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Sox ALCS pitching: Unabridged history

Feel the impact of these powerful four arms

News outlets could have reported Sunday night that Yeti was spotted working as a tour guide in Yellowstone Park, gasoline prices had dropped to two bits a gallon, and scientists in the Alps discovered two snowflakes that were alike.

They may as well have, because the real news was as unlikely: The Chicago White Sox had pitched their World Series tent with a fourth consecutive complete-game AL Championship Series victory over the Angels.

These things just don't happen. You mean in 2005, in an era of coddled arms, bullpen specialization and computer printout push buttons? No, we mean, never.

"I always expect good performances out of our starters, want them to go deep and believe in them -- but what they did is way above and beyond my expectations and those of a lot of other people," Don Cooper, the suddenly celebrated pitching coach, said on his head-shaking way back to Chicago.

Does Cooper really mean no one expected his starting rotation to do something that hadn't been done in 104 years of postseason baseball?

You can hear the branding wheels turning in the background. Fantastic Four? Fab Four? But none of the dog-eared standbys will do.

Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, Freddy Garcia and Jose Contreras deserve something as original as their feat.

How about Wholesome Foursome?

Thanks to videotape and digital media, proof of their accomplishment will endure. Otherwise, future generations would argue whether it really happened, like the debates about whether Babe Ruth called that home run, or if Enos Slaughter really held that ball too long.

"It seemed like they were competing against each other, trying to one-up each other," said Ken Williams, the White Sox general manager whose own playing career (1986-1991) already unfolded in the "quality start" era. "You hope to get one [complete game] and give your bullpen a rest, but this is ridiculous."

If going six innings and allowing fewer than four earned runs is "quality," what is this, in the pressure chamber of postseason to boot? You can't qualify it, because it is unprecedented.

Even those who attempted to spin it into a historical perspective whiffed.

Mike Scioscia, the vanquished Angels manager, for instance said: "You might have to go back to Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, that group [of mid-'60s Dodgers], or the group Baltimore had in '66."

In the last few days, a lot of historical comparisons and first-time-since-when data have been spit out by the stats-and-facts crunchers, but, on the bottom line, never before have four different starters pitched successive postseason complete-game victories. Period.

• In 1928, in their World Series sweep of St. Louis, the Yankees produced the only prior instance of four consecutive complete-game victories. However, Waite Hoyt pitched Games 1 and 4, bookending efforts by George Pipgras and Tom Zachary.

• In 1956, the Yankees actually completed the last five of their seven-game World Series triumph over Brooklyn. But Bob Turley lost his Game 6 gem, 1-0, following wins by Whitey Ford, Tom Sturdivant and Don Larsen and preceding Johnny Kucks' Game 7 clincher.

• In 1969, a vaunted Orioles rotation also went the route four straight times, finishing off the Twins in the ALCS on complete games by Dave McNally and Jim Palmer, and opening the World Series with Mike Cuellar's route-going job over the Mets. But McNally lost a complete-game six-hitter in Game 2.

You get the idea. The White Sox baffled history, as well as the Angels, with a string of efforts that spun out of control from unreal to surreal.

After two, the White Sox felt they had hit the jackpot.

After three, they felt giddy as the coins kept spewing out of the tray.

After four, they just felt stupid as the machine imploded and they were handed the keys to the casino.

"In the end, our pitching was amazing," said catcher A.J. Pierzynski. "They deserve so much credit, you can't even describe it. I don't know if you'll ever see it again."

But how were the White Sox able to do it even once? This wasn't a quirk, but the best-case culmination of a lot of factors.


"You might have to go back to Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, that group [of mid-'60s Dodgers], or the group Baltimore had in '66."
-- Angels manager Mike Scioscia

• Peak performance from a talented rotation. This wasn't a quirk. These guys are good. Headlining a staff that tied for the AL lead with a 3.61 team ERA, Buehrle, Garland, Garcia and Contreras comprised one-third of all AL pitchers who won 14-plus games with a sub-4.00 ERA.

• Catching the Angels down, and kicking them. These Angels were never an offensive juggernaut. In 41 percent of their regular-season games -- 66 out of 162 -- they scored three runs or fewer.

"They made their pitches," conceded Angels first baseman Darin Erstad. "They're a very good team. I'll be surprised if they don't win it all."

• Efficiency, braced by confidence. They didn't waste any pitches on nibbling, going right after the hitters and controlling pitch counts. No one walked off the mound with tongue hanging.

The biggest load was Garland's, in Game 3, when he made 118 pitches, hardly extraordinary.

It took 556 pitches in five games to subdue the Angels. The four starters made 549 of them -- leaving seven to the "bullpen," Neal Cotts, who recorded two outs in Game 1.

And get this: The starters threw first-pitch strikes to 108 of the 161 batters they faced.

"We just kept making quality pitches against a quality lineup," Cooper said.

• The Angels never forced manager Ozzie Guillen to make any tough decisions. Guillen is proud of his starters and wished for them this very public prop, but he isn't foolish. He wouldn't have risked being haunted forever by a non-move -- Grady Little Syndrome, so to speak.

But in the four complete games, the only Sox pitcher who even had to face the potential tying run was Contreras in the tight Game 5 -- and he retired the last 12 men he faced.

After being given their 3-0 leads in the top of the first of Games 3 and 4, neither Garland nor Garcia ever confronted a pivotal batter. Each was on cruise control.

There are other reasons the White Sox will soon take U.S. Cellular Field in their first World Series since the Eisenhower administration. Their ALCS offense was nearly as efficient as their pitching, making a total of 41 hits count for 23 runs. They hustled the Angels into some defensive mistakes.

But the pennant-bearers obviously were four pitchers who finished what they started. If it was that easy, you'd think someone else would do it. But the other seven teams in the 2005 playoff bracket have thus far combined for zero complete games.

No wonder Paul Konerko kept looking at his Championship Series MVP trophy, saying, "Really, you can split that thing five ways. Those guys were unbelievable."

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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