Tuesday, September 30, 2008 Updated: October 1, 9:28 AM ET
AL Central champ White Sox surprised even themselves
By Gene Wojciechowski ESPN.com
CHICAGO -- Scary literary thought: Ozzie Guillen says he might write a book about this Chicago White Sox season, a season that now lives not only for another day, but for another series, this time the ALDS.
F. Scott Guillen already has a book title in mind.
"How The Hell We F--- In First Place?" is Guillen's suggested title -- dashes optional.
How the bleep are the White Sox your AL Central winner? Because the bilge pump in their boat worked better than the one used by the Minnesota Twins. Sinking quickly out of first, the White Sox won Game 161 to stay within a half-game of the Twins, won Game 162 to force a rare play-in game and won Game 163 against Minnesota on Tuesday evening to squeeze their way into the postseason.
Three days. Three different teams -- the Cleveland Indians, the Detroit Tigers, the Twins. Three victories, the latest a 1-0 thriller won by John Danks, who was pitching on, ta-da, three days' rest.
The White Sox aren't going to be favored to beat the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS, but if nothing else, they begin the playoffs tougher than the left-field metal bleachers at U.S. Cellular Stadium. The White Sox first overcame themselves, and later the Twins.
Jim Thome's 461-foot homer -- yes, 461 feet -- accounted for the only run in the White Sox's 1-0 win in Tuesday's one-game playoff for the AL Central with the Twins.
Afterward, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire made his way to the White Sox clubhouse door and waited patiently outside as Chicago outfielder Nick Swisher tried to retrieve Guillen from the champagne spray and cigar smoke of the room. A few minutes later, a soaked Guillen appeared at the door.
"Where's Gardie?" Guillen said.
Guillen shook Gardenhire's hand hard. There was a long hug and a backslap. Guillen has made no secret of his admiration for the Twins manager and for his team.
"I'm very happy for you," Gardenhire said as they embraced. "Make us proud."
Guillen's team beat the Twins because Danks pitched a tiny bit better than Nick Blackburn. Danks gave up just two hits in eight innings. Blackburn gave up four hits in 6 1/3 innings, but one of those hits traveled so far that it could earn frequent flyer miles.
Jim Thome's seventh-inning home run cleared the center-field wall, the space between the wall and the first set of shrubbery, then the first set of shrubbery, and finally the second set of shrubbery. It didn't land until it covered 461 feet.
"I've never seen a guy hit a ball that far," White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko said.
"People don't hit it there in batting practice," pitching coach Don Cooper said.
The dinger was the 541st of Thome's career and, by his calculations, the most important. Without it, maybe the White Sox aren't playing the Rays on Thursday in St. Petersburg. Without it, maybe the 38-year-old Thome doesn't get another chance to play into October.
"It was very special," Thome said.
So was Danks. It was the White Sox's first 1-0 victory of the season and Danks' 12th win of the year.
"Let the record show that everybody stood up," Cooper said. "Nobody [expletive] picked us. Nobody counted on us. Those question marks [Danks and fellow starter Gavin Floyd, who beat the Tigers on Monday night] are now exclamation marks."
Danks had help. With one out in the fifth inning and Twins designated hitter Michael Cuddyer standing on third, Brendan Harris lofted a fly ball to shallow center field. Ken Griffey Jr. caught it, threw a two-hopper toward the third-base side of the plate, and then watched as Cuddyer tried to Adrian Peterson his way through catcher and former Twin A.J. Pierzynski. The collision knocked Pierzynski to the ground, but it didn't knock the ball out of his mitt.
Pierzynski mockingly showed the ball to Cuddyer, ran toward the White Sox dugout and then threw the ball into the crowd. It was the play of the game until Thome's home run until Danks kept getting outs until Brian Anderson, a late-inning defensive replacement for Griffey Jr., did a face plant as he laid out for Alexi Casilla's soft sinker to end the game.
"This is the best feeling in baseball I've had," Danks said.
The White Sox finished the regular season 89-74, the Twins 88-75. As it turns out, the only things separating Minnesota from the postseason was a Thome swing, a Pierzynski tag and lots of Danks.
"We wanted to jump around and throw champagne on everybody," said Twins catcher Joe Mauer, who would have to settle for clinching an AL batting title, nothing more.
On Tuesday evening it was the White Sox who celebrated. Guillen announced that Javier Vazquez would get the Game 1 start against the Rays.
"I hope I make the rotation [out] before I start drinking more," he joked.
Optimism was the theme, which makes sense. The White Sox were 2½ games ahead of the Twins on Sept. 21. By Sept. 25 they were a half-game back. Now they've won three crucial, momentum-building games. So they're feeling good about themselves as they face the second-winningest team in the AL.
"Bottom line," said Thome, "we like our chances."
"Why not?" Cooper said. "Why not?"
Because the Rays have deeper pitching, have the home-field advantage and have had time to rest. And yet, the White Sox have this weird, late-, late-season mojo.
I don't know how it's going to turn out. I do know that Guillen is hoping for a sweep and a new book title.
Something like, "How The Hell We In ALCS?"
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.