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Sox success starts with stifling starters

Sox success starts with starters

ANAHEIM -- This is the time of the baseball year when pitching -- good pitching, great pitching, effective pitching, some kind of positive pitching -- makes all the difference. Welcome to the Chicago White Sox in October 2005.

The White Sox have played six games in the 2005 postseason. They have yet to have anything resembling a bad performance from a starting pitcher and four times they have received truly superior starts. This is exactly how it is done in October.

The White Sox took a 2-1 lead in the American League Championship Series on Friday night with a 5-2 victory behind the splendid pitching of Jon Garland. The three White Sox starters have pitched a total of 26 1/3 innings in this Series and given up just six runs.

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This kind of thing may be a surprise to those who have not followed these White Sox. But it is no surprise to the Sox themselves.

"This is nothing we haven't seen all year," first baseman Paul Konerko said. "This is the reason we're here. They're just good. There is no other way to explain it."

"It's something that we've done all year long," Garland said. "We've gone out and given our team a chance to win, most of the time we've stepped on the mound. I think any manager in the Major Leagues will take that. I mean, who wouldn't want that?

Nobody. The strength of the White Sox starting pitching also comes as no surprise to the Angels, although it also has dismayed them.

"It's something they've been doing this year that got them to this point -- incredible starting pitching," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia.

Friday night, it was Garland's turn. The popular thing to do in anticipation of this start was to doubt.

Garland had never started in the postseason before. He had also not pitched since Oct. 1, the final Saturday of the regular season. Surely he would be tense, nervous, anxious, having waited this long for this large of an occasion. On the flip side, perhaps he would be "too strong," and thus be unable to get the proper action on his sinker.

The first concern turned out to be nonsense. The second concern wasn't exactly a difference-maker, either, because Garland relied on his four-seam fastball instead of the sinker. Both of these concerns largely ignored the fact that Garland won 18 games this year and is no longer the apprentice pitcher with great stuff but erratic performance.

Far from being some overly anxious playoff neophyte, Garland was a strike-throwing machine. He was in command, front to back, consistently ahead in the count, throwing 118 pitches -- 83 for strikes. He gave up a two-run home run to Orlando Cabrera in the sixth, but the Angels had nothing going either before or after that.

"Jon just did a terrific job out there for those guys," Scioscia said. "It was a heck of an effort. Jon Garland pitched one of the best ballgames we've had pitched against us all year."

Jose Contreras, Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia, all of them at least contained the powerful Boston Red Sox in the Division Series and none of them lost.

In this Series, Contreras lost the opener to the Angels, but he pitched 8 1/3 innings and gave up only three runs. Buehrle was superb in Game 2, with a complete game and a victory, even though a disputed call overshadowed almost everything else that happened.

Now Garland joins the pitching parade with his own sterling performance. On their way to taking an ALCS lead, the White Sox produced back-to-back complete games. In this era, even in the postseason that is significant. The last time that happened in the postseason was 1997 by the Florida Marlins in the Championship Series. The last time it happened in the American League was 1982, by the then California Angels in the Championship Series. The White Sox starters have not merely been very good. They have been very good, even measured against a history of superior postseason pitching.

"You know, we just played like that all year long, counting on our pitching staff and clutch hitting," manager Ozzie Guillen said. "I know we have a lot of confidence in them, but I didn't know they're going to throw complete games three days in a row, and all of a sudden, they did.

"I know what they can do on the mound, but facing Boston and the Angels is pretty good hitting clubs. I never thought they were going to go the distance. I think Contreras set the tone in the two playoffs going and throwing the ball the way he did."

The Wizard Who's Oz makes a good point there. The White Sox have pitched like this against a Boston team that was scary offensively. And the Angels, if they are not as downright imposing as Boston, have a versatile attack that specializes in manufacturing runs. When you stop offenses of this quality, you are stopping the best.

The Sox are only halfway home against a very tough opponent. But if the starters are going to continue to pitch like this, they are not going to be vulnerable against anybody. So far, the White Sox are taking the surest route to October success, because they have pitching capable of making the journey.

Mike Bauman is the national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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