Party on! White Sox clinch
Victory secures AL Central title for South Siders
DETROIT -- The final out of Thursday's 4-2 White Sox victory over Detroit took every inch of first baseman Paul Konerko's 6-foot-2 frame to record. But once Konerko snared Placido Polanco's line drive, stranding runners at first and second, the on-field celebration began for the team's first American League Central title since 2000.
Actually, it sort of began. Maybe it began but never really took complete flight.
Konerko pumped his fist after making the catch, the same reaction shown by catcher A.J. Pierzynski as he ran out from behind the plate. Meanwhile, closer Bobby Jenks (fourth save) crouched to the left of the mound, jumped up a little in jubilance after the play was made and then almost hit Pierzynski in the face with the force of his high five.
Players and coaches came streaming out of the visitors' dugout at Comerica Park, exchanging hugs, pats on the back and simple looks of accomplishment. After a five-year drought, the party on the field would seem to be a bit more intense -- although it certainly picked up in the clubhouse, with champagne and beer being sprayed in every corner.
Then again, maybe it was a bit of a relief for the South Siders. They watched a 15-game lead slip to 1 1/2 over the Indians as of this past Sunday, but never lost belief this moment eventually would arrive.
"It was one of those things where we didn't know what to do," said Pierzynski of his team's immediate reaction to securing the Central title. "I never celebrated on the field. When we won in the past [with Minnesota], we had to wait on another score.
"I know I was just happy for Bobby. I was happy that Paulie caught the ball. I was happy we got it, and I was happy I came here. Hopefully, we can keep it going."
Chicago's victory reduced its magic number to one, clinching a tie for the AL Central title. But even if the Indians were to sweep the three-game set at Jacobs Field this weekend, thus clinching a playoff berth, the White Sox (96-63) would win the tiebreaker for the AL Central crown with an 11-8 edge in head-to-head play.
The reason the White Sox and Indians wouldn't play a one-game playoff is because, with the Red Sox and Yankees playing each other this weekend, one team would be guaranteed to finish out of the playoffs if the Indians swept the White Sox. And in instances in which teams are guaranteed to make the playoffs, MLB does not use a one-game playoff, instead relying on head-to-head matchups to break the tie.
This particular victory came courtesy of the usual suspects making up the 2005 success story. Freddy Garcia (14-8) improved his career record to 19-7 in September and raised his mark to 9-3 against American League Central opponents in 2005. He allowed two runs on eight hits over seven-plus innings, before giving way to Cliff Politte, Neal Cotts and Jenks.
Garcia raised his ledger to 14-3 during day games over his last 20 starts, and 39-13 in afternoon efforts since 1999. Manager Ozzie Guillen said Wednesday night he would know his big-game pitcher had shown up simply by watching his first inning of work. Garcia set down the side in order during that frame for just the fifth time this year, on his way to the division-clinching victory.
"I was in Seattle for five, six years and we went to the playoffs a couple times," Garcia said. "But I never got the chance to pitch a game to clinch. I got the opportunity today, and I did it.
"I'm the kind of pitcher that can get away with 84 or 85 mph," added Garcia, who struck out five and didn't walk a batter. "You've got to locate the pitches and I was making pretty good pitches."
Carl Everett supplied all the offense the South Siders would need with a two-run, two-out triple in the first inning off former White Sox hurler Jason Grilli (1-1). Scott Podsednik's sacrifice fly in the second scored Pierzynski for a 3-0 lead, and Konerko added his 40th home run in the sixth to complete the White Sox scoring.
Konerko, who is one shy of his career-high in home runs, joined Frank Thomas as just the second player in franchise history with consecutive seasons featuring at least 40 home runs. Thursday's blast became all the more memorable because of the circumstances.
"You always want to deliver meaningful home runs," said Konerko, who sits one short of 100 RBIs. "It looked like we were going to deliver the knockout punch, but in true White Sox fashion, we kind of made it a close game.
"I hit 40 last year, and it's a nice round number. But I've just been so focused. Everything is about getting this team to the playoffs."
This surprising 2005 postseason appearance marks the fourth division championship under the ownership group led by Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn, who were both in attendance Thursday in Detroit. The White Sox also won the American League West in 1983 and 1993, to go with the 2000 Central title.
Thursday's on-field celebration was a microcosm of the entire White Sox season, with just enough rowdy behavior to get the job done. Then again, maybe the White Sox are saving their best celebrations for later.
"Coming into the season, there wasn't one magazine, one person, picking us to win the division," Konerko said. "It was always Minnesota or probably Cleveland. The fact that we won the division is a big deal."
"I've won it with a few teams all the way to the end," Guillen said. "But this first step is a big step."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.