Notes: Looking for early knockout
Players acknowledge significance of winning first two at home
CHICAGO -- Willie Harris walked out of the White Sox training room Monday afternoon with a towel wrapped around his neck, looking like a fighter ready for a big title bout.
When a television reporter asked him if he was preparing to go for the championship, Harris quickly turned the question into a response relating to the American League Championship Series.
"It's going to be a heavyweight fight, starting tomorrow night at the Cell," said Harris with a smile.
That ALCS battle began Tuesday night in Chicago, but the White Sox had their opponents from Anaheim staggered before the first pitch even was thrown. The Angels traveled from New York to Anaheim to Chicago in less than 48 hours and then arrived for the ALCS without the services of ace hurler Bartolo Colon, the frontrunner to win the American League Cy Young award.
Ozzie Guillen's squad has been as opportunistic as any in baseball during the 2005 campaign, taking even the smallest opportunity and turning it into a great advantage. So, the White Sox entered Tuesday night realizing two wins in Chicago could lead to a knockout of the Angels before the fight ever really begins.
"We like the feeling of the way it happened with Boston," said White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker of winning the first two games at home in the Division Series. "We liked the feeling of winning those two games early. We got the feel for doing it, and want to do it again, starting today. You would rather work out in front, obviously."
The White Sox were the best road team in baseball during the regular season, and won two of their four regular-season contests played in Anaheim. Just the same, they would rather establish early control against a solid team such as the Angels, keeping them down even when they get their legs back under them out West.
"Getting these first two games would be huge," White Sox closer Bobby Jenks said. "If we can jump on them early, we have a great chance."
Doctor, doctor: Frank Thomas made it clear last week that he wasn't returning to California for the next examination on the latest navicular fracture in his left ankle until the White Sox either won the World Series or were eliminated from the postseason. But the Angels made it possible for Thomas to move that appointment up a few weeks.
Dr. Richard Ferkel, who performed the original surgery on Thomas' ankle one year ago, will examine Thomas on Thursday in Los Angeles when the White Sox move to Anaheim for the three middle games of this series. Prior to the start of the Division Series with Boston, Thomas broke down the matchup as a battle of great hitting against great pitching. But he quickly added that the White Sox hitting was stronger than Boston's pitching, which ultimately would make the difference.
So, what is Thomas' prognostication in regard to the ALCS against the Angels? He sees a battle of like forces.
"They are a very similar team to us," said Thomas of the Angels. "I don't know if their [starting pitchers] are quite as good, but it will be a very competitive series."
"I'm worried about the adversity [the Angels] had to face bringing them together as a team and making them more focused on winning," said White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.
Both Thomas and Guillen singled out the loss of Colon as a far greater hurdle for the Angels to overcome than upping their frequent flyer status.
"They should come around without him, but it's huge," Thomas said of Colon. "He's their stopper. I know he was amazing during the time we had him here. He throws that thing 95 or 96 mph and hits those corners."
"You have the best performer that's not going to perform, and that's something you feel good about," Guillen added.
Chairman chatter: Prior to the start of the ALCS, Reinsdorf held court with the media for more than 15 minutes. He discussed topics ranging from Guillen to the White Sox remarkable season to comparing this current group to his favorite team from 1983. Here are a few of the high points.
On Guillen's colorful commentary as manager for the past two years: "Two years? It's been going on since 1985. Ozzie is the Hispanic Jackie Mason. If you look at him in that light, you don't worry about anything he says."
On the team's 15-game lead on Aug. 1 shrinking to 1 1/2 games in the final week of the 2005 season: "I felt like I was tied to the railroad tracks and there was a train coming and I couldn't get out of the way. All I could do was pray that the train would stop before it hit me and it did. Once we clinched the division, it made it a great year."
On the importance of new teams competing for the American League pennant: "There is a part of the country west of the Hudson [River]. And I would think having fresh faces in the postseason is a good thing."
And on the fans greeting the conquering heroes at Midway Airport on Saturday morning: "I just had a big smile on my face. I thought that was great. I was the first car out and people were waving. Then when they saw it was me, they stopped and quieted down. They let me go by, and they waited for the real heroes."
Around the horn: Jack McDowell, who started Game 1 of the 1993 ALCS at U.S. Cellular Field against Toronto, will serve as a guest analyst for the local FOX affiliate during the series. "It doesn't get any better. This is what you play for," McDowell said. "But once you get here, looking back on it, it goes fast. It's a blur." ... Reinsdorf will not be in attendance for Wednesday's game, in observance of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement in the Jewish faith and one of the High Holidays. ... The White Sox bullpen threw 7 1/3 scoreless innings in the ALDS sweep of Boston, allowing four hits. ... Local dignitaries were shown on the center field Jumbotron prior to the start of Tuesday's game, and the crowd rose with a standing ovation when Mayor Richard Daley's face was shown. It just happened to coincide with Jose Contreras leaving the dugout and walking to the bullpen to warm up. ... Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez and Bobby Jenks drew the loudest applause from the crowd during pregame introductions.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.