its ability to stay at an even plateau through the highest of highs and lowest of lows.

"That's been our approach all season, and we've taken into this series and it has worked," said White Sox left fielder Scott Podsednik, who reached base four times on Saturday, scored twice and swiped two bases. "But there's still baseball to be played."

"You don't have the ego guys in here," added designated hitter Carl Everett, who had two singles and two RBIs in Saturday's victory. "It's not all about, 'It has to be me. It has to be me.' Every night it's someone different, and if you don't get the job done, then you have confidence the guy behind you will come through."

Although many different faces have contributed to the White Sox 6-1 postseason record, the true constants have been the stellar starting pitching and Paul Konerko. On Saturday, it was Garcia's turn to bask in the spotlight, pitching the third straight complete game for the White Sox staff and producing the sixth quality start of the playoffs.

Garcia struck out five, yielded six hits and walked one, giving the White Sox pitchers two walks in the entire ALCS. This quartet of starters became the first to work at least eight innings in four consecutive postseason games within one series since the 1963 Dodgers in the World Series. The White Sox also became the first team to hurl three straight complete games in the postseason since the 1973 Mets.

It has become a good-natured game of one-upsmanship.

"What I think is going on, and it crossed my mind during [Friday's] game, and it crossed my mind early in the season, is that this is a good, healthy competition," said White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper, serving the role of the proud father in this instance. "He completed the game and now I want to complete it.

"He won and now I want to win. Now, it's more magnified. Nobody wanted to be trailing the pack. They all want to be the lead dog, and it's nice that it's out there."

Garcia last pitched eight days ago in the clinching contest at Boston. He referred to his break as being "on vacation," although catcher A.J. Pierzynski quickly added that Garcia and his wife also had their first child during that respite. The layoff didn't seem to bother Garcia, who threw 116 pitches.


In Complete Control
White Sox starters have tossed three consecutive complete games in the 2005 ALCS. The only other time that feat has been accomplished in an LCS was 1973 when the Mets' Tom Seaver (8.1, L), Jon Matlack (9.0, W) and Jerry Koosman (9.0, W) did it against the Cincinnati Reds.
Gm.
Name
IP
H
R
ER
BB
SO
Result
4Freddy Garcia962215W, 8-2
3Jon Garland942217W, 5-2
2Mark Buehrle951104W, 2-1

"I go out there and I was strong, threw a lot of strikes, made good pitches," said Garcia, who improved to 3-1 with a 2.25 ERA over four career LCS starts. "That's all."

"He wants to follow his teammates, what they did a couple of days before, and he wanted to be part of that, too," added Guillen, who briefly visited Garcia with two outs in the ninth before getting the answer that the big right-hander wanted to close out the game. "It's nice when you have four guys there you can count on."

Podsednik drew one of his three walks off Anaheim starter Ervin Santana, who shut out the White Sox on five hits back on May 23, to open Game 4. Tadahito Iguchi was hit by a pitch, and Konerko followed with his second straight first-inning home run, both coming on full-count offerings.

It was Konerko's fourth long ball of the postseason, setting a franchise record. Konerko's effort is somewhat reminiscent of Carlos Beltran's extraordinary run with Houston during the 2004 playoffs, earning him top dollars from the Mets on the free-agent market.

But Konerko isn't thinking about his individual wealth increasing or where he will play in the future. The White Sox, as a team, aren't thinking much past Paul Byrd and Game 5 on Sunday night.

If Jose Contreras turns in another quality effort on the mound and the White Sox jump out early, then they might start entertaining thoughts of the World Series in the seventh or eighth innings. Nothing is over, though, until that final out has been recorded.

The philosophy has worked all season for the White Sox. So, why change it now?

"We know we are in a pretty good spot, but we know we don't have anything done," Cooper said. "Every game gets tougher, and [Sunday's] game is the toughest one we have faced so far."

"If you start thinking about the things that come along with the World Series, that's when you get caught flat-footed," Konerko added. "The best thing we can do is just show up [Sunday] and play for the one game it is."

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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