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Cubs-White Sox rivalry among game's most unique

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Derrick White. Mike Caruso. Brant Brown. Felix Diaz.

Each one of these four players has spent anywhere from a short to an extremely short amount of time suiting up for one of the two professional baseball teams in Chicago. Caruso was a .306 hitter as a rookie for the White Sox in 1998 and Brown played parts of four seasons for the Cubs, but neither player will be confused for city icons.

Yet, they all will be remembered with temporary hero status in the context of one of the game's liveliest rivalries. Brown hit a walk-off 12th-inning homer against White Sox reliever Tony Castillo on June 5, 1998, while Caruso and White launched what amounted to game-winning long balls of their own.

Diaz, whose Major League career record checks in at an easily overlooked 2-5 with a 6.75 ERA, beat Carlos Zambrano on June 26, 2004, at U.S. Cellular Field to help produce a 2-4 season record for the White Sox against the Cubs that year.

Official Interleague Play between these two teams has been taking place since 1997, with the White Sox holding a 49-41 advantage thanks to four straight season series wins by a 4-2 margin. It once represented major bragging rights for the city, guaranteed sellouts for all six games along with the guaranteed colorful language and disagreements in the stands.

Now, with the two teams playing their second and final Cactus League contest Friday afternoon at Camelback Ranch and their regular-season ledger reduced from six games to four during home-and-home series from May 27-30, the question of importance must be re-examined. A series many believe holds as close to a postseason feel as you can get outside of October still has greater significance than every other Interleague contest for the two clubs.

But it's not the Cardinals for the Cubs, or the Tigers or Royals for the White Sox, which have a larger impact in regard to winning the division.

"I still think those are going to be a special four days, just given the sort of buzz that's created within the city, regardless of the records in any given year between the two clubs," said White Sox general manager Rick Hahn of the crosstown series. "I like the atmosphere, but we do approach it like any other four games that we want to win."

"Basically every city that has two teams loves [the rivalry between the two]," said Cubs utility infielder Brent Lillibridge, who took part in this battle as a member of the White Sox in 2010, '11 and '12. "It's a great time of trash talking and all the stuff. Fans love it. I like that there are a few less games [now] so it's not a dragged-out process. We'll just get them out of the way, have fun playing them, and move on to playing our division."

For a time, some fans viewed this series like Bears fans viewed two games per season with the Packers. Having a 2-14 record would be considered a disaster for the Bears, but not quite as big of a disaster if those two wins came against Green Bay.

Over 162 games, those six, and now four, games don't have nearly the impact as one-eighth of a 16-game season. But success really has changed the parameters for both teams.

No bragging rights could be greater than the White Sox 2005 World Series title, unless the Cubs won a World Series of their own, and maybe two. After all, the White Sox did get there first.

Having the Cubs fall five outs short of the World Series in 2003 might have been the first movement in this foundation. These two teams now also reside in different places aside from their North/South geography, with the White Sox an under-the-radar contender after sitting atop the American League Central for 117 days in 2012, and the Cubs in Year 2 of a rebuild under president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and executive vice president/general manager Jed Hoyer.

"Look, they are in an entirely different league and a different place in terms of what they are trying to accomplish and what we are trying to accomplish," Hahn said. "From an on-field standpoint, they're no different than most of the 29 other clubs and, frankly, less important than division games, which have greater impact on our fate."

"When I first got called up in '09, it seemed like a huge, big deal," White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham said. "It's still a lot of fun for us to play in. It's a little bit of a breakup from the everyday routine, but it seems to blend in a little bit more. I feel like it has diminished a little bit, but I don't feel like it should."

Beckham received a quick welcome to the thrill of the series, as he delivered a walk-off hit to right-center off reliever Jose Ascanio to score Josh Fields and finish off an 8-7 victory on June 27, 2009. His first career game-ending shot came at a high-energy, highly publicized moment.

Gone from the rivalry are some of the more colorful characters, such as Ozzie Guillen and Lou Piniella, or players who stoked the embers of the other team's fire such as Zambrano, Sammy Sosa and A.J. Pierzynski. But there is still another White or Diaz ready to take his place in the lore of a series that remains slightly different from any other.

"It's great for the people of Chicago," Beckham said.

"There's a better vibe, more excitement, there's more of a playoff feel to it because the fans are so rowdy," Lillibridge said. "The four games is a good medium for going forward. In the end, obviously, the most important thing for Chicago is they want to see that seven-game series and the World Series."

That particular postseason chapter, which hasn't happened since 1906, would take the rivalry between the two to unthinkable levels.

Scott Merkin is a reporter for Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin.

Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Gordon Beckham, Brent Lillibridge