White Sox fall short in Game 1
Contreras settles in, but offensive miscues prove fatal
CHICAGO -- The phrase "must-win game" seems to be thrown around far too often in the world of sports, and usually by people who aren't actually on the field of play.
But following the Angels' 3-2 victory over Chicago in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday night, before an electric sellout crowd of 40,659 at U.S. Cellular Field, it seemed to be an appropriate question for the White Sox players. Is Wednesday's second game of the ALCS, with Mark Buehrle facing off against an ailing Jarrod Washburn, a must-win situation for the South Siders, who certainly don't want to slip into an 0-2 hole with three games coming up on the West Coast?
In an unofficial survey of five or six White Sox players, the verdict seemed to be split. The thought that the White Sox need to play a little better Wednesday almost was unanimous.
"I don't think it's a must win, but we need it," said White Sox center fielder Aaron Rowand, who finished 0-for-3 and was hit by a pitch leading off the seventh. "But if we would have won tonight, we would have come back the same way as we will after losing this game."
"We definitely don't want to go down 2-0," added first baseman Paul Konerko. "But if you're going to lose a game, it's almost good to have a game where we know we didn't execute some things tonight. It wasn't our best game."
The focus entering the ALCS opener was the White Sox rust, having not played since sweeping Boston in the Division Series last Friday, vs. the Angels' lack of rest. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Angels are the first team in baseball history to play three games in three cities in three consecutive days, traveling 4,700 miles in less than two days.
But the bottom line Tuesday was execution, or lack thereof on the part of the White Sox. The opportunities were in place to score off Angels starter Paul Byrd, who allowed two runs on five hits over six-plus innings, improving to 4-0 lifetime at U.S. Cellular Field.
Chicago hitters, though, could not deliver any sort of knockout punch.
"Give them credit some time," said catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who drove in the team's second run with a two-out single in the fourth. "We had the right guys up there in the right situations, and they made pitches."
Manager Ozzie Guillen was not upset by his team's effort, but did point out a lapse in small ball as the cause for defeat.
"We failed today at moving the guys over," Guillen said. "You know, we don't do the job and when we fail doing it, it's hard for us to win."
With Garret Anderson's home run in the second and two more runs in the third, the Angels grabbed an early 3-0 lead over Jose Contreras. The right-hander was dominant from that point on, allowing only three baserunners over the next 5 1/3 innings and just seven hits over 8 1/3 innings in total.
Pierzynski hit into a fielder's choice, forcing Rowand at second, and was then thrown out stealing by catcher Bengie Molina for out No. 2. Pierzynski, one of the slower runners in the White Sox lineup, thought he received the hit-and-run sign, but both Guillen and Crede, the hitter at the plate, said Pierzynski was running on his own.
"I saw hit-and-run, so I took off," Pierzynski said. "Did I miss the sign? I guess I did. I don't know."
"It was not a hit-and-run, and I don't know what happened there," Crede added. "He did it on his own, I think."
Juan Uribe singled to open the eighth and Carl Everett reached base on Chone Figgins' error to start the ninth. In both instances, the White Sox were unable to get down a sacrifice bunt.
Scott Podsednik struck out looking, following two unsuccessful bunt attempts in the eighth, and Rowand bunted into a forceout at second off closer Francisco Rodriguez, thanks to a slick play by Figgins charging hard from third. Podsednik's play became all the more important when Jermaine Dye singled to right, keeping the eighth-inning rally alive.
Konerko flew out to center, ending the threat. The White Sox remained winless at home in ALCS action, with their losing streak dropping to six straight since 1983. They also have lost four straight at home to the Angels in 2005, and were unable, for the fourth time this season, to extend an eight-game winning streak to nine.
The previous three eight-game runs were followed by losing streaks of three, two and two, respectively. Of course, the stakes are much higher in this situation.
So, doesn't that make Wednesday a "must-win" game for the White Sox? It's really no different from Tuesday's philosophy.
"Every game is a must win in the playoffs," Pierzynski said. "You want to win every one. No game is more important until you get down to the elimination game. Other than that, it's a game we need to play well and certainly need to play better than we did tonight."
"I don't think too many guys are keeping their heads down," Crede added. "These are two very similar teams, and we know we can come back and get after it tomorrow."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.