El Duque falls in Bronx opener

El Duque falls in Bronx opener

NEW YORK -- Moments after speaking to the media following his team's 3-2 loss before 54,871 at Yankee Stadium on Monday night, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen had a quick question for the handful of remaining Chicago reporters.

"What was our record against Boston?" asked Guillen with a mischievous smile, referring to a four-game series two weeks ago at U.S. Cellular Field that ended in a split.

"Two and two?" Guillen repeated. "Well, I guess that makes us 2-3 against the Major League teams on our schedule."

Guillen sarcastically was referring to the overriding but inaccurate opinion that the White Sox's 2005 season begins and ends with their contests against the American League East powers. This theory basically came into play as the White Sox amassed the best record in baseball without playing either the Red Sox or Yankees until the end of July.

It would seem to be an aggravating sort of thought for a team with a 72-39 record, a 12 1/2-game lead in the American League Central and a magic number of 39 to clinch its first division crown since 2000. Along the way, they have defeated the good, the bad and the exceptional.

But after coming up short during Monday's fiercely contested series opener, the White Sox seemed to be more amused than annoyed over setting some sort of tone for a possible playoff matchup with games being played the second week of August.

"I actually think it's funny," said catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who extended his hitting streak to a season-high 11 games. "We can't control who we play and don't play.

"You would think Boston and New York are the only two teams we've played. The last time I checked, Minnesota is pretty good, Cleveland is pretty good, [the Los Angeles Angels] are pretty good. Oakland is doing all right. There are a lot of other good teams out there, but that's the way it is and how it always will be."

Even with the Yankees' benchmark theory pushed aside, there's no denying Monday's game featured a little something extra for the visitors in their first trip to the Bronx. If there was any doubt to the game's meaning, then Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez slamming his toiletry bag in disgust into his locker before talking to reporters answered all questions.

Hernandez made his first career start against the Yankees (60-50), after posting a 61-40 record for New York from 1998-2004. Hernandez also was the definition of a big-game pitcher, with a 9-3 postseason record.

The Yankees let El Duque walk in the offseason, with some lingering doubts remaining about the health of his shoulder. But Hernandez (8-5) was greeted warmly by everyone from the stadium workers to Yankees pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre before taking to the mound.

His former teammates weren't so accommodating. Alex Rodriguez's 32nd home run, a two-run shot in the first, gave the Yankees an early advantage, and they added a third run in the second on Derek Jeter's run-scoring ground out. Hernandez settled down from that point on, allowing four hits over six innings, while striking out four and walking three in his 116-pitch effort.

But Hernandez obviously wasn't satisfied, a point he made clear when asked if he still was upset over the loss.

"What do you think?" said Hernandez, without use of a translator.

"Regardless of where I'm pitching, I'm mad when I lose," Hernandez continued, through translator Ozzie Guillen Jr. "If you aren't out there to win, what's the point of pitching?"

It was Hernandez's fourth loss in his last five decisions, with the first-inning blues getting him down in each of those setbacks.

"But he found a way to get it going after that first inning," Pierzynski said. "He pitched well. Three runs, four hits in six innings? I'll take that every time out of him."

The early deficit could have been far greater if not for Aaron Rowand's first-inning defense. Jeter opened the game with a long drive to left-center, which Rowand ran down and caught as he leaped parallel to the warning track. Rowand then chased down a drive in right-center off the bat of Robinson Cano on the ensuing hitter.

"I've never had back-to-back plays like that," said Rowand, who also doubled home a run. "The scouting reports had me playing on one side and both times, they hit it the other way."

Jermaine Dye also took extra bases away from Rodriguez in the fifth, leaping against the wall to haul in his long drive with Gary Sheffield on first. The White Sox looked to have Sheffield doubled off, but the throw back to the infield hit Rodriguez and allowed Sheffield to return safely.

The White Sox pushed for an interference call, claiming Rodriguez intentionally stayed in the path of the throw. But home-plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt ruled Rodriguez's actions were unintentional and allowed the call to stand.

Relievers Tanyon Sturtze, Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera (30th save) made six innings and 122 pitches from Mike Mussina (11-7) stand up for the victory. The South Siders' two-game winning streak came to an end and their six-game road trip to Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park started on the wrong end of the ledger.

A road trip that apparently signals the White Sox's first foray into Major League competition, according to Guillen.

"We win 72 games and this is like Opening Day for us," Guillen said. "To us, it's another game against a quality team."

"When you go up against good teams, it's whoever gets the bigger hit," Rowand added. "Tonight, we didn't get that hit."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.