Beginning with Sunday's series finale against Cleveland, the White Sox knew they had to win three games in order to reach the AL Division Series against the Rays. That magic number has been reduced to one for both the White Sox and the Twins, who enter Tuesday with identical 88-74 records.
"I don't think you ever expect a one-game playoff," said White Sox first baseman and team captain Paul Konerko, who has been talking about this race going down to the final days since mid-August. "It's an oddity. We are just scrapping, fighting and trying to get to where we want to go."
"You get passed feeling tired and forget about all those aches and pains," added White Sox reliever Scott Linebrink, who struck out the side during an impressive eighth inning. "Adrenaline gets you going. Our situation is great -- we fought for this and earned it. One hundred and sixty-two [games weren't] enough so we need one extra, and we wouldn't have it any other way."
During a season full of heroes, the South Siders can thank Alexei Ramirez and Gavin Floyd for their final meeting this season with the Twins to be played before a complete sellout at U.S. Cellular on Tuesday. A shoddy Detroit bullpen, with four pitchers allowing five earned runs over four innings following starter Freddy Garcia, didn't exactly hurt the White Sox chances to advance.
Ramirez launched a first-pitch grand slam off Gary Glover, a one-time White Sox reliever, breaking a 2-2 tie during a five-run sixth. It came after the White Sox had pulled even on two walks, a Dewayne Wise stolen base and two wild pitches from Armando Galarraga (13-7). Ramirez's 21st home run also was his fourth grand slam this season, setting a new Major League rookie record and tying Albert Belle for the franchise record that was previously set in 1997. It was the White Sox 12th grand slam this year, a new team record.
Ramirez's 388-foot blast to left ended with him jumping into the arms of a surprised Konerko after both had crossed home plate. It not only all but locked down Monday's victory, it also gave the White Sox momentum going into Tuesday's game.
"When he hit that grand slam, we knew right there, 'Ok, we got this one,'" Konerko said.
"I've had 10 or 11 at-bats where I haven't hit the ball really well," added Ramirez, through translator Lou Hernandez, after his home run broke an 0-for-13 stretch on the homestand. "But I told [manager] Ozzie [Guillen], 'Have confidence in me. I'm going to go out there and get those runners home somehow.'"
Floyd (17-8) pitched like the true ace that he has become, allowing one earned run over six innings. Working on three days' rest for the second time in nine days, Floyd threw 118 pitches, striking out eight, giving up five hits and waking two. The Tigers scored one run on Floyd's two-out throwing error in the sixth, giving the visitors a brief 2-1 lead.
But Floyd's biggest inning came in the fifth, after yielding the tying run and putting runners on first and third with nobody out. Floyd fanned Ramon Santiago and Curtis Granderson swinging, and induced a fielder's-choice grounder from Gary Sheffield to third baseman Juan Uribe.
"Everything was great except for the throw down the first-base line," said Pierzynski. "He was great. Gavin didn't have his best stuff, but he battled and made enough pitches to get through it."
It has been a tough week for the White Sox leading up to Tuesday. They survived a three-game sweep at the hands of the Twins and a five-game losing streak overall. They now ride a two-game winning streak into the winner-takes-all competition.
In reality, this past week has been a microcosm of the entire season, with the White Sox constantly battling through adversity to survive. The same theory holds true for the Twins, and the best will be decided on Tuesday.
"Win or lose tomorrow, we will hold our heads high," Konerko said. "It's really a good story either way. Minnesota or Chicago is not supposed to be here. Everyone is proud no matter what happens. But we aren't satisfied. We want to win and get in the playoffs."
"Maybe this is justice, who knows?" Detroit manager Jim Leyland added. "Maybe this is the way it's supposed to be. The two best teams in the division all year have to play one game to see who goes."