Angels 3, White Sox 2
-- The mind can play tricks on you under the effects of severe sleep deprivation. The Los Angeles Angels could have sworn they were beating the Chicago White Sox in the late innings of Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday night. But that would have been impossible, right, since everyone under creation knew the Angels had no sleep, no pitchers and no chance? Was this real, or was it a dream they were having on another airplane ride somewhere over Omaha?
By the end, the Angels knew it was real. There is no mistaking the feeling of a big, meaningful win in October, and this 3-2 victory in front of 40,659 stunned-to-silence onlookers at U.S. Cellular Field was both big and meaningful, in a way probably no one who was not on that plane can understand.
At the end of a brutal, unprecedented New York-to-Anaheim-to-Chicago jaunt that saw them play three games in three time zones in three nights -- and make two late-night flights in between -- the Angels scored three runs in the first three innings, then fought off both fatigue and the well-rested White Sox to lock down an unlikely victory.
"I don't know if we're delirious, or what," said winning pitcher Paul Byrd, who started on three days' rest and rescued a tired pitching staff by tossing six effective innings. "Guys haven't really complained."
Game 2 is here Wednesday night, with left-handers Mark Buehrle and Jarrod Washburn facing off for the White Sox and Angels, respectively.
The Angels' pitching plan for the night boiled down to a show of hands, and after Byrd tired in the seventh inning, Scot Shields came on and collected six tough outs, then turned the ball over to closer Francisco Rodriguez, who survived a rocky ninth for the save. The Angels poured out of their dugout as the final batter went down, droopy-eyed and bone-weary, but victorious.
"It's the playoffs," said veteran center fielder Steve Finley. "You find a way to get through."
For the White Sox, who won 99 games and the AL Central title with a precise, attention-to-detail style known as "small ball," the night was a series of stunning mistakes and poorly executed plays -- all of which victimized starting pitcher Jose Conteras, who absorbed the loss despite 81/3 sometimes dazzling innings.
Three times, the White Sox failed to execute sacrifice bunts, including once in the ninth inning against Rodriguez. They were caught stealing twice, including once when catcher A.J. Pierzynski thought he saw a steal sign that was never given. And during the Angels' pivotal two-run third inning, they twice botched routine ground balls that should have been converted into three outs.
"It's a situation where you lose the battle," said White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko, "but we still believe we're going to win the war."
Freed from the tyrannical grip of the Red Sox-Yankees regime, which ruled this stretch of October for each of the last two years -- before getting bounced by these two teams this time around -- the ALCS once again feels like a playoff series instead of a King Kong vs. Godzilla spectacle. In may not produce the television ratings, the heroic prose or the East Coast angst, but it has its own charm.
"There is a part of the country," White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf said before the game, "that's west of the Hudson."
The Angels would know, since they have seen much of this great land over the past 48 hours. You couldn't say they were jet-lagged -- because that implies their body clocks were set to a certain time zone, then altered. In fact, their body clocks by Tuesday night were like something out of a Salvador Dali art show.
After losing in New York on Sunday night and clinching the series in Anaheim on Monday night, the Angels flew through the night to get to Chicago, arriving at their hotel doorsteps at around the same time as the morning newspapers. Most players slept until about 1 p.m., grabbed lunch and headed to the yard.
"It's one of those things," Byrd said, "where you wake up and the room is dark, and you say, 'Where am I?' "
However, these Angels are nothing if not resourceful. Somehow, they had managed to conquer the Yankees in the division series despite getting no home runs from reigning league MVP Vladimir Guerrero, no stolen bases from league steals champ Chone Figgins and no wins from any of their starting pitchers.
Contreras, the big Cuban right-hander who went 8-0 down the stretch for the White Sox then beat Boston in Game 1 of the division series, may have been rusty from having a week off since his last start. All the Angels' runs scored in the first three innings, on Garret Anderson's homer leading off the second, and the two runs they pushed across -- with the White Sox's assistance -- in the third.
With runners on second and third and one out, Orlando Cabrera hit a slow dribbler to third baseman Joe Crede, who thought about throwing home just long enough to make his throw to first base a tad late. Everybody was safe, and it was 2-0, Angels.
"If there was any doubt in my mind," Crede said about the potential play at the plate, "I wasn't going to go."
Indecision cost the White Sox again when Guerrero hit a tapper back to Conteras, who looked home, then tried to start a 1-4-3 double play, which would have ended the inning. But Cabrera barreled hard into second base, and the pivot throw from second baseman Tadahito Iguchi sailed almost into the Angels' dugout, as another run crossed the plate.
The Angels' pitching took it from there. Byrd gave up a homer to Crede in the third and an RBI single by Pierzynski in the fourth. But he handed a lead to his bullpen in the seventh inning, which is all the Angels ever ask of their starter.
It was 3-2 going to the eighth, 3-2 going to the ninth, and a 3-2 final. Or at least that's what the Angels thought they saw on the scoreboard at that late hour. But who knows if their eyes could be trusted.