BOSTON -- Approximately 30 minutes after the White Sox clinched the American League Central title with a victory over Detroit on Sept. 29, Dustin Hermanson carefully walked up the steps from Comerica Field to the visitors' clubhouse and pointed to his beet-red eyes.
His eyes weren't red from crying, but instead exhibiting the after-effects of taking a blast of champagne directly in the face. Even with the almost unspeakable joy and excitement currently being felt by the White Sox, Hermanson still would have every reason to be a little sad or possibly even a little miffed.
After all, it was Hermanson who helped build this team into the power it became, stepping into the closer's role in early May, when Shingo Takatsu no longer could hold down the job. The right-hander literally didn't allow an earned run until June 1 and saved a career-high 34 games with a 2.04 ERA.
But Hermanson's chronic lower back problems, coupled with the emergence of hard-throwing Bobby Jenks, took him from a role of prominence to a seat in the bullpen. The closest Hermanson came to pitching in the Division Series sweep of Boston was warming up in the bullpen late in Game 2.
Instead of turning that anger outward, Hermanson has used his powers for good where Jenks is concerned. Hermanson continues to prepare himself to pitch if called upon, but until that time arrives, he serves as a mentor for the burly right-hander Jenks.
Hermanson knows a thing or two in regard to Jenks' style. It was Hermanson setting off the radar gun at 101 mph with San Diego when he first arrived in the Majors in 1995.
"When I was his age, I threw that hard," said Hermanson of Jenks. "I didn't have the curve ball. I threw a slider. And when I became a starter, my velocity decreased.
"It's fun watching him pitch and develop and see his confidence level soar. If I can help someone learn something along the way, then I did a job myself. If I had somebody sit down and talk to me when I was as young, it could have helped me go through some of those rollercoaster moments."
The 32-year-old Hermanson tries to impress upon Jenks that the situation always is a one-run game when he enters to pitch -- whether it really is or not. Hermanson's point is that Jenks has to prepare for the actual moments when the game is on the line, such as his critical two innings of relief to save Game 2 of the ALDS.
Hermanson's upcoming offseason doesn't sound like a very restful time, with an extensive rehab program beginning on his back to get it close to 100 percent healthy while strengthening the muscles around the problem area. But Hermanson doesn't have the word "quit" in his vocabulary, which is why he's passing on any sort of surgery.
Despite being one of three White Sox pitchers not to work in the Division Series, including starter Jon Garland, Hermanson should be on the White Sox American League Championship Series roster and will be ready for action. He also plans to challenge his protégé for the closer's job once again in 2006.
"I'm getting used to pitching with the discomfort now," Hermanson said. "Next year, if I'm 50 percent better and have that much less discomfort, it will make a world of difference.
"I wanted to be the closer here at the end, but everybody likes to see the guy throwing 100 mph," added Hermanson with a knowing smile. "This is what we want. I'm there to back him up in case something happens. We will do everything that has been working recently."
Man of the hour: He won two World Series games for three championship Yankees teams, from 1998 to 2000. He pitched countless other contests of importance for his native country in Cuba.
But Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez took special pride in his three-inning relief effort to close out the Red Sox on Friday because of his uncertain job status during the past offseason. As he celebrated the White Sox Division Series victory, El Duque took a subtle dig at his former employer.
"I'm extra excited with this one because the White Sox gave me an opportunity nobody else did," said Hernandez through translator Ozzie Guillen Jr. "Kenny Williams respected my job, more than the Yankees or Mr. [Brian] Cashman did. I appreciate that and I'm glad that I'm here. I want to help these guys win."
It was a game-changing moment. Actually, it might have been a series-altering situation against the defending World Series champs.
"It felt like momentum had gone on their side after Manny Ramirez hit the leadoff home run," third baseman Joe Crede said. "It was like, 'Oh no, here we go.' Duque shut them down, and momentum shifted."
"That's the game right there," added Garland, who could start Game 1 of the ALCS. "Bases loaded, nobody out. To fire the team up the way he did, it's amazing."
Mound matters: Manager Ozzie Guillen has until Tuesday morning to set his roster for the ALCS, with a decision between Damaso Marte and Brandon McCarthy for the final reliever's role standing as the only matter at hand. Guillen probably will act a little sooner in deciding his Game 1 starter.
Garland is next in rotation, and with five solid starters all season, the White Sox always have tried to stay on turn. But Guillen is all about providing his team with the best chance to win, meaning it could also be staff ace Jose Contreras or Mark Buehrle on the mound for Game 1.
Both certainly will have the requisite rest. Contreras has an edge over the Yankees, with a 2-0 record and 0.60 ERA during two 2005 starts, while Buehrle featured a 3.47 ERA against the Angels. Garland, meanwhile, has not pitched since Oct. 1 in Cleveland.
"I don't mind if I put Garland there," Guillen said. "But we will go with the best man we have."
And before we go: After waiting 89 years to win a postseason series, the feelings emanating from Friday's clinching victory certainly are worth one more look. So, before turning attention to the ALCS, here's one brief glance back.
From Guillen, who has remained the picture of cool, from the toughest to the most jubilant of times: "I'm so proud of the players, because they just go there to bust their tails for all the fans and everyone in Chicago. They do a tremendous job and they never panic. That's why we are where we are."
And then there's hitting coach Greg Walker, who reached the playoffs as a 23-year-old rookie ballplayer in 1983, but hadn't been back since: "I was so young. I didn't know how to appreciate it. Everyone thought that the White Sox, with our pitching staff, [were] going to be back every year. It makes you appreciate these moments. It took me 22 years to get back."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.