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Sox go above and beyond in 2008

Sox go above and beyond in 2008

CHICAGO -- Mark Buehrle stood in front of his locker after the White Sox season-ending loss at U.S. Cellular Field on Monday, dressed in street clothes and ready to get back to Missouri with his family.

Before Buehrle exited, though, he was asked a question about defining this 2008 season. Certainly, if absolutely nothing else, it was a huge step up from last year's 72-90 debacle.

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"Last year was miserable pretty much the entire second half," said Buehrle with a smile. "But this year, we made it to the playoffs. That's the first goal, to get in, and then you see what happens.

"We still didn't get to where we wanted to go. So, it's still a disappointment."

Success with a little sadness, interpreting Buehrle's words, pretty much sums up this season for the White Sox. From the first day of Spring Training, when few pundits gave the White Sox a chance to win even 85 games, the players and coaches on this team believed their group was of postseason caliber.

This challenge was not an easy one. The Twins provided quite a battle in the American League Central, pretty much from start to the 163rd-game finish, and the White Sox also had to deal with a plethora of significant injuries.

Carlos Quentin and Joe Crede went down for the entire month of September. Setup man Scott Linebrink missed two months with soreness under his left scapula, while closer Bobby Jenks missed a month.

The real question is not how the White Sox were unable to advance past Tampa Bay, but how did they survive to even reach the playoffs? So, the division title, captured via a 1-0 victory over Minnesota last Tuesday, holds special significance.

"I'm disappointed but not ashamed with what we did this year. There's no way anyone saw this coming, to do what we did, except for the people in this clubhouse."
-- A.J. Pierzynski

"Once we got into the playoffs, that was it," said White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who presided over his fifth division title during his ownership. "It was a great year for us.

"It was all about expectations, and we really overachieved due to the injuries. There's no way we should have been in the postseason due to these injuries."

Ozzie Guillen set the tone for this group in what might have been his best job done during his five years as a manager. He turned to Buehrle, Javier Vazquez, John Danks and Gavin Floyd on three days' rest during the season's final week, a somewhat controversial move that resulted in three wins in four games.

The White Sox also survived four win-or-go-home contests against the Indians (Sept. 28), the Tigers (Sept. 29), the Twins (Sept. 30) and against the Rays in the ALDS on Monday. Every game was a success, up until Monday's elimination.

Veteran presences such as Paul Konerko and Nick Swisher struggled offensively at the beginning of the year, and Alexei Ramirez had a tough month of April adjusting to the cold, the new league and the new country. But the White Sox somehow made it through.

This group defied the odds and the naysayers to produce one of the more exciting seasons in recent memory, even though it ended on a sour note.

"I'm disappointed but not ashamed with what we did this year," White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "There's no way anyone saw this coming, to do what we did, except for the people in this clubhouse. It was a fun year, an interesting year, full of ups and downs."

"Our team has everybody they need," White Sox outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. said. "We just fell a little short."

In reality, it was a special 2008 season for all of Chicago baseball. The Cubs finished with the most wins in the National League and captured their second straight Central title.

Both teams exited in the first round of the playoffs, with the Dodgers sweeping the Cubs. They are results that lead Reinsdorf back to his expectations theory when judging a team's performance.

"It was interesting," Reinsdorf said. "We get to the playoffs and lose. The Cubs get to the playoffs and lose. We had a good year, and they had a bad year."

Scott Merkin 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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