CHICAGO -- When a healthy Frank Thomas would warm up with his teammates, he used to joke about the wicked knuckleball he could feature if ever asked to pitch.
But before Thomas took the mound Tuesday to throw out the first pitch prior to the start of his team's first playoff game since 2000, Aaron Rowand warned not to expect much from the Big Hurt.
"Have you seen him throw?" asked Rowand of the media, with a big smile fixed on his face. "He's got no shot. Just watch him throw. You'll see what I mean."
Thomas joked that getting to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at least gets him on the field during the playoffs. He added that he probably came back a little too soon from his surgically repaired left ankle and that his scheduled appointment in Los Angeles to check on the healing process of the newest fracture of his navicular, originally set for Thursday, would be pushed back so Thomas could travel with his team.
As for the opening series itself, Thomas sees the competition between Boston and his White Sox as a classic battle between great hitting and great pitching. He's certainly not backing off high hopes for his own crew.
"This team has offense, too, so we got a chance," Thomas said. "We have a real good chance to win it all, that's how I feel.
"We never had a pitching staff this deep. They got hot in the last week, at the right time. The pitching started dominating like it had all year during the last 10 days, and it's the right time to go. This team is ready."
The only brief references to Thomas' future was talk of his desire to stay with the team for whom he has amassed 448 career home runs, despite a few assumptions that he's done in Chicago. Thomas can exercise a $10 million player option for 2006, but the White Sox have a $3.5 million buyout.
A possibility also exists for a restructured contract. For now, Thomas' focus is on the team and a World Series title, even if his only active role came on a high fastball to bench coach Harold Baines before the series opener even began.
"I'm always there for my teammates, through good and bad times," said Thomas, who added that he often talked to fellow White Sox players on the phone. "If we win it all, I'll be there to celebrate with them. It will be great."
New beginnings: Remember the booing that cascaded down upon reliever Damaso Marte whenever he entered a game at U.S. Cellular Field in September? Oftentimes, the jeers started when manager Ozzie Guillen walked to the mound simply to consider a move to the bullpen for Marte.
"You know, whatever there was in the past is ... it's gone now," Marte said. "It starts today. I'm working hard at this point to help my team."
Marte pitched twice over the weekend during a three-game sweep of Cleveland, looking solid on both occasions, but also getting touched up by Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez each time. Guillen took the blame for that situation, pointing out that he was trying to test Marte against hitters who have touched him up in the past.
The final exams have arrived, with Guillen stating that he won't be able to protect Marte as he might have done at times during the regular season. Not with left-handed power such as David Ortiz, Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek in the Boston lineup.
"Right now in the playoffs, I hope he mentally prepares himself," Guillen said of Marte. "When you are a pitcher or a hitter, you aren't supposed to hear anything.
"But either way, when they boo you at home, you feel embarrassed. It's obviously going to get to you, no doubt about it."
No choking allowed: The picture of Guillen grasping his throat during the final game of a three-game sweep in Cleveland, running in the local daily newspapers, was meant as no sign of disrespect to the Indians, according to the White Sox manager. In fact, he took time after Sunday's game to praise Indians' manager Eric Wedge, the Cleveland fans for recognizing the team after the game and even Indians leadoff hitter Grady Sizemore, whom Guillen pulled aside privately before leaving the field.
This particular picture simply depicted a fun moment Guillen was having with Slider, the Cleveland mascot, and a few Cleveland supporters near the White Sox dugout.
"I respect this game and respect the Cleveland Indians," Guillen said Tuesday. "I apologized [to] the mascot, and there was a couple of people. It was one lady and six guys sitting next to me, and we were just playing around all the game.
"And [if] they took it the wrong way, that's fine. I know the last couple of days, I slept pretty good about it, because I don't have anything in my conscience to make me feel guilty about it."
All bases covered: Guillen spoke Monday of relishing the role of the underdog during the postseason, even with 99 victories. He took that thought a little further during Tuesday's pregame press conference.
"If I lose, they say [the White Sox had] a good year. If I win, it's what a job [I] did," Guillen said with a smile. "I think it's easy to go on the field that way and go out and enjoy yourself. I was in Atlanta when we were supposed to win, and we lost, and we were really disappointed. We got swept.
"A couple years later, I went to the Marlins and we were supposed to win one game, and we won 11. That's a better feeling when you do that."
Taking the fifth: Brandon McCarthy's assertion that he could be added as a fifth starter in the American League Championship Series was neither confirmed nor denied by Guillen.
"The next step will be more games, so we will see who the fifth man is going to be -- him or El Duque," Guillen said. "But I'm not afraid to pitch him in that situation. I'll worry about that when we get there."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.