Monday, September 29, 2008
Updated: September 30, 6:21 PM ET
White Sox ready to fight to the finish in Game No. 163
By Wayne Drehs
CHICAGO -- They are without their top slugger, a man who was leading the team in home runs and RBIs before snapping his wrist on a bat. They are without their best defensive player, a veteran third baseman who had hit 17 home runs of his own. Before Monday, they had won just one of their past six, three of their past 11 and 11 of their past 29.
And yet the Chicago White Sox will live to see another day. Some six hours after the first pitch in their makeup game against the Detroit Tigers was scheduled to begin, there was rookie second baseman Alexei Ramirez, standing in front of his locker, staring at three full-color snapshots of the biggest major league home run he had ever hit in the White Sox's 8-2 victory at U.S. Cellular Field.
Ramirez speaks little English, but his reaction to the photos of his sixth-inning grand slam that gave his team a 6-2 lead over the Tigers didn't need a translator.
"Nice," Ramirez said. "Very nice."
That's two down and one to go for the White Sox, who created this late-season mess for themselves by going 1-5 in the past week, including a three-game sweep at the hands of the Minnesota Twins.
On Tuesday night, the White Sox will get their shot at redemption. Already, manager Ozzie Guillen has provided Minnesota starter Nick Blackburn with plenty of bulletin-board material, backing up his comments from last week when Guillen said he wasn't overly impressed with Blackburn, who surrendered eight hits and two runs over five innings against the Sox on Sept. 24.
"I'll take my chances against him if he pitches the way he did last time," Guillen said Monday. "He did not pitch well. We just didn't approach him the right way."
In beating the Tigers on Monday, the White Sox won on back-to-back days for the first time since Sept. 5 and 6. And they did so after a week in which Nick Swisher voiced his frustration over being benched, Orlando Cabrera publicly criticized teammates for not wanting it enough and catcher A.J. Pierzynski had a colorful exchange with pitcher Javier Vazquez on the mound.
Prior to Sunday's game with Cleveland, a message on the team's dry-erase board read, "[Forget] feelings -- it's about winning." Those words were still there after Monday's victory and probably won't go away anytime soon.
"That's the type of ballclub we have," Guillen said of his team's resiliency. "When we struggle, we lose five game in a row, we bounce back. That's the way we've [been] all year long. Tomorrow, 162 games mean nothing. It's only about one game. And that's great. That's a good feeling."
Against the Tigers, the Sox overcame not only their emotional baggage, a three-hour rain delay and a costly throwing error by starter Gavin Floyd in the sixth that helped give the Tigers a 2-1 lead, but karma, too.
|Alexei Ramirez's sixth-inning grand slam -- his fourth of the season -- gave the scuffling White Sox a much-needed jolt of energy.|
Monday's starter for the Tigers was Freddy Garcia, the last Sox pitcher to take the rubber in the postseason, when he threw seven shutout innings in Game 4 of the 2005 World Series. And his counterpart was Floyd, who the Sox not only received from Philadelphia in a trade for Garcia, but who then took Garcia's No. 34.
In right field for Detroit was former Sox outfielder Magglio Ordonez, who made no secret of his desire to send his former team home for the winter. In addition, Tigers manager Jim Leyland moved Gary Sheffield to the No. 2 hole in the Detroit lineup in hopes of helping him hit career home run No. 500.
Leyland clearly was playing to win. After Garcia left in the sixth due to shoulder stiffness, he called on arguably his best starter this year, Armando Galarraga, in relief. But Galarraga and Bobby Seay combined to walk the bases loaded before Ramirez belted his grand slam on the first pitch from Gary Glover.
Prior to the at-bat, Guillen said he told his 27-year-old rookie to stay patient. Ramirez asked his manager to relax, telling him that he would do what he always does -- look for a pitch in his zone and hit it.
"I told him to have confidence in me and I would get these runners home somehow," Ramirez said through an interpreter.
He did just that, belting his fourth grand slam of the season -- a major league rookie record -- and giving his team life for at least another day.
Chicago's South Siders know nobody believes in them.
They've heard the crack that the American League East champion Tampa Bay Rays should get a first-round bye and not have to waste their time sweeping the winner of Tuesday's White Sox-Twins play-in game.
But how easily people forget that at the core of this group are guys like Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye and Pierzynski, who won a World Series with the Sox in 2005. How easily they forget about Guillen, who always seems to push the right buttons for his team.
Whatever the intangible ingredient is that the New York Mets have been missing the past two Septembers, the Chicago White Sox just might have it.
A team that is 2-5 in its past seven somehow has found momentum. Come Tuesday, there will be no scoreboard watching, no concern over what the Twins might be doing in another game in another stadium.
Instead, the task is simple. Win and they're in, lose and go home.
"A lot of people are going to be excited, a lot of people are going to be nervous, a lot of people might lose sleep," Guillen said. "But there's only one thing you can do. And that's be ready to show up [Tuesday] ready to win the game, look yourself in the mirror and say if we fight all the way to the end we have a chance to win it. That's all you can do."
Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One-game playoffs in history
||NL wild card
||NL wild card
||NL wild card
Red Sox 2
Red Sox 3
|* Game was won by home team.
Note: Only the '48 Indians and '78 Yankees went on to win World Series.