White Sox 14, Red Sox 2
One by one the crowd called their names, beckoning White Sox players back from beneath the green concrete slab that serves as the roof of their dugout at U.S. Cellular Field. And this was strange, much like the home runs that were flying out of the ballpark and the fans who danced and rocked and sang the "Go Go Go White Sox" song from way back in 1959, when this franchise last won a postseason game in this town.
Then, as this 14-2 blowout of the Boston Red Sox in the first game of the playoffs rolled out of control and the Chicago players kept circling the bases Tuesday, their home runs having dropped into the bleachers, there came this cry from the stands.
One more bow.
Forty-six years is a long time. Curtain calls after home runs were definitely in order.
And they came, albeit reluctantly. First Paul Konerko, then Jose Uribe, Scott Podsednik and finally someone pushed catcher A.J. Pierzynski out of the dugout after his second homer of the day disappeared over the right field fence in the eighth inning.
"It was weird for me because I don't want to show up the other team," Pierzynski said.
"You kind of feel a little embarrassed," Konerko said. "It's out of your element, at least for me."
There is still a lot of the old South Side shame for this team long ago left in the dust of the more fashionable Cubs up north. The White Sox have a postseason legacy as miserable as that of the team on the other side of the city and, for that matter, the one on the other side of the field. But somehow their lament has never made its way into folklore. Instead they are simply the grubby neighbors down by the Dan Ryan Expressway, where fans might drift by if the Yankees are in town.
So maybe the curtain calls seemed awkward for the team that doesn't know how to take them. The glamour was all in the first base clubhouse, where Johnny Damon and Kevin Millar preened in too-tight T-shirts and too-expensive jeans. The World Series ring glittered on Millar's right hand as he tried to explain away the pounding Boston took from the Chicago team that came into the postseason seemingly an underdog despite winning 99 games this year.
It was just one game, the Boston players tried to say through forced smiles. But it wasn't simply just one game. In the absence of an effective Curt Schilling, yesterday's pitcher, Matt Clement, was supposed to be the jewel of their rotation, a man they gave $25.5 million to last winter. Instead he watched with shock, sweat dripping from his billy-goat beard as the White Sox pounded him for five runs in the first and hit five home runs -- three off him.
"I didn't have it today," he lamented while leaning against a wall outside the Red Sox clubhouse. "You have to take it like a man. I have no excuses. I was bad. They took advantage of a guy who was struggling."
The Red Sox gave hope to a White Sox team that came dangerously close to blowing a 15-game lead last month. They buffed the confidence of Konerko, Uribe, Podsednik and Pierzynski. They made a stadium -- often nearly empty -- the best place to be. And they gave life to a pitcher they once hit hard.
Jose Contreras had been a Yankees flop and a Red Sox pinata with a 11.67 career ERA against Boston. But something changed in him over the last few months, something that made him so unhittable that White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen took a chance and made him the Game 1 starter.
And if the announcement made Chicago fans nervous, imagine what it was like inside the ballpark 10 minutes after the game was supposed to start -- all the White Sox were on the field, the music was blaring, the fans were clapping and the starting pitcher was nowhere to be found. There were frantic looks, quizzical expressions when suddenly Contreras came bounding out of the dugout. The fans roared and the Red Sox never really touched him in the 72/3 innings he pitched.
It turns out Contreras was standing in the runway outside the dugout, calmly drinking water as if timing his entrance just right to perfect the dramatic flair.
"We saw a much more mature pitcher," Red Sox Manager Terry Francona said. "I know the run he's been on and today we found out why."
As it seems the White Sox -- beleaguered for much of the last month -- discovered something about themselves. October can also belong to them.