A changing of the Sox

White Sox eliminate defending champion Red Sox in three games

White Sox 5 Red Sox 3


BOSTON -- It was the Chicago White Sox's turn to be idiots; champagne and cigars, light beer on the Fenway Park lawn, 100 fans in black leaning over the dugout, shouting their names.

They had put away the Boston Red Sox in three games of a best-of-five American League Division Series, playing precise, spirited baseball. Last night, with the defending World Series champions hoping for something like another miracle, the White Sox beat them, 5-3.

Chicago will play the winner of the New York Yankees-Los Angeles Angels series in the American League Championship Series, its first since 1993, with a chance to play in its first World Series since 1959.

Like the Red Sox before them, the White Sox have a tradition marked by futility. They have not won a World Series since 1917. On the bright side, they have not thrown one since 1919.

So they stood before last season's national curiosity, up 4-3 in the sixth inning, the bases loaded, nobody out. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen handed the baseball to Orlando Hernandez, and after 21 pitches - through Jason Varitek, Tony Graffanino and Johnny Damon - still had his 4-3 lead.

Graffanino saw 10 pitches and popped out. Damon saw seven and could not hold a check swing. Hernandez pitched two more shutout innings, rookie closer Bobby Jenks threw a scoreless ninth, and from the top deck in the still ballpark one could hear the White Sox scream and howl.

"Finally," Guillen said, "we make another big step."

The White Sox scored twice on four hits in the third inning against Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield, and Paul Konerko hit a two-run homer off Wakefield in the sixth for a 4-2 lead. Manny Ramirez, leading off the bottom of the sixth inning, hit the last of three bases-empty home runs for the Red Sox - two by him, one by David Ortiz, all off Freddy Garcia - to make the score 4-3. The Red Sox then loaded the bases against reliever Damaso Marte, and Guillen brought in Hernandez from the bullpen.

As the at-bats continued, catcher A.J. Pierzynski said: "My heart is just pounding. The fans are screaming and yelling. Oh, man."

He laughed and said, "You don't expect to get out of those with no runs."

Afterward, Hernandez smoked a cigar with the words, "Congratulations, Chicago White Sox" on it.

"When I walked outside," he said, "I saw the situation. The first thing was the key out. Once I got Varitek out, I knew I had a chance with the next batter."

Of the 10 pitches he saw, Graffanino, whose error led to the White Sox's Game 2 win, fouled off six. When Damon could not touch a diving slider and could not stop his swing, Hernandez dashed from the mound.

"I told him in the top of the ninth, when we win this game, you're the MVP," Carl Everett said. "To come out as smooth as he did, to me he's the MVP."

Asked why he was so calm in an otherwise raucous clubhouse, Everett grinned and said: "I'm really waiting for the big bang. This one is really nice, but I'm waiting for the big one. Nobody expected us to do anything. We continue to do that, we're going to surprise a lot of people."

The Red Sox ended their season making the little mistakes to lose, and the White Sox did the little things to win.

As if to remind everyone of who they would not be this season, the Red Sox got a runner on first base in the eighth inning, down by a run, a sweep seemingly awaiting. They put a pinch runner, Alejandro Machado, at first base, in the same place Dave Roberts stood a year ago.

But he did not steal second base. He did not score. He did not push the game into extra innings. He watched Varitek strike out and another inning end.

The Red Sox hit their first three home runs of the postseason, but the superior pitching staff of the White Sox did not give up a hit with a runner in scoring position. The Red Sox led the league in regular-season batting and runs, but hit .240 and scored nine runs in the series.

Afterward, they seemed to say goodbye to the good times and good friends of the past year, the most memorable in Red Sox history. Damon, Kevin Millar, Mike Timlin and Bill Mueller could be free agents. Ramirez could be traded. The pitching staff needs an upgrade.

"It just happened 10 minutes ago, so, no, it hasn't sunk in yet," Millar said.

He gestured to a room of bodies, many of them slumped on folding chairs.

"A lot of these guys brought a lot of joy to this city," he said.

Damon, leader of the idiots, spoke through tight lips and seemed to choke over his thoughts.

"This whole clubhouse could be different," he said. "I don't even know where to start. There's just a lot of uncertainty right now. We wish we didn't have to start answering these questions. Unfortunately, the season is over."

Tim Brown writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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