CHICAGO -- There are pretenders and there's the real deal. Doubt them no more, because these Chicago White Sox are for real.
Though they were stopped Sunday by Mark Prior as the Cubs salvaged a 4-3 victory in the series finale at Wrigley Field, the White Sox left the Friendly Confines having taken two of three from their crosstown rivals, though they didn't even use two of their hottest starters, Jon Garland and Mark Buehrle.
The Sox outscored the Cubs, 13-8, in the series, outhit them, .248 to .224, and headed for the West Coast with the best record in baseball. Sunday's defeat came with another silver lining in that the White Sox found out they have another legitimate starter in rookie Brandon McCarthy.
Which means one of the strongest rotations in baseball just picked up an insurance policy.
McCarthy, the 6-foot-7 right-hander with the exceptional control, stepped in for injured right-hander Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez and showed the hype wasn't all exaggeration. This is one exceptional 21-year-old, who held the Cubs to two runs on four hits in 5 1/3 innings while striking out six and walking only one.
To make a Major League debut can be nerve-wracking in itself. To make that first appearance against Prior and the Cubs at Wrigley Field in front of a packed house? And it also happens to be the series finale of one of the biggest rivalries in sport?
"This guy's pretty special, I don't think there's any question about that," White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko said. "Considering today was the Cub series, and going for the sweep in his first big league start, he handled it great. This would have been a great start at any time of the year. In this situation, that's really something. He's quiet (but) he's got that fire that you can tell."
This kid's control extends beyond his pitching ability, which, while we're on the subject, is about as good as it gets. In case you hadn't heard, through 2004 in 351 Minor League innings, McCarthy struck out 406 and walked only 60 batters.
Give White Sox general manager Kenny Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen credit for having the courage of their convictions and putting the youngster through about as tough a first test as they could muster. And credit McCarthy for passing with flying colors.
Guillen called McCarthy's outing awesome. The manager also deserves plaudits for getting McCarthy out of the game before he ran out of gas. Though some questioned why not stay with the kid, Guillen knows what he is doing and pulling McCarthy was the correct move both for the moment and for the future.
"Second guess me after the (stuff) happens," Guillen said. "I want this kid to leave the mound with his head up and a chance to win the game. ... I wanted this kid to know what kind of manager he has. You're going to see a lot of this kid in the big leagues. Hopefully, not this year. He showed myself, he showed Kenny Williams just what kind of pitcher he can be."
Guillen is hoping McCarthy doesn't hang around long because that will mean someone else is injured. But it's nice to know the kid would be just a phone call away and leaves the Sox in the enviable position of perhaps having too many quality starters. With so many teams looking for pitching, the Sox could find themselves in a very strong bargaining position to fill any needs when the trade deadline rolls around.
For now, however, this was a glimpse at the future and even though the Sox lost, you understood why they were so fired up about McCarthy.
There were other signs in the series that bode well for the Sox, including a generally slumbering offense that might be about to pick up the pace judging by their performance against the Cubs, who sent Greg Maddux, Carlos Zambrano and Prior to the mound.
Paul Konerko / 1B
Weight: 215 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
Konerko went 5-for-12 with four RBIs in the series. Konerko has eight hits in his last 16 at bats and has raised his average 33 points since May 15. Jermaine Dye went 3-for-9 with three homers in the series. Dye has boosted his average 56 points since the month began and is hitting .302 in May. Scott Podsednik, who is hitting .329 in May, was 5-for-13 against the Cubs and his average has climbed 39 points since the month began.
The pitching has been consistently outstanding and if the offense keeps improving, the White Sox might run away and hide from the rest of the division, with the exception of always dangerous Minnesota.
"They're no joke, they're for real," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "They have an outstanding pitching staff. They added Podsednik and (Tadahito) Iguchi and that gave them some speed at the top of the lineup. You see Konerko starting to hit and Jermaine Dye and (A.J.) Pierzynski starting to hit -- Kenny Williams put together a very good team and Ozzie's directing them."
They're for real all right.
Jim Molony is a regional writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.