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Sox can finish what Cubs merely started

Sox can finish what Cubs started

ANAHEIM -- What a great time for White Sox fans. Not only is this team on the very edge of the World Series, but this team is also on the verge of doing exactly, precisely, absolutely what the Chicago Cubs could not do.

The similarities are striking. And we're not talking about the fact that the White Sox haven't won a World Series in 88 years and the Cubs haven't won one since Moses had an Egyptian address.

This is much more recent, much more comparable, much chewier, too. The White Sox took a 3-1 lead in the American League Championship Series on Saturday night, with an 8-2 victory over the Angels. Another complete-game pitching performance, this one by Freddy Garcia. Another big home run by Paul Konerko. Another piece of evidence that these 2005 White Sox are totally, completely, comprehensively for real.

But here's the deal: Just two years ago, the Cubs had a 3-1 lead in a Championship Series of their own, against the Florida Marlins. The joy lived on the North Side then, but it didn't live there long.

The animosity between White Sox fans and Cubs fans is real and has been real since shortly after Mrs. O'Leary's cow started The Fire. It is something like the Hatfields and the McCoys, but with less gunfire. The ill will has not been eased by the need to remain eternally patient, that is shared by both fan bases.

Now, it is deeply ironic that, after so much World Series waiting on both sides of the Windy City, both teams, within a mere two years, have had a 3-1 lead in a League Championship Series. This is why the whole thing would be even sweeter than usual for Sox fans, because of what happened to that 3-1 Cubs lead.

To briefly review, the Cubs lost Game 5 in Florida, but that was, you know, OK, because the Series was returning to Wrigley Field and Mark Prior and Kerry Wood were scheduled to pitch for the Cubs. But you knew there was trouble when Kenny Lofton, then with the Cubs, uttered that immortal line after the Game 5 defeat. The Game 5 loss was all right, Lofton suggested, because: "God wants us to win at Wrigley."

Lofton may be a deeply devout man, but it appears that there was some static on his direct line of communication to The Big Guy. The Cubs suffered one of the most painful Game 6 losses in the history of painful Game 6 losses. Cubs fans still say that the team was only "five outs away from the World Series," but they might as well have been five light years away from the World Series for all the good it did them.

The Cubs had a 3-0 lead going into the eighth with Prior cruising. That was before the Marlins nicked them lightly for eight runs. Typically, Cubs fans blame it all on "the Bartman ball," the foul pop that Moises Alou could not catch as a fan in the seats went for the souvenir rather than the team. In truth, shortstop Alex Gonzalez booting a room-service double-play ball was a more likely culprit. The Cubs lost this game, 8-3. Their loss in Game 7 was then as certain as Wednesday following Thursday.

The final irony is that the Marlins third base coach at the time was Ozzie Guillen, who is now happily managing the White Sox toward the big prize. The only thing Guillen has been in error about in postseason was inviting Cubs fans to get on board and back the Sox. It's a nice, pleasant idea, which has the same chance as the next Republican National Convention adapting national health insurance as its No. 1 priority.

In 2003, as much as Sox fans were shocked and dismayed by the sight of the Cubs advancing that deeply into the postseason, the Cubs' ghastly demise made the whole deal much more palatable. But now comes the moment of truth for the White Sox.

They have played seven games in this postseason. They have won six. They swept the Boston Red Sox in October as though they were disposing of the Kansas City Royals in April. Here, they have met a talented, experienced, thoroughly scrappy Angels team and have taken the Californians completely out of their game.

More than anything else, this Series has been dominated by the Chicago starters, but the White Sox have also had extremely timely hitting, and they have made all of the necessary defensive plays. They have played superbly. Their 3-1 edge in this Series has nothing of the fluke, the accident, the quirk to it. Oh, yeah, the ump's call in Game 2? They weren't losing in that game, either.

If they find a way to win just one more game from the Angels, with the memory of the Cubs 2003 postseason cataclysm still fresh, the White Sox own Chicago baseball. That doesn't mean they own Wrigley Field, or they own a newspaper, or the accompanying cable superstation. It means that in the field of actual postseason competition, recent history, the Sox would be one up on the Cubs. That would be one as in one Championship Series triumph and one World Series appearance and one 3-1 LCS lead not surrendered.

It is, of course, one thing to be on the brink of the World Series and quite another to actually be in the World Series. But the White Sox haven't taken anything for granted yet, so why would they start now? You had to like what Guillen said Saturday about why his team, with relatively little postseason experience, has been completely unfazed by October baseball.

"Because we're not that smart," Guillen said with a smile. "We just go play. We don't think about it. We just think about it, as soon as the national anthem is over, we're ready to go. I think we have confidence. We played 162 games with the same attitude.

"When you play with that attitude and you play with it the same way every day, when you come to the playoffs you still treat them the same way. I tell [the players] the only difference between the playoffs and the regular season, you've got to win quicker and there's going to be more media, more attention. But besides that, it's just baseball."

Right. And this is just a chance for the White Sox to alter the nature of Chicago baseball.

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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