CHICAGO — CHICAGO -- There is a general perception that the American League Championship Series will be decided here tonight -- regardless of which team wins.
And that's precisely what makes the pitching matchup for Game 6 so intriguing. It pits a pair of contrasting right-handers.
The Toronto Blue Jays, one victory away from a second straight trip to the World Series, will rely on the experience and postseason mystique of Dave Stewart. The challenging Chicago White Sox pin their hopes on the raw ability of 24-year-old Alex Fernandez.
It was this pair that produced the best combined pitching performance of the series, a 3-1 win by the Blue Jays in Game 2.
Going into the series, it figured that the White Sox would have to beat Juan Guzman or Stewart at least once, and nothing has changed.
If there is a Game 7, the matchup will be the same as in Game 3 -- Chicago left-hander Wilson Alvarez against Toronto right-hander Pat Hentgen -- and it heavily favors the White Sox.
By winning the first two games played in Toronto, the White Sox assured themselves of the opportunity to win at home.
When last seen at Comiskey Park, the White Sox were not a pretty sight, sent on their way to Toronto with a chorus of boos from the hometown crowd.
The return to familiar, if not always friendly, confines probably won't be a factor for the White Sox. Their advantage -- if, indeed, they have one -- comes from within the dirt circle in the middle of the infield, 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate.
"We'll have two pretty good pitchers going for us," said manager Gene Lamont, meaning that under the circumstances (22-game winner Jack McDowell has never been effective against the Blue Jays), Fernandez and Alvarez give the White Sox their best chance to win.
To do so, they'll have to find a workable formula against Stewart, who has a 7-0 record in ALCS competition, including the victory in Game 2. Even the Blue Jays sense their best opportunity to win comes tonight.
"With Stew pitching, it's obviously a great opportunity for us," said Paul Molitor. "If they can figure out a way to win that game, then we'll have to figure out a way to beat their left-hander [Alvarez]."
Stewart obviously relishes pitching these games, and he was effective through most of the last month of the season for the Blue Jays.
"I can't think of a situation I like better," he said after the Blue Jays set up a possible clincher with their 5-3 win Sunday. "I've been in this spot several times before."
Indeed, he pitched the pennant clinchers for Oakland in 1988 and 1990. But his memory of those games is as far removed as his A's uniform and the weather conditions in which he often had to pitch.
"I don't remember anything about those games," said Stewart. "They were so long ago, I forgot."
He also said he couldn't remember pitching in the 40-degree weather Fernandez is hoping for tonight.
"I've never pitched in 40-degree weather," said Stewart, when asked how it would affect him. "But I can tell you, I won't be thinking about the weather. It will affect the hitters as much as me."
Fernandez grew up in Miami, so he didn't have a lot of frigid training, but says he has gotten used to conditions in Chicago and prefers the cold.
"I ask Gene to let me pitch every time it's cold," said Fernandez, who obviously has watched hitters cringe hitting his inside fastball.
"I think hitters don't like it [cold weather]," he said. "I think the pitcher has the advantage."
Fernandez, who allowed one earned run in eight innings in Game 2 (when Stewart lasted six), does not sound like someone who might be intimidated by his mound opponent.
"There's not much to say other than that he has done a great job," he said of Stewart.
"When you're 7-0 and win those big games, you can't say much about that except he's done his job. You can tell in his eyes that he's a competitor -- and I feel the same way.
"I don't think any pitcher would say he didn't want to pitch this game," added Fernandez.
AL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE
CHICAGO WHITE SOX vs. TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Blue Jays lead series, 3-2
Gm. ... Result
1 ..... Blue Jays 7, White Sox 3
2 ..... Blue Jays 3, White Sox 1
3 ..... White Sox 6, Blue Jays 1
4 ..... White Sox 7, Blue Jays 4
5 ..... Blue Jays 5, White Sox 3
Gm..... Date ..... Site ..... Time
6 ..... Today ... Chicago ... 8:12
7* ... Tomorrow.. Chicago ... 8:12
TV: All games on chs. 11, 9