W. Sox had mix to serve up title

Gritty role players, not stars, were key Series ingredients

October 28, 2005|By DAN CONNOLLY | DAN CONNOLLY,SUN REPORTER

HOUSTON -- A day before Willie Harris scored Game 4's lone run to ultimately seal the Chicago White Sox's first World Series championship since 1917, the reserve infielder stood in the visiting dugout and daydreamed.

All he wanted was a chance to do something on baseball's grandest stage, he said. He wasn't asking for much - one play that helped his teammates, one personal memory he could take with him when all of this was over.

"I just want to contribute in some way, just to make it official that I've done something other than just root for my team. That I actually laid down a bunt or stole a base or scored a run," said Harris, a former Orioles prospect who was the organization's 2001 Brooks Robinson Award winner for best minor league position player.

"I just want to do something to contribute to my ball team."

Tuesday, he stole a meaningless base. The next night, Harris, whom the Orioles traded to Chicago in 2002 for outfield bust Chris Singleton, slipped into White Sox lore.

Pinch-hitting for pitcher Freddy Garcia to lead off the eighth, Harris singled to left in his only Series at-bat. He moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, to third on a groundout and then scored the clincher when Series Most Valuable Player Jermaine Dye singled.

Now Harris, a bit player this season, will always be linked to Chicago's championship glory. That's not unusual. Unlikely heroes emerge every October.

But the 2005 White Sox may have cornered the market. There's also Geoff Blum and A.J. Pierzynski. Scott Podsednik and Bobby Jenks. Neal Cotts and Juan Uribe.

None is a superstar. Most baseball fans couldn't pick one of them out of a crowd (except maybe the 270-pound Jenks). But each provided key October moments, turning this group of relative unknowns into world champions.

That team concept has been the White Sox's mantra since spring training started.

"We don't have any egos on this team," Dye said. "I think that was what was really special about this club. Everybody got along with each other and everybody just wanted to win."

The franchise's biggest star, Frank Thomas, was injured most of the season. Its other top names, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Lee, were jettisoned last offseason.

Instead, Chicago's front office shifted its focus from heavy-hitting bruisers to a more effective formula of pitching, defense, a compatible clubhouse blend and an upbeat manager who tied everything together.

"While it was very difficult to let go of some of that star power, it had to be done," general manager Kenny Williams said. "It had to be done because we were getting our [butts] kicked."

The altered philosophy worked.

"I think Kenny Williams did a tremendous job," manager Ozzie Guillen said. "Not only [to] put the best players on the field, but [to] put the best team players on the field."

Solid but unspectacular veterans such as Podsednik, Dye, Jose Contreras and Pierzynski were added. They weren't exactly high priority for other teams.

"A lot of guys had a lot to overcome," said Pierzynski, who was branded as a malcontent in his lone season in San Francisco in 2004. "If you have a lot of guys like that, that like each other, they can be a lot of trouble for a lot of people. You saw it [Wednesday] night, you saw it this whole Series and you saw it this whole season."

For most of 2005, these White Sox were an afterthought, a club most believed would fade away.

They won 99 games - tops in the American League - but the national focus was on their near collapse in August and September, when Cleveland closed the AL Central gap from 15 games to 1 1/2 before the White Sox regrouped.

They were given little chance to beat the defending champion Boston Red Sox in the AL Division Series. Chicago swept it in three games.

The White Sox appeared to have their hands full with Los Angeles in the AL Championship Series, but dismissed the Angels in five games.

Then they swept the Astros and Houston's vaunted starting rotation in four games for an astonishing 11-1 postseason record, one of the best in history.

Sure, Chicago had its share of luck, including the dropped-third-strike-that-wasn't that helped decide Game 2 of the ALCS, and the hit-batter-that-wasn't that helped decide Game 2 of the World Series.

Regardless, the White Sox took advantage of the breaks, something that often separates winners from losers.

Much of the credit goes to Guillen, the laid-back, say-anything former White Sox shortstop who seemingly made all the right managerial calls while never letting his players lose focus.

"He'll say whatever is on his mind and keeps everybody loose," Dye said. "He wants you to go out and have fun, stay positive, no matter if you're down. And he just knows how to win."

Consequently, so do his White Sox - whether it's getting a big out from reliever Cotts, or a game-saving snag by shortstop Uribe or a key hit by forgotten reserves such as Blum and Harris.

Simply put, the White Sox won as a team. They did it against the odds, without national hype or the full support of their Cubs-adoring city. No one can take that away.

"We didn't care if [America] didn't believe in us, we believed in us," Pierzynski said. "We believed we could do it from Day One. Now we are here, now we are world champions and now we get the ring."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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