CHICAGO -- Ninety-nine regular-season victories plus a nearly unblemished 11-1 postseason run added up to a World Series championship for the 2005 White Sox, arguably the greatest team in franchise history.
“Team” is the word to remember in discussing the 2005 campaign, when the White Sox were in first place from the first day until the last. Paul Konerko’s sixth-place finish in the American League Most Valuable Player Award voting was the highest among the White Sox, while Mark Buehrle finished fifth in AL Cy Young Award voting and Tadahito Iguchi was fourth for the AL Rookie of the Year Award.
“My personal statistics were never a big motivating factor for me,” said Aaron Rowand, the gritty center fielder on that championship squad. “I felt we had something special as a team and had a chance to go do what we wanted to do our entire lives, and that’s win a World Series. It wasn’t about individuals. It was about, 'How are we going to win games,' and 'We are going to do it any way we need to get it done.'”
“The way that we went about it in the unselfishness and the will and the determination, that was how we won a championship,” said Scott Podsednik, the White Sox left fielder and leadoff man in 2005. “It wasn’t because we had MVP-caliber guys up and down the lineup. It was that we had unselfish guys willing to do that night what was needed to win a ballgame.”
MLB.com now takes a look at that special season, with some stories and memories from those involved.
Beginning in '04
People savoring the 2005 squad might forget that the '04 team in Ozzie Guillen’s first season as manager sat atop the AL Central as late as July 24, when Joe Crede hit a walk-off home against Detroit’s Ugueth Urbina. That squad was beset by key injuries to Magglio Ordonez and Frank Thomas and a pitching staff not nearly as deep as the prolific crew that would play the next season.
But then general manager and current executive vice president Ken Williams made the key 2004 acquisitions: Right-hander Freddy Garcia from Seattle in exchange for Michael Morse, Miguel Olivo and Jeremy Reed, and right-hander Jose Contreras from the Yankees for Esteban Loaiza, who finished second in the 2003 AL Cy Young Award race. Williams also added designated hitter Carl Everett in a July 18 trade with the Expos.
Garcia, Contreras and Everett played significant roles in the championship, as did the plethora of players added by Williams in the offseason. Right fielder Jermaine Dye, right-handed reliever Dustin Hermanson , right-handed starter Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, catcher A.J. Pierzynski, Iguchi at second and utility player Pablo Ozuna arrived via free agency, closer Bobby Jenks was claimed off waivers and Podsednik and right-handed reliever Luis Vizcaino were brought over from the Brewers in a trade for Carlos Lee.
“By the time everybody got to Spring Training, everybody felt pretty good,” Rowand said. “All the different baseball people were picking us to be fourth in the division, but you add a Scott Podsednik, Jermaine Dye and an A.J. Pierzynski, along with those other guys, they are not only good players but great guys. The chemistry in the locker room and out on the field during Spring Training was amazing. It was something special.”
“Everyone just got along. Everyone spoke baseball,” Pierzynski said. “That’s probably the one team I’ve been on in my life that talked more baseball than any other team: Before, during and after games.”
The special meaning of 1-0
The White Sox claimed a 1-0 victory over the Indians on April 4 to open the season, with Buehrle topping Jake Westbrook and Shingo Takatsu getting the save. They posted a similar 1-0 victory on July 14 in Cleveland to start the season’s second half and, of course, finished the championship with a 1-0 win over Houston in Game 4 of the World Series.
“It was just kind of the way it was meant to be,” Pierzynski said. “We would find a way to win games. It was weird. Teams of destiny are teams of destiny. It didn’t matter what was thrown in front of us. We were just going to win. It doesn’t matter a guy gets hurt or a guy has a bad outing pitching. We scored 10 runs to pick him up. Or the guy goes out and throws a great game and we win, 2-1.
“Random guys would hit home runs in big situations, or get a big hit. We just had that feeling from Day 1 that we were going to figure out a way to win.”
During their 99-63 regular season, the White Sox had a 35-19 record in one-run games and held the lead in 137 of 162 regular-season games, including a Major League-record 37 straight to begin the season. Part of that close-game success came from a starting pitching staff featuring Buehrle, Garcia, Contreras, Jon Garland and Hernandez that made 152 of the 162 starts. Brandon McCarthy picked up the final 10.
Takatsu, Hermanson and Jenks had their run at closer, with Cliff Politte, Neal Cotts and Damaso Marte doing exceptional work in front of them. And the offense, while ranking fourth in the AL with 200 home runs, also topped the AL with 53 sacrifice bunts. It was the combination of Podsednik and Iguchi at the top of the order frequently creating an early advantage.
“Iguchi was really good at handling the bat. He could hit the ball the other way. He could lay bunts down when he needed to, but most importantly, he was unselfish about it,” Podsednik said. “He was willing to do what was needed to be done in the two hole to keep the line moving.
“A lot of times, [when] I reached base, would steal second, and there were so many times where he gave himself up to get me over to third. Everybody was willing to pull on the same rope. We didn’t have a lot of egos and a lot of selfish guys. It felt like everybody was willing to do what they could do on behalf of the ballclub.”
