White Sox celebrate good times
Club enjoys fruit of season's work before re-focusing
DETROIT -- As champagne dripped off the sides of his newly adorned American League Central champions hat and with a bottle of the bubbly clasped firmly in each hand, Mark Buehrle stood in the middle of the Comerica Park visitors clubhouse and looked every bit like a little kid who just won his first Little League game.
The mile-wide smile and gleam in his eye left no doubt that the White Sox ace wasn't about to let manager Ozzie Guillen get away that quickly.
It was a sneak attack that drenched Guillen and resulted in a bellow of laughter from Buehrle himself. But for anyone who knows the pitcher, it isn't a surprise that he was the man leading the charge of the team's celebration after Thursday's 4-2 division-clinching victory.
Buehrle has become the face, the sound bytes and, a lot of times, the heart of this White Sox team. As a long-shot pitcher that has risen to All-Star status -- even starting the Midsummer Classic in July on this very field -- Buehrle seems the perfect player to symbolize a team that did what no one expected them to do.
And on the day that he finally was able to celebrate all the hard work that made everything, including the rough stretches during the past month all worthwhile, Buehrle wanted to enjoy every minute of it.
"I don't think anybody expected us to do what we did this year," Buehrle said. "But we're here, and we did it. We would have liked to clinch a month ago, but we're able to now, and that's all that matters."
The struggles of the team in the final months may have actually made the celebration all that more sweet. It wasn't the easiest of roads for this White Sox team, as it watched its lead dwindle from 15 games on Aug. 1 to 1 1/2 on Sunday. But all of that seemed to be forgotten with the final leaping catch by Paul Konerko in Thursday's victory.
Running around with beer bottles and champagne spritzes all around, the jovial nature was a drastic change from the team often downtrodden by questions of whether this day would actually come.
"To be here right now doing this with these guys, it's amazing," Rowand said with victory cigar in hand. "We stuck together and talked about team chemistry when we were winning early on in the year, and everybody said, 'Yeah, well it's easy when you're winning.' But when you're losing and everybody in the papers is doubting you and all that, everybody still stuck together. And that showed the character of this team."
That character is something that White Sox general manager Ken Williams felt all along would get them to this point. Though Williams said that he got nervous watching the lead dwindle, he knew the players that he had would always have something to prove."One of the reasons we picked each one of these guys on this team is we wanted a bunch of fighters," Williams said. "We wanted guys who could be resilient and had been resilient to criticism or doubts throughout the course of their whole career."
For a team with hardly any playoff-tested players, Thursday's celebration was a first taste of what winning can bring. Though the mood of the team on the field was subdued, all that changed once it hit the clubhouse.
Rookie Brandon McCarthy stood in the corner of the chaos taking in the scene and watching as Freddy Garcia doused a dancing Jon Garland in front of him. Enjoying a celebration like this in his first stint in the Majors was a tad overwhelming for the pitcher, who never thought before the season that this moment would be possible.
"It's kind of chaos and, for me, confusion because I've never been a part of one of these in the big leagues and you have no idea what to do," McCarthy said. "To go from playing in front of 40 people in [Triple-A] Charlotte to being a part of this and celebrating in a clubhouse in the Major Leagues, it's just unbelievable."
While McCarthy was staying in the background, pitcher Cliff Politte was right in the midst of the hoopla, spraying every passing teammate or coach that walked by.
The pitcher has more than eight season in the Majors and, for him, this first taste of winning celebrations was all the more exciting, thanks to waiting so long to finally have it happen.
"I've been playing professional baseball for 10 years and I've seen everybody do this, and it's exciting for me and my teammates who have battled through thick and thin to finally be a part of it," Politte said. "We struggled for a little bit and for us to pull together at the end here, it's very gratifying for us."
While everyone enjoyed the drenching of champagne and spoke of all the fun, the team knows that there is more fun and even bigger celebrations ahead, if the focus remains the same. And there is still plenty left to prove.
"We're planning a couple of more," Scott Podsednik said of the party before him. "We've got to keep playing like we know we can and then we're hoping we can pop some more champagne bottles along the way."
Kelly Thesier is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.