The 2005 Chicago White Sox were an organization caught in the middle—they’d been consistently at .500 or better since their last division crown in 2000, but they’d never won 90. They were just good enough to give hope and just flawed enough to destroy it, while the small-market Minnesota Twins racked up three straight AL Central titles.
But the White Sox moved aggressively in the offseason under the leadership of general manager Kenny Williams and second-year skipper Ozzie Guillen. They signed power-hitting rightfielder Jermaine Dye on the free agent market, added catcher A.J. Pierzynski and second baseman Tadahito Iguchi, all three of which would be crucial.
And in a bold trade designed to meet Guillen’s desire for a faster team, Williams shipped power-hitting outfielder Carlos Lee to Milwaukee for a package of players whose biggest prize would be centerfielder Scott Podsednik, a solid leadoff hitter and base-stealer.
The new additions joined a lineup that was headlined by first baseman Paul Konerko, who would hit 40 home runs and deliver 100 RBIs in 2005. Joe Crede at third base hit 22 home runs and designated hitter Carl Everett popped for 25. Add to that the 31 bombs that Dye would add and the on-base ability of Podsednik and Iguchi, and the White Sox had a nice everyday lineup.
The starting pitching was even better, as four starters—Mark Buerhle, Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland and Jose Contreras all made 30-plus starts, all logged over 200 IP and all posted ERAs in the 3s. The bullpen was held down for most of the season by Dustin Hermanson, another new signee, who had 34 saves, but down the stretch Guillen handed the ball to young Bobby Jenks, a fireballer who got six saves in the waning weeks of the season and was in the closer’s role by the playoffs.
The 2005 Chicago White Sox were never seriously challenged in the AL Central. An early eight-game winning streak that ended on May 8 pushed their record to 24-7 and gave them an early 4 ½ game lead, a lead that more or less stayed stable into mid-June. And that point the White Sox ripped off another eight-game streak that jacked the record to 50-22 and the lead over ten games. The margin in the division would hit a high of 14.5 games.
September is remembered for Cleveland’s stunning charge, taking the lead from 9 ½ games to a game and a half in the span of sixteen days. But the White Sox always had at least the wild-card berth in hand and quickly pulled back ahead of Cleveland, clinching the division prior to a final weekend showdown with the Tribe. Although for good measure they swept the Indians, knocked them out of the wild-card and ensured both the Yankees and Red Sox would qualify for the playoffs after the two rivals tied for first in the AL East. The networks undoubtedly thanked Guillen’s crew, even if Middle America fans did not.
THE PLAYOFFS BEGIN
The 99 wins posted by the White Sox were the best in the American League, and they drew Boston in the first-round after a tiebreaker gave the Red Sox lower seeding than the Yanks. Boston had won a historic World Series the year before but the team that crawled into October was a shadow of its championship self.
Curt Schilling was beat up as he never fully recovered from offseason ankle surgery and in either case, he’d pitched the last game of the regular season to get his team in. Pedro Martinez was gone via free agency and closer Keith Foulke had been lost for the year back in June. The Red Sox rotation was spotty—all starters’ ERAs were in the 4s, and the bullpen a serious problem. What they could still do though was hit, as David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez combined for 92 home runs and eight of the nine regulars had on-base percentages in excess of .350.
When the American League Division Series started late on a Tuesday afternoon, this Red Sox fan writer would be dismayed to be driving home from work and listening to the White Sox bats, rather than Boston’s, be the ones that opened up with a power display.
The home half of the first started out with Podsednik and Dye each getting hit by a pitch, followed by a bunt and steal setting up an RBI chance for Konerko who pushed across the game’s first run with a groundout. Then Everett and Rowand singled to add another run. Pierzynski broke the game open before I could get in front of a TV set, with a three-run jack to make it 5-zip.
It was enough for Contreras, who emerged as the #1 starter, but Chicago kept coming. Pierzynski homered again, as did Konerko, Juan Uribe and even the normally powerless Podsednik—the latter being a sign of things to come. The game ended 14-2.