Holding off Cleveland
This win-at-all-cost mentality morphed into a 69-35 mark by Aug. 1 and a 15-game lead over Cleveland in the division following a four-game sweep of the Orioles in Baltimore. Podsednik saw it coming, saying he knew there was something special about this squad less than 2 months into the season.
The White Sox seemingly insurmountable lead over Cleveland dropped to 2 1/2 games when the Indians claimed a 7-5 victory in Chicago on Sept. 19. Joe Crede’s walk-off home run off of David Riske on the following night moved that lead back to 3 1/2. But it wasn’t until the White Sox swept the final three games of the season in Cleveland, knocking the Indians from the playoffs, that Chicago exorcised those late-season demons and started a 16-1 finish including the playoffs.
“After we swept Cleveland, that gave us the momentum,” Podsednik said. “We felt like, ‘OK, we are back. Let’s get it on.’"
Guillen truly was the guiding force in this group. His leadership helped build a true resiliency for his crew.
“We dealt with failure well,” Podsednik said. “We had forgotten about what happened the day before and got back to business.”
Dropping the defending champs
Pierzynski remembers how beating the Red Sox, 14-2, in Game 1 of the AL Division Series quelled any nerves for the numerous White Sox players who hadn’t been to the postseason. But it was Hernandez pitching out of the bases-loaded, nobody-out situation in relief of Marte in the sixth to protect a 4-3 lead during Game 3 at Fenway Park that's remembered as one of the greatest half-innings in franchise history.
When Guillen came to the mound and motioned for Hernandez, Pierzynski was a bit surprised. But Guillen knew Hernandez had been in this sort of pressure-packed situation before. Hernandez retired Jason Varitek on a foul popup to Konerko for the first out before working the count full on Tony Graffanino.
“He kept shaking. I went out to the mound and I said, ‘Duque, I’ve called everything you got.’ He said, ‘No, front-door slider.’ And I said ‘What?’” Pierzynski said. “And he said ‘Yeah, I’m going to start it at his hip and he’s going to pop it up to the infield.’ I said, ‘Are you sure? That’s a real dangerous pitch.’ He goes, ‘Yeah, watch. Trust me.’
“Sure enough, he threw it perfect, and [Graffanino] popped it up to the infield, and I was like, ‘You gotta be kidding me.’ Then we got Johnny Damon, he punches him out on a 3-2 slider, and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ We scored a couple of runs the next inning to give us a bigger lead to finish it off, and those three outs will always be remembered by me just because of the sequences.
“I remember Varitek running in from the bullpen to get his pinch-hit and the crowd going crazy, and we had to wait for him to get ready, and he popped up. Graffanino popped up and Johnny struck out, and I was like ‘This is going to happen.’”
Dropped third ... or was it?
Consecutive complete games thrown by Buehrle, Garland, Garcia and Contreras against the Angels in the AL Championship Series marked a feat likely never to be matched again in this age of bullpen specialization. But Pierzynski’s dash to first base on what looked like a swinging third strike with two outs in the ninth inning of a 1-1 deadlock in Game 2 will be the moment from his solid career asked about forever.
“Oh, gosh. How many people have I talked to in my life?” said Pierzynski with a laugh when asked how many people mention that play. “We'll start with that.”
Ozuna pinch-ran for Pierzynski, swiped second and scored on Crede’s walk-off double to even the series at 1. If that play didn't happen and the Angels won, things might have looked a little different returning to Anaheim for Game 3.
“I don’t know what happens. I don’t know if I don’t run to first and Pablo doesn’t steal second and Joe doesn’t get the hit off the wall, if things change,” Pierzynski said. “It was definitely an important play.”
How sweep it is
Dye earned World Series MVP Award honors, capping off the four-game Houston sweep with a single to center to score Willie Harris with the lone run in the eighth inning of Game 4. There also was Konerko’s go-ahead grand slam in the seventh inning of Game 2, followed by Podsednik’s walk-off blast off of closer Brad Lidge. And it was Geoff Blum, an in-season acquisition, who delivered the game-winning homer as a pinch-hitter in the 14th inning of Game 3, with Buehrle getting the save after starting Game 2.
White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper had an idea of what was going to happen, even after Game 1.
“I told my wife if we just play normal, nothing out of the ordinary, if we pitch normal, nothing above average or anything like that, I said we have a chance to be the World Series champions by the end of the week,” Cooper said. “All [the Astros] had were right-handed hitters other than [Mike] Lamb and [Lance] Berkman.
“If we controlled Berkman to a degree, then we were all right because our staff got lefties and righties out, but we killed righties. All of their righty hitters were trying to tear down the left-field foul pole. Well, I had guys who could throw it away, and breaking balls away, and we were good.”
A championship parade through Chicago followed. Podsednik appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and did a Saturday Night Live bit with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, where he joked about being more nervous than any moment of the World Series. And Steve Perry, the iconic lead singer of Journey whose "Don’t Stop Believin’" song became a 2005 White Sox anthem, sang with the players in the postgame clubhouse after joining the team in Houston. It punctuated a season they will never forget.
“You don’t remember what you did until you watch it again,” Pierzynski said. “It’s like the whole world stops.
“This just happened. We really just won the World Series for a place that hadn’t done it in almost 100 years. The only thing that would have made it better is if we would have done it in Chicago. But you can’t pick and choose that stuff.”