White Sox 5, Angels 2
With his powerful right arm, Chicago White Sox pitcher Jon Garland controlled everything Friday night. For nine exceptional innings, he guided the baseball to precisely its intended target. He kept the frustrated home crowd, which wanted nothing more than to explode at someone or something, silent and mild. As the late innings crept in and the Los Angeles Angels' fire was nearly extinguished, Garland made the inevitable appearance of the Rally Monkey on the JumboTron seem silly and desperate. There was simply no rally to be had.
And just like that, one person, a pitcher whose own team didn't see fit to use him in any of its first five playoff games, seized control of the American League Championship Series and guided the White Sox to within two victories of its first World Series appearance since 1959.
Chicago's 5-2 victory in Game 3, constructed on the shoulders of Garland's four-hitter, returned some semblance of normalcy to a series that had been dominated to this point by a controversial umpire's call at the end of Game 2. The win gave the White Sox a two-games-to-one lead in the best-of-seven series, with the possibility that they could clinch the pennant by the end of the weekend.
Game 4 is Saturday night, with Chicago's Freddy Garcia facing Angels rookie Ervin Santana.
Garland was an 18-game winner this season, an all-star, yet until Friday night the White Sox had not deemed him worthy of a postseason start. Dropped to the number four spot in the rotation, he never got to pitch in the White Sox' victory over Boston in the Division Series, a three-game sweep. And rather than start Garland in Game 1 of the ALCS, White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen flipped Jose Contreras and Mark Buehrle ahead of him.
As a result, Garland had gone 13 days since the last time he faced a live hitter, which is why, as Guillen later admitted, the White Sox had no idea what to expect from Garland once the game began.
"I was concerned to see how he did," Guillen said. "But . . . I trust this kid."
Garland was dominant. By the end of the fifth inning, the Angels had hit only two balls out of the infield, and only a two-run homer by shortstop Orlando Cabrera in the sixth inning -- by which point the White Sox had already built a five-run cushion against Angels starter John Lackey, highlighted by Paul Konerko's two-run homer in the first -- kept Garland's performance from being remembered as one of the greatest in recent postseason memory.
"It might have been," said Angels Manager Mike Scioscia, "one of the top couple of games we've had pitched against us all year."
Friday night's may have been the first game in the recorded history of postseason baseball in which, as the first pitch of the game was thrown, every eye in the stadium was fixed on the right-field-line umpire.
Doug Eddings, who was behind the plate in Chicago for the controversial strike-three-in-the-dirt call at the end of Game 2, was booed mercilessly when the umpires were introduced, and again as he took his place along the right-field line, where his assignment in the standard umpire rotation called for him to be Friday night. Before the first pitch, and again between every half-inning, a security guard and an usher stood near him in the grass, their eyes fixed on the stands.
However, the only object that came out of the stands and went anywhere near Eddings in that part of the outfield was a beach ball in the seventh inning. By then, with Garland mowing down the Angels, the crowd of 44,725 had even lost interest in tormenting Eddings.
For the Angels, the loss only underscored the presence of a stunning vacuum that has developed in the middle of their lineup.
Thus far in the playoffs, the Angels had been able to survive, and even succeed, with minimal contribution from Vladimir Guerrero, the reigning league most valuable player and the engine of their offense. Through the team's first seven postseason games, he had produced one RBI and zero extra-base hits.
The lasting image of Guerrero to this point is of him running stiffly down the first base line on a weak ground ball, or bending over like Fred Sanford in the outfield any time a ball came near him. Is Guerrero hurt? The Angels insist he is not, but he has been plagued by knee and back trouble at various times the past two seasons, and he has been seen icing his shoulder after games.
"I feel okay," Guerrero said, through an interpreter.
On Friday night, Guerrero had ample opportunity to affect the game in a positive way for the Angels. In the first inning, with the crowd still energized, he came to the plate with a runner on first and one out, and promptly grounded into a double play. And in the fifth, with the crowd re-energized by Cabrera's homer, Guerrero struck out to end the inning.
Fittingly, Guerrero was the final batter to hit against Garland in the bottom of the ninth inning. He swung at the first pitch -- Garland's 118th of the night -- and sliced it mildly to right field to end the game.
"He's frustrated right now," Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher said of Guerrero. "You can see it in his face. One thing I tell him is, 'It could happen tomorrow.' "
The Angels didn't need Guerrero tomorrow. They needed him now. But on Friday night, neither Guerrero, nor the Rally Monkey, nor anyone else, had any answer for the guy standing tall on the dirt mound in the middle of the diamond. With his powerful right arm, Jon Garland held them all back.