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Press Row: The road more traveled

The road more traveled

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If you think the road from New York to Anaheim to Chicago has been tough enough on the Angels, somebody should check on the writers covering them, too.

OK, it's not nearly as exhausting or stressful covering a series as playing in one, and at least writers get frequent flyer miles and hotel points. But after the Angels surprised most of baseball by summoning the energy to beat the White Sox in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, it made the travel storylines even greater.

Each player seemed to have one.

Los Angeles Times writer Mike DiGiovanna captured a few takes on what the Angels needed to get going Tuesday night:

"For first baseman Darin Erstad, it was a cup of coffee, a Mountain Dew 'and a whole lot of adrenaline.' For reliever Scot Shields, it was 'a couple of Cokes' and a splash of cold water on his face. For center fielder Steve Finley, it was the pure excitement and emotion of a playoff game on the national stage.

"[Paul] Byrd said he got about six hours of sleep and woke up at 1 p.m. in a haze. 'The room was dark -- I love those rooms with the thick curtains -- and it's like, 'Where am I?' " Byrd said. 'You've got to get your bearings straight.' "

Orange County Register columnist Mark Whicker used the storylines as a way to show how the Angels shrugged off their slumber.

"It's never the bump in the road that throws you, it's your reaction to it. The Angels chose to laugh.

"When they got to their Chicago hotel at 6:30 Tuesday morning, Robb Quinlan solemnly informed his teammates, 'Hey, they say our rooms aren't ready.' "

They were, of course.

"'The situation is what it is,' Quinlan said. 'We're tired, but we're having fun.'

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"Besides, the Angels were in better shape than anyone thought. They needed to know that Jarrod Washburn felt well enough to pitch Game 2 tonight, and he apparently does, although there was gravel in his voice Tuesday afternoon. If Washburn goes, that means John Lackey and Ervin Santana pitch Friday and Saturday at home on normal rest.

"And even though their schedule was a bit demanding, remember that Major League players fly quite comfortably, with food and room and luggage delivery. This wasn't Lewis & Clark."

The storylines out of Chicago weren't so much about sleepy eyes as sleepwalking. In a city where fans wait for Murphy's Law to go into effect whenever the Cubs or White Sox are still playing baseball this late in the year, Tuesday's loss was an alarming opening to a series in which the White Sox are actually the favorite and could soon become America's team.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti, who has had his practice at sounding the alarm for the White Sox this year, summarized the emotions over Tuesday's loss.

"Imagine being beaten at your own game by a bunch of zombies on the brink of narcolepsy, a ballclub that had traveled 4,800 miles in 30 hours and didn't get to bed until 6:45 a.m. Tuesday, a team that arrived to discover its best pitcher and Cy Young Award candidate is damaged goods and won't be available in the series.

"A typical, tragicomic Chicago baseball tale, if you ask me.

"This is why you never want the White Sox believing they've got it made. They don't handle the October prosperity thing well, much like the Cubs. When they should have swatted away the Angels and turned these world travelers into road worriers, they instead blew a wonderful opportunity and returned to that wheezing mode we saw last month. Suddenly, facing three weekend games in a West Coast ballpark that traditionally has reduced them to a Mickey Mouse bunch, the Sox face a must-win game tonight after giving away a 3-2 eyesore in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series."

That's the bad news. The silver lining in the dark cloud is that for now, the White Sox have the city's sports attention virtually all to themselves. That includes the celebrity circuit, or the scattering of celebrities. The White Sox don't exactly have the Hollywood draw of the front row at a Lakers game or box seats at Dodger Stadium, but as Sun-Times reporters Dave Newbart and Mark J. Konkol found, they like it that way.

"The Boston Red Sox have actors Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner as fans. The Cubs count Bill Murray and Billy Corgan in their ranks. But at Sox Park, there are virtually no celebrities around, except for Mayor [Richard J.] Daley and former Sox Minor Leaguer [and Bulls great] Michael Jordan.

"'We don't need celebrities here,' " Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said before Tuesday's game. 'We have real fans.'

"Reinsdorf is almost militant in that belief. When actor John Cusack reportedly inquired about getting tickets recently, Reinsdorf rejected him. He still remembers when Cusack -- who starred in "Eight Men Out" about the 1919 "Black Sox" who threw the World Series -- became the world's biggest Cubs fan during the North Siders' 2003 playoff run.

"The lack of Hollywood A-listers in attendance is A-OK with Sox fans, who have long been known for their working-class roots. 'It's a blue-collar crowd, just like the team,' said Dan DeCarlo, 30, a teaching assistant from Brookfield."

Down in St. Louis, the talk isn't of this new feeling of the White Sox in the playoffs, but of the familiarity of a Cardinals-Astros National League Championship Series. Yet it took an out-of-towner, South Florida Sun-Sentinel Marlins writer Juan C. Rodriguez, to point out that there's something different going on here. It's the first NLCS rematch since the Braves and Pirates met in 1991 and '92, but the casts are a little different.

"When the Braves and Pirates squared off in back-to-back years, for the most part they did so with the same protagonists. John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, David Justice and Ron Gant. Barry Bonds, Andy Van Slyke, Jay Bell and Doug Drabek. All took part in both series.

"Among the former Astros and Cardinals missing from last year's NLCS: Carlos Beltran, Jeff Kent, Edgar Renteria, Tony Womack, Mike Matheny and Woody Williams. Scott Rolen and Jeff Bagwell are still here but are unable to play due to injuries.

"New to the landscape: Mark Grudzielanek, David Eckstein, Abraham Nunez and Mark Mulder for the Cardinals. Willy Taveras didn't participate for the Astros last season and guys like Adam Everett, Mike Lamb and Jason Lane had complimentary roles."

One player who's all too familiar to the Cardinals is Brad Lidge, a young reliever at this time last year who burst onto the national stage by mowing down the Cards. He hasn't let up since then, shutting down St. Louis in 2004.

Brian McTaggert of the Houston Chronicle looked at the matchup and what the Cardinals plan to do to try to change their fortunes. Other than simply concentrating more, as Reggie Sanders has said, there isn't much they can do other than not give the Astros a reason to use Lidge.

"The best strategy the St. Louis Cardinals have for neutralizing Astros closer Brad Lidge during the National League Championship Series is pretty simple -- keep him in the bullpen.

"That's the tactic the Cardinals performed perfectly against the San Diego Padres and closer Trevor Hoffman in the NL Division Series. St. Louis never trailed in the series, and Hoffman didn't make an appearance until the final inning of the series."

Jason Beck 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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