White Sox 8, Angels 2
As the sun set over Southern California on Saturday night, big, dark, ominous clouds from the north moved across the maze of freeways that encircles Angel Stadium, bringing chilly air and the threat of rain for the remainder of the weekend. The Los Angeles Angels and their pleasant, suntanned fans experience rain delays only slightly more often than the Chicago White Sox win the American League pennant, but one or the other, or both, could occur Sunday night.
By the end of their 8-2 victory in Game 4 of the AL Championship Series, the White Sox wore the look of a team prepared to do something historic. It is easy to feel that way when your starting pitchers won't let your bullpen into the game, when you have forgotten what it is like to trail, and when your big, smirking catcher believes -- with some degree of truth -- that he can get away with almost anything.
So, on Sunday night, the White Sox can secure the franchise's first World Series berth in 46 years, with a chance to win its first championship in 88 -- big numbers that underscore how much the franchise has riding on this.
"We know the dates," said center fielder Aaron Rowand. "But nobody here was alive in 1959. And most of our parents weren't even born in 1917. That's for the media and the fans to talk about. We have to focus on what we need to do, and you can tell by the way we're playing that we're doing that."
Right-hander Freddy Garcia became the third straight White Sox pitcher to throw a complete game, something that had not been done in 22 years. The White Sox' starters are pitching so well, their bullpen is nothing but a collection of spectators with lousy seats. Of 108 outs recorded by Chicago's pitching staff, relievers have accounted for two -- both by Neil Cotts in Game 1.
"It's amazing," said pitching coach Don Cooper. "But I guess I should stop being amazed by them at this point."
Manager Ozzie Guillen was thinking of yanking Garcia from the game in the bottom of the ninth, with a runner on base. He went to the mound and told his pitcher, "I've got a lefty ready" in the bullpen. He was waiting to see how Garcia would respond.
Garcia answered, "Do not get me out of here."
"When he gave me that answer," Guillen said, "it was just 'walk away and let him pitch.' "
From the Angels' perspective, the White Sox' parade of excellent starting pitchers must seem like one giant blur of unhittable pitches. Jose Contreras dissolves into Mark Buehrle, who dissolves into Jon Garland, who, on Saturday night, dissolved into Garcia.
All but Contreras pitched complete games, and he will get his chance to make it four straight Sunday night in Game 5 against Los Angeles' Paul Byrd, in a rematch of Game 1, which was the Angels' only victory in the series.
Garcia's gem included only five hits and one unearned run allowed -- although it is difficult to tell where the White Sox' pitching prowess ends and the Angels' offensive ineptitude begins. The Angels have scored a measly eight runs in the series.
For the second night in a row, the Angels were behind by three runs before they even came to the plate for the first time, as first baseman Paul Konerko blasted a three-run homer in the top of the first off Angels right-hander Ervin Santana, a 22-year-old rookie making his first postseason start.
For a time, the adversity that befell the Angels -- the grueling cross-country travel schedule in the first round of the playoffs, the controversial umpire's call that led to their Game 2 loss in Chicago -- made them seem like a team of destiny, a band of survivors whose hardships only served to bind them together and make them stronger.
Now, however, the Angels merely look defeated. Their leadoff hitter, Chone Figgins, hasn't been on base in what seems like weeks. Their prolific cleanup hitter, Vladimir Guerrero, can't hit a ball out of the infield, and even began to hear boos by the end of the night. And even when they compile the makings of a big rally, they self-destruct -- as they did, with the help of the diabolical A.J. Pierzynski, in the pivotal bottom of the second inning.
The White Sox' catcher admitted he was guilty of catcher's interference against Angels center fielder Steve Finley at the end of that inning, when Finley grounded into an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play -- the latest example of controversy somehow managing to find Pierzynski.
"The only two people who knew were me and Steve," Pierzynski said of the play in question. "And I wasn't going to say anything."
Finley was out at first, in part, because he kept pointing back at Pierzynski as he ran up the first base line, hoping to alert home plate umpire Ron Kulpa to Pierzynski's infraction -- to no avail. The play cost the Angels at least one run at a time when they already trailed by two.
"I probably should've taken off to first," Finley said. "But it was a bizarre feeling."
As the Angels gathered around Kulpa and argued, Pierzynski -- this smirking, maddening devil of a catcher -- stood off to the side, no doubt satisfied with himself.
And beyond the stadium, in the desert, the storm clouds gathered, the atmosphere filling with electricity and the potential for something momentous to occur.