Win and move on, or lose and pack your bags and start looking for tee times.
Tampa Bay claimed a 6-2 victory before another "blackout" crowd of 40,454 at U.S. Cellular Field. The loss by the South Siders finished off this first playoff round, giving the Rays a 3-1 winning margin and pushing this tremendously talented and complete team into the AL Championship Series for the first time in franchise history.
Grant Balfour struck out Ken Griffey Jr. swinging to set off a wild celebration for the Rays, who simply were the better team. White Sox fans originally let loose with a fair share of boos and jeers, watching this visiting team celebrate on their field, but they quickly came back with a hearty round of applause for their hard-working squad that took this surprise effort about as far as it could.
"We weren't dead until that last out," said White Sox shortstop Orlando Cabrera, who hit just .125 in the ALDS following an 0-for-4 showing on Monday. "The only way you can look at it is we had that comeback in us but just came up short."
"These guys battled and battled," White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said. "The fans should be proud of this team."
Before Monday's game, talk from manager Ozzie Guillen centered on winning Game 4 in any way possible and then taking a chance at Tropicana Field during Game 5 on Wednesday night. The White Sox have a 4-18 record on artificial turf this season, but they still liked their possibilities with Mark Buehrle set to be on the mound.
B.J. Upton and Andy Sonnanstine quickly altered that thought process.
|"When you start playing playoff baseball in September, there's such an energy level you have to play at and keep it up. We did our best, but we just ran out of gas here."|
|-- Paul Konerko|
Upton homered off Gavin Floyd in his first two at-bats, giving the Rays a 2-0 lead through three innings. They added two more in the fourth, knocking out Floyd at 67 pitches and without his retiring a batter in the frame.
"Gavin was just behind the count most of the game," said Guillen of Floyd, who struck out four and walked two. "That's why he got hit. He was behind the count almost every hitter. It's not easy to pitch against any ballclub in the big leagues when you are behind the count."
Sonnanstine, meanwhile, consistently worked ahead of the White Sox. They scored both runs on solo home runs, with Paul Konerko's blast in the fourth adding to his franchise playoff record of seven long balls and 17 RBIs. Jermaine Dye's shot off Sonnanstine with two outs in the sixth brought J.P. Howell in from the bullpen.
Howell and Balfour combined on 3 1/3 scoreless innings of relief, walking one and giving up one single to Alexei Ramirez.
"They played very well, and I tip my hat to them," said White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski of the Rays. "They deserve to move on. They are a good team."
"When you start playing playoff baseball in September, there's such an energy level you have to play at and keep it up," Konerko said. "We did our best, but we just ran out of gas here."
Konerko spoke the truth when talking about his team's extended run to the postseason. The White Sox hard-fought battle with Minnesota for the American League title needed a 163rd game to decide the champion, one of the four elimination games won by the White Sox.
And they reached these goals by overcoming season-ending injuries to Carlos Quentin, Joe Crede and Jose Contreras, not to mention significant absences for relievers Bobby Jenks and Scott Linebrink. The dream always is to finish on top, as the White Sox did with an 11-1 playoff run in 2005.
Maybe Monday's exit still provided a victory in its own right, albeit a bittersweet one.
"It would have been nice to be at full strength, but we weren't," White Sox general manager Ken Williams said. "That's a good, balanced ballclub over there, and they deserve everything they got."
So the White Sox go home after their first playoff series loss since 2000, when the Mariners swept them in the ALDS. Going home, that is, with hugs, smiles and handshakes between players in the clubhouse, as opposed to long faces and players sitting quietly in front of their cubicles, hanging their heads.
Nonetheless, they are still going home. As Cabrera said, with all the magic they pulled off this year, they seriously didn't expect this result until the final out.
"All in all, when I look back on this year as far as the team, we went exactly how far we were supposed to go with the injuries at the end," Konerko said.
"But we are not carrying the trophy and that's what this is about," Williams said. "There's not much more to say than that. We are going home."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.