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ALCS foes staring into mirror

ALCS foes staring into mirror

CHICAGO -- Fans got what they were promised. The Chicago White Sox got what they should have dreaded.

The Angels came to town, and brought a mirror. The White Sox saw their reflection, and saw any margin of error fade out.

So this is how it's going to be? Two teams playing the same game, the one playing it better earning the right to move on to the 2005 World Series as American League champion.

"Give them credit," Chicago catcher A.J. Pierzynski said following the Angels' 3-2 Game 1 victory in U.S. Cellular Field. "They pitched really well, got their bunts down, got their runners home."

The White Sox went 1-for-3 in those departments, and a .333 average in this Championship Series won't cut it.

Jose Contreras pitched well, and pitched deep. But the White Sox flubbed a couple of bunt situations, got two runners thrown out attempting to steal and twice ended innings with two men on base.

The thing is, normally those are the types of minutiae the White Sox execute to perfection. So the delicious scenario of games decided by small acts, not big swings, exists for all of this series.

"The White Sox execute small ball probably better than anybody in our league," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. "They didn't get a couple bunts down.

"You have to execute out there. We were fortunate we were able to. This is the way the series is going to be the whole way. I know they will, so we better execute at a high level."

So this ALCS will feature the type of new-old ball that could be all the rage.

"We weren't able to execute when the opportunities came about," said Sox third baseman Joe Crede. "You have to capitalize on other peoples' mistakes. That's what the playoffs ask of you, and you've got to keep at it."

And when you make the mistakes, they tend to cave in on you, and bring you out of your normal game. So a power-hitting No. 3 batter like Jermaine Dye tries to bunt his way on base in the sixth inning, and a slow runner like Pierzynski is caught stealing in the seventh.

Guillen pardoned both acts as borne of aggressiveness. But they seemed more borne of desperation.

"Well, [Dye] tried to get on base, make things happen, and when you're batting third -- he thought the third baseman was playing back," Guillen said. "He just wanted to make something happen to start the inning."

Pierzynski had less of a defense for his gaffe, taking off with Crede at bat and one out in the seventh. He thought he had picked up the sign for the hit-and-run. But a half hour after the game, and more than an hour after the botched play, he still wasn't sure.

"I thought I saw the hit-and-run," Pierzynski said, "so I took off. I missed a sign, I guess. I don't know. I asked Rock [first base coach Tim Raines] and he wasn't sure either.

"I guess I missed it. We move on."

Guillen put it best: "He only got one [stolen base] try all year. I think he was confused. I think he must have missed the sign. I think he was just running on his own."

The hardest cynics might grasp that episode as a pretty condemning bit of confusion at a critical juncture of a postseason game, when the runner represents the tying run in a late inning.

That is the sort of breakdown teams have all the time. They make them and, in the words of Pierzynski, "move on."

But this Championship Series will not be so forgiving of such mistakes, because these two teams will play them breathing down each others' necks.

It is the old neighborhood staring contest played on a grander scale. You draw on all your focus and concentration to stay in it. Drop your guard or your eyelids, and you're down against an opponent that will not let you get up.

Scioscia was delighted with the way his weary troops zoned in.

"We were fortunate to hold on," he said. "That's the luck of the draw. You have to execute out there. We were fortunate we were able to. "

His counterpart was comforted by the knowledge his guys can do a lot better.

"If I'm angry, I'll let you guys know," said Guillen, never timid about an occasional vent. "They executed better, they got to hit, bunt, put it down, they've got to play us and not execute the way they did."

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

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