09/28/08 11:40 PM ET
Year not over as Detroit visits Chicago
Sox must win for Central playoff vs. Twins; Tigers can spoil
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
Chicago has everything to play for. If the Sox win Monday's game, they force a one-game tiebreaker for the American League Central Division championship, which would be at home on Tuesday against the Twins at 6:30 p.m. CT on TBS and MLB.TV. Win that, and it's on to the AL Division Series against Tampa Bay. Detroit has nothing to play for in the standings, but there's always pride and the opportunity to spoil a rival's season.
"I'm sure they aren't real happy to have to come here and play this game," said White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski. "I'm sure a lot of them would be hoping they would be home now. They will come in here and want to kick our tails, and we have to go out there with the same attitude and try to do it to them."
On top of it all, you've got the Rays and Twins, both waiting as extremely interested bystanders. Tampa Bay doesn't know who it will play on Thursday. Minnesota still doesn't even know whether it will play on Tuesday or Thursday.
Back on Friday, Sept. 12, heavy rains hit Chicago and much of the nation's midsection, and the drenching didn't let up until Sunday. For two days, U.S. Cellular Field was unplayable, forcing the Tigers and Sox to play two games on Sunday, Sept. 14 -- and leaving one game hanging.
For fans, it's an extra day of baseball, and that can't be a bad thing. A day that's usually quiet on the schedule will instead bring not just a game, but a pivotal game. It can be seen on MLB.TV, so for fans across the country who want a taste of playoff-style ball before the postseason actually begins, the makeup game is a very nice appetizer.
The White Sox will be facing a pitcher, at least, who will be plenty motivated. Freddy Garcia's teammates may not want to make the trip, but Garcia is eager for the chance.
"I think it'll be fun," Garcia said. "They're playing for everything. They're playing for their season. If they lose, they go home. If we win, we go home, but we knocked somebody out."
Garcia pitched for the Sox for three years and has a well-established relationship with Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen.
"We have to be ready for Freddy," Guillen said. "He's not going to go out there and just pitch. He's going to try to beat us. I know him real well. He's trying to show he can still pitch. I know the Detroit Tigers are going to come down here and play the game real hard. We have to be prepared for them. I'd be, too. I'm not going to fly all the way from Detroit to here to play an extra day when we should be home, and then come here and take it easy on us. They're going to make it tough."
Chicago counters with a pitcher who certainly won't mind extending his 2008 season by one more start. Gavin Floyd has enjoyed a breakout campaign, topping his previous career totals -- not highs, totals -- in wins, innings, starts and strikeouts. Floyd, who is in his fifth Major League season, is also pitching to make his first postseason.
Perhaps most notable, though, is that Floyd is pitching on short rest. He's the third straight Chicago starter to pitch on three days' rest rather than four. He's done so three previous times in his career -- twice after starts, and once after a lengthy relief appearance. Floyd is 0-1 with a 7.56 ERA in those games, and his team has lost each time.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland intends to make sure his team doesn't mail in the game. He takes the competition far too seriously, and respects both opponents -- even if they're both rivals.
"Other than not having to go, we probably have the best-case scenario," Leyland said. "The Twins have a half-game lead. If, by chance, we lose the game, they've still got their shot. I'm kind of glad it didn't work the other way, to be honest with you. Now, in saying that, we're going to do everything we can to win the game tomorrow. That's baseball, and that's what we're supposed to do. And that's what we will do."
If the White Sox had secured the American League Central by the end of the day Sunday, no game would be needed. If Chicago had been eliminated, both of Monday's squads could be thinking about tee times. But baseball's fates provided no such easy way out. The Sox trail the Twins by one-half game. Win, and the season continues. Lose, and an incredibly promising year comes to a close earlier than expected.
So the Twins could pop champagne on an off-day. Or they could have one game for everything on Tuesday evening.
"We are just going to prepare like we're going to Chicago," Twins closer Joe Nathan said. "That's all we can do. Just come all packed up like we already are, ready to get on a plane. If something else happens, great. [Monday] is going to be the first time we are all going to be big Detroit Tigers fans. We're all going to root for them."
As recently as Tuesday, it seemed extremely unlikely that this game would be needed. The White Sox held a 2 1/2-game lead over the Twins at the start of a three-game series at the Metrodome. But Minnesota swept, taking the half-game lead that it still holds. So the Sox have no one to blame but themselves.
"If we come out and win tomorrow, then it'll feel like a new season," Sox first baseman Paul Konerko said on Sunday. "I just think the hard part is just to make sure we don't look to Tuesday night and slip up tomorrow. ... We've won a lot of ballgames this year, we just need one more tomorrow."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. David Just, Scott Merkin, Jason Beck and Kelly Thesier contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.