Wednesday night’s Game 2 got prime-time coverage. Johnny Damon, the Red Sox leadoff hitter, got leadoff hits to start the first and third and each inning resulted in two runs. David Wells, in the first of a two-year stint in Boston was pitching well and into the fifth held the 4-0 lead on Buerhle.
Chicago got two runs back, and with a man aboard a room service double play grounder was hit at Boston second baseman Tony Graffanino. It went through his legs, causing my heart to sink, fearing doom. The premonition was right. With two outs, Iguchi launched a three-run shot to left. Writing from the Boston perspective, the series all but ended right here. Chicago had the better team and would have been the favorite anyway, but the gifting of a free two outs at a huge point underscored Red Sox vulnerability. The ability to not only take advantage, but to do so in the most dramatic and damaging fashion possible underscored White Sox strength. The 5-4 score stood up.
Friday’s Game 3 was in Boston and back in the late afternoon slot. It was another good game. An early 2-0 Chicago lead was wiped out by consecutive home runs from Manny and Ortiz. Konerko answered back with a two-run blast over the Green Monster. Manny did the same to cut the lead back to 4-3. In the sixth inning, the Red Sox loaded the bases with none out.
Another veteran acquisition came out of the bullpen in Orlando Hernandez, a mainstay of the Yankee rotations that won World Series’ in the late 1990s and who had pitched a clinching ALCS game right here at Fenway in ’99. “El Duque”, as he was called, delivered a stunning performance, shutting down three straight hitters without allowing the tying run. A late insurance run by the White Sox clinched the 5-3 win and the Division Series sweep.
Chicago’s journey to do exactly what Boston had done one year earlier—end an 86-year championship drought—was still going strong.
THE ANGELS AWAIT
The Angels had beaten the Yankees in an exciting five-game series that ended on Monday, October 10. The Halos had played Game 4 out east on Sunday due to a rain delay and they arrived in the Windy City for Tuesday’s ALCS opener completely exhausted.
But the exhaustion did not apply to starting pitcher Paul Byrd, who gave six solid innings, nor to relievers Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez who locked down the last nine outs in a 3-2 win that surprised the entire country. Los Angeles had one of the game’s best managers in Mike Scoscia and while their regular lineup was perhaps overly dependent on rightfielder Vlad Guerrero, they also had a rotation whose starters all had ERAs in the 3s. And they had spunk—even running on fumes, even with ace Bartolo Colon out after a Division Series injury, they’d taken Game 1 and put the White Sox on notice.
Game 2 was a pitcher’s duel, as Buehrle went the distance, but the score was tied 1-1 in the ninth. With two outs and two strikes on Pierzynski, the catcher struck out. The ball hit the ground, but no signal was made by umpire Doug Eddings. Pierzynski made a couple steps to the dugout and the Angels walked off the field. Suddenly the catcher ran for first base realizing he hadn’t been tagged.
The umpires conferred. To the fury of Scoscia, who pointed out that no clear call had been made and that the hitter himself had started walking off, first base was given to Pierzynski. A pinch-runner stole second and Crede drove him in with a base hit to left. The series would go west tied at a game apiece.
Just as we all thought we knew the White Sox would win Game 1, we also knew that now this series was going to get really interesting. Yeah, we knew that. The next two nights saw Konerko hit a three-run bomb in the first inning. And Garland on Friday night, then Garcia on Saturday night, matched Buerhle’s complete game with one of their own. The White Sox won those games 5-2 and 8-2 and were within a game of the pennant.
Contreras had the ball and since he’d “only” gone 8.1 IP in the series opener he really had to answer for himself, since his teammates were tossing complete games. He indeed matched their feat, though the Angels had a 3-2 lead after five innings. Crede homered in the top of seventh to tie the game.
One inning later after two were out, Rowand drew a walk, then an error kept the inning alive. Crede came through again, driving in the lead run. Konerko doubled in a run in the ninth as the White Sox took out some insurance.
Contreras wrapped up the staff’s fourth straight complete game—and in this day and age you have to wonder if that will ever happen again, especially considering they were all in succession, and therefore by four different pitchers. The final was 6-3. Konerko was ALCS MVP and the White Sox were going to the World Series.
