The White Sox will begin their first second season since 2000 by hosting the World Series champion Boston Red Sox on Tuesday afternoon in the American League Division Series at U.S. Cellular Field.
The White Sox personally made sure of their opponent when they eliminated the Cleveland Indians from wild-card contention Sunday with a 3-1 victory, their league-best 99th of the season. That tied the 1993 team for second most in franchise history.
With an Opening Day victory over Cleveland and the one to close the season, the Sox led wire to wire, though they watched a 15-game lead in the Central Division melt to 11/2 before the Indians lost five of their last six games and the Sox won eight of their last 10.
"It's a great feeling," manager Ozzie Guillen said. "I've never felt this before as a player, manager or coach, to lead all the way from beginning to now. It was a battle. Cleveland gave us a lot of trouble. It seemed like we were in the playoffs for the last month of the season."
And now that the playoffs start for real, Guillen has found a new cause.
"I think we're the Cinderella of the playoffs," he said. "Not too many people thought we'd be in this situation. But you don't win 90-something games [if you haven't] played good baseball, and we did all year long."
Guillen is well aware that despite his team's record, the national spotlight will fall on the Red Sox and the New York Yankees.
"I like that when people don't expect us to do anything," he said. "Almost all year long we were in first place, and it didn't feel like it. But we haven't done anything yet. We haven't earned [the right] to be in the spotlight like everybody else.
"That's part of the game. Boston, New York, that's the one that makes the show. I don't blame [people]. There's a lot of New York fans. The White Sox haven't done anything yet to earn the spot. That's why I don't mind at all."
On the regular season's final day, Guillen started the lineup that will open against Boston and, presumably, ex-Cub Matt Clement. Most notably, Jermaine Dye batted third for only the second time this season and Carl Everett hit fifth.
"Dye has swung the bat lately, real good at-bats," Guillen said. "Carl is just starting to get better, but right now he's not hitting better than Dye. I don't want to keep switching third from one day to another."
Dye started the scoring with a first-inning homer, his 31st, deep into the left-field seats. He finished 2-for-2 with a walk before Joe Borchard replaced him in right field.
Guillen also rested Everett, A.J. Pierzynski, Aaron Rowand, Tadahito Iguchi and Paul Konerko before the seventh inning, getting them two or three at-bats but saving them for Tuesday's game.
Before the mass exodus, the Sox also scored once each in the second and third innings. Rowand was hit by a pitch in the second, and scored after singles by Pierzynski and Joe Crede. In the third, Iguchi led off with a triple and scored on Konerko's sacrifice fly.
Rookie Brandon McCarthy (3-2) got two innings apiece of bullpen help from Luis Vizcaino and Orlando Hernandez, the latter earning his first save since June 28, 2002, with the Yankees. McCarthy and Hernandez are in a battle for a slot on the playoff roster.
Guillen said McCarthy "did a great job. He opened a lot of people's eyes."
The eyes now are on Boston, a pressure-tested team that knows where it has been and where it would like to go.
"They're going to hold that title until somebody knocks them off," Konerko said. "You were going to have to go through Boston sometime [to get to the World Series].
"We know they can really score some runs. They have proven veterans up and down the order. But I'll take my shot with my guys the way they held up over the last six months."
Dye said the White Sox's regaining momentum and confidence before the playoffs "is just what you want. The team is going good, the pitching is good, the hitting is good. Guys seem upbeat, and this [Cleveland] series was a positive sign for us."
For the Sox, who haven't been to the World Series since 1959, the Red Sox present a formidable challenge.
"We're going to play against the best, the world-champion team," Guillen said. "They've got great hitters and veteran pitchers who know what to do. We've got to not change what we got, just play White Sox baseball."
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