"I felt like we could win it all," said Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon. "We just had to have some luck and some momentum going for us. We really didn't have much luck. And you need it to continue on."
Instead, the Red Sox go home, swept out of a postseason series for the first time since 1995.
The Red Sox had plenty of chances, none more tantalizing than the one in the bottom of the sixth inning when they had the bases loaded and nobody out, down by a run. But that run never came, and winter came earlier than the Red Sox ever planned.
Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez was the man most responsible for vaulting the White Sox to their first American League Championship Series in 12 years. Aside from getting out of that bases loaded, nobody out jam, El Duque's performance out of the bullpen was almost spotless, as he gave up just one hit over three innings, striking out four.
"That was big-game pitching at its best," said Red Sox second baseman Tony Graffanino. "He had absolutely no room for error and he made quality pitches, battled and had the guts to throw slow curves on 3-2 counts with the bases loaded. He saved the game for them."
Boston's hopes of a comeback were slowed when the White Sox pushed their lead to 5-3 on a squeeze bunt by Juan Uribe that scored A.J. Pierzynski with one out in the ninth.
"Pierzynski isn't the fastest guy, but you never know with Ozzie [Guillen]," said Mike Timlin, who was on the mound at the time. "They picked the right pitch to do it on. It was a slower pitch, a curveball."
There weren't many slow pitches in the bottom of the ninth, when rookie Bobbie Jenks came out of the bullpen to close it out for the White Sox. He got Graffanino (groundout), Damon (strikeout) and Edgar Renteria (season-ending groundout to second base).
In defeat, the Red Sox recognized the White Sox as a team that might be able to put on the type of run they had a year ago and snap a seemingly endless championship drought in the process.
"They're pretty good," said Damon. "They're young, they have good pitching from top to bottom. They overpowered us in this series. They were playing with a lot of confidence. They had their pitching set up, every little thing sort of went their way. That's what happens in the postseason. You have to tip your hat to them. I think they're a good enough team to win it all. We'll just have to see. We did come up short."
The Red Sox did have some clutch efforts, though, none bigger than the one turned in by Jonathan Papelbon. The rookie right-hander kept his team in the game by not allowing a baserunner over 2 2/3 innings.
Manny Ramirez (two homers) and David Ortiz (solo blast) carried the offense like they've done all year. But it wasn't enough.
Paul Konerko's two-run homer off Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in the top of the sixth snapped a 2-2 tie and put the White Sox in front for good.
"I made a mistake to Konerko. It was up, more than it should have been," said Wakefield.
All day long, the White Sox were the aggressors. They were unfazed in the top of the third after the Red Sox made a pair of spectacular defensive plays (one by Trot Nixon and the other by Renteria) for the first two outs. Uribe jump-started a rally by lofting a double off the Green Monster. Scott Podsednik followed with an RBI double into the corner in left to break the scoreless tie. Up stepped Tadahito Iguchi, who bounced an RBI single up the middle to make it 2-0.
Consecutive home runs in a Division Series
|2005||BOS||David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez||CWS||G3||4|
|2004||LAD||Shawn Green, Milton Bradley||STL||G2||4|
|2002||ATL||Javy Lopez, Vinny Castilla||SF||G2||2|
|2002||ANA||Garret Anderson, Troy Glaus||NYY||G2||8|
|2002||OAK||Ray Durham, Scott Hatteberg||MIN||G3||1|
|2000||SEA||Edgar Martinez, John Olerud||CWS||G1||10|
|1997||NYY||Tim Raines, Derek Jeter and Paul O'Neill||CLE||G1||6|
"The two runs they scored in the third, I have to tip my hat to them," said Wakefield. "They found some holes and got two runs on the board."
It took just two swings for the Red Sox to come back. Ortiz led off the bottom of the fourth by lofting a solo shot just over the wall in center off Freddy Garcia. The ball appeared to catch a gust of wind, giving it just enough for the home run. Ramirez followed by belting a homer down the line in right, tying it up at 2-2. That homer put Ramirez in sole possession of second place for postseason homers with 19.
Konerko then dented the hopes of the Fenway faithful, ripping a two-run homer to left with nobody out in the sixth, putting the White Sox back in front at 4-2. Wakefield gave up four runs and six hits over his 5 1/3 innings. Papelbon came on with two on and one out and retired the side without further damage.
Ramirez again came through for Boston, pummeling a leadoff shot over the Monster in the bottom of the sixth to slim the lead back to a run. That was all for Garcia, as Damaso Marte came out of the bullpen. He proceeded to load the bases with nobody out, giving up a single to Nixon and walking Bill Mueller and John Olerud.
Out of the bullpen came a veteran of postseasons past, Hernandez. The crafty right-hander did a positively heroic job, getting pinch-hitter Jason Varitek and Graffanino -- who battled through a 10-pitch at-bat -- on infield popups and striking out Damon on a 3-2 pitch.
"I know I had an opportunity to tie that game, to change that game. It's something I'm going to have to live with," said Varitek. "I had a chance to get a pitch, and I chased the pitch up a little bit and popped it up. Graffanino had a great at-bat and he made a great pitch, same with Johnny. This one hurts. Especially knowing you had an opportunity. I'll take it on my shoulders. I failed."
"What other word can you use but disappointed?" said Wakefield, the only member of the Red Sox who was also on hand for the '95 sweep. "This team battled their [rear ends] off to get to the postseason. To lose three in a row to the White Sox, it's very disappointing."
In the end, all manager Terry Francona could do was thank his team who fell short in trying to repeat last year's feats, though it certainly was not for a lack of effort.
"I just actually thanked them," said Francona. "At this point in the season, being together this much, I needed to thank them. But I don't think we had to sit there and have a long speech. They know how we feel."