White Sox 5, Red Sox 4
In the early afternoon, long before the stands were full and the fireworks burst above U.S. Cellular Field, there was a curious sight beneath the third base stands. There, Chicago White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker stood in a batting cage, setting the twirling tires of the team's pitching machine to one of its oddest angles and slowest speeds.
It was the best he could do to replicate the looping, twirling, left-handed curveballs of David Wells, the 42-year-old pitcher who had suddenly become the Boston Red Sox' best hope in this American League Division Series. Maybe it didn't seem like much at the time, but the most attentive of the players who stood in the cage with Walker was a Japanese rookie named Tadahito Iguchi, perhaps the most studious of these White Sox and likely the lone hitter receptive to his coach's crazy idea.
Then, six hours later, there Iguchi stood at the plate, in the middle of a frantic White Sox comeback, and Wells came with one of those lobbing curves looking just like the ones from Walker's silly machine. Iguchi swung and Chicago roared.
This is what everyone will remember from the night the White Sox won their second home playoff game in a row for the first time since 1917 with a 5-4 Game 2 victory over the Red Sox. They will remember Iguchi racing around the bases with the three-run home run that might well have broken Boston. They will remember Wells slumped on the mound. They will remember Red Sox second baseman Tony Graffanino -- a former White Sox player -- having a ground ball go between his legs that could have stopped the inning a batter before Iguchi.
Most of all they will remember just how tired and old last year's champions looked as they slowly walked off the field down 2-0 and on the brink of elimination.
"Well, we never give up," Chicago Manager Ozzie Guillen said.
The White Sox never seem to. Even as their once-mighty division lead almost disappeared in September and even as they trailed 4-0 in the fifth yesterday and seemed sluggish and beaten.
"I don't want to say we came out flat but you aren't playing well if you're down 4-0," White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "We just tried to chip away against a guy like Wells."
But they wound up getting everything at once. A single, a double and a single brought them two runs and then came Boston's cruelest moment on a slow, skidding grounder from Juan Uribe right to Graffanino, who somehow had the ball roll between his legs, putting men on first and third and bringing up Iguchi.
"I didn't get a good read on it," Graffanino said. "It was one of those balls that you see the base runner, too."
Graffanino shook his head and slowly walked to the mound.
"Pleaaaase pick me up," he said to Wells.
The pitcher said he would.
But none of them could have known about the contraption Walker had rigged in the hitting cage beneath the stands, the way he set the pitching machine to lob curves at 70 mph and how Iguchi watched those curves, training his muscles to swing at the right moment. The pitch that Wells threw came in at 71 mph. But unlike many of the others the pitcher threw yesterday this one was not as crisp; it didn't drop.
"It was a hanging curveball," Wells said.
There was no way Iguchi was going to miss it.
"He's very happy," Iguchi's interpreter, Ryan McGuire, said.
Guillen was more than happy.
"Look at the stats," Guillen said. "I think he got 15 home runs and 13 of them were either to tie the game or take the lead. When he came to the stage he knows he has to change the game for us and he did. If you look at my team from a manager's view, one of the biggest reasons we're here is because of Iguchi. He made the plays, hit the home runs."
Which is more than the Red Sox are doing right now. In two games the big-hitting team from Boston, the one that was supposed to wallop its way to another World Series, is looking very meager against Chicago's pitching. None of its players has a home run. And in the final two innings the Red Sox went down meekly against a young White Sox pitcher named Bobby Jenks whose fastball hit 100 mph once.
Now, just like last year when they trailed 3-0 to the Yankees in the ALCS, the Red Sox are a game away from elimination. Yet the solid, weary expressions in their clubhouse had to make everyone wonder if they have the fight to do it again.
"This team has done it before," said Wells, who was not part of last season's comeback. "Let's see what they're made of."