HOUSTON HAS A PROBLEM
There were six days between the end of the ALCS and the World Series. The best team in the National League had been the St. Louis Cardinals and the rivalry this matchup would have engendered could have made great theatre. But the Houston Astros had something to say about that, upsetting St. Louis in six games in the National League Championship Series.
Though Houston’s 89 wins were pedestrian by playoff standards, they had a battle-tested top three in the rotation, with 20-game winner Roy Oswalt, along with Andy Pettite and Roger Clemens, both vital to the Yankee championship years that had closed the previous decade. In the bullpen as Brad Lidge, with 42 saves and a 2.29 ERA. The offense was led by Lance Berkman, with a .411 on-base percentage/.524 slugging percentage, and a trio of Craig Biggio, Jason Lane and Morgan Ensberg that combined to hit 88 home runs.
Contreras again took the ball for a Game 1, and after facing no-names like Matt Clement and Byrd in previous series openers, Clemens was a marked contrast. But the Houston veteran faltered with a bad hamstring, leaving after two innings with Chicago having already posted three runs for the home crowd.
Berkman tied the game with a two-round double in the third, but Crede homered to give Chicago a lead it would not relinquish, though it required some heroics from setup man Neal Cotts. Coming on with runners on first and third and one out, and the score still 4-3, Cotts blew away three consecutive hitters with strikeouts and preserved the lead in a game that would ultimately end 5-3.
Buehrle faced Pettite in Game 2 on Sunday night. The tide looked to be going Houston’s direction when Berkman broke a 2-2 tie with a two-out, two-run double in the top of the fifth. Pettite got six more outs and handed the 4-2 lead to the bullpen.
In the seventh, the bases were loaded with two outs and Konerko came up with arguably the biggest at-bat of the championship drive, hitting a grand slam to make it 6-4. I say “arguably” because it still wasn’t enough. With two outs in the top of the ninth, runners on second and third, and no-name infielder Jose Vizcaino at the plate, the White Sox surrendered the game-tying single.
In the ninth, Podsednik came up, the ideal hitter to start a rally. No one expected him to also finish it. He hit a fly ball that just cleared the right field fence and TV cameras caught the complete shock of on-deck hitter Rowand as he greeted the conquering hero at home plate. Chicago was up two games to none and heading to Texas for the middle three games.
Houston’s hope rested in Oswalt, who’d completely dominated St. Louis in the NLCS clinching win and it looked good for the home team as they peppered Garland with six hits that produced three runs in the first three innings. A Lane home run in the fourth extended the lead to 4-0. But this White Sox team couldn’t be held down anymore.
Crede led off the fifth with a home run. At this point, I have to interrupt the narrative to point out that even though Crede did not win MVP of the ALCS or in the World Series—and both of those exclusions were justified—if you look at the postseason as a whole, it’s very hard to find another player who had his fingerprints on more seminal moments than the third baseman. Maybe it’s time that MLB follow the lead of hockey and let its individual MVP award be defined by the entire postseason.
Four of the next five hitters singled and cut the lead to 4-3. Oswalt got Konerko for the second out, but Pierzynski ripped a two-run double to center to give Chicago the lead. Houston would tie it in the eight and then miss reasonable scoring chances in each of the next three frames as the game went late into the night and into the wee hours.
Finally in the 14th, Chicago’s Geoff Blum hit a home run. The White Sox added an insurance run and still had to call on Buerhle to get the game’s final out after Houston put two men aboard.
Wednesday night was the baseball game the South Side had waited a lifetime for, but Houston, to their credit did not go quietly. Brandon Backe, the weak link of the postseason rotation was brilliant and threw seven shutout innings. But Garcia matched him with zeroes.
In the eighth, Willie Harris led off with a single and Podsednik bunted him over. A ground ball out by Everett moved him to third. Dye, who would have a .526 on-base percentage for the Series to with a .688 slugging, gave the final argument for him to be Series MVP with a base hit up the middle. It clinched the individual honor for Dye and while the Astros got two shots in the ninth to score the tying run from second, Jenks closed it out.
A World Series that produced excitement in every game individually, was anticlimactic as a whole. This Chicago team simply knew how to win and they concluded the postseason with an 11-1 record. The long-awaited Series title was one that left no doubt who the best team was.