Slugging five home runs, Chicago wins in a rout
CHICAGO -- It must have felt like a road to perdition, that walk, from the mound to the dugout, the scoreboard behind Matt Clement reading 8-2 in the White Sox half of the fourth inning, 40,717 Chicagoans serenading the former Cub with a rhythmic, thunderous ''Goodbye" chant.
And, if the words of two teammates -- Johnny Damon and David Ortiz -- are any indicator, the dugout that Clement entered was anything but a safe haven.
''I'm not even sure who our No. 1 [starter] is," Damon said, in the wake of a 14-2 undressing of the Red Sox in this best-of-five Division Series, the 12-run margin of defeat the widest in the team's 122-game postseason history. ''I thought he was capable of going out there and just making guys look silly. But he just didn't have it. He hasn't had it for the last month."
Ortiz's impressions: ''It's not news that our pitching needs to hold the opposing team down. We don't get that, we're going to be in trouble. Playoffs, when you give up 14 runs, what's happening?"
Clement, since Sept. 1, has allowed 30 runs in 36 1/3 innings, going 1-4. No one in the team's postseason history has relinquished more earned runs than the eight Clement did yesterday. Roger Clemens also allowed eight runs, but only seven earned, in Game 1 of the 1986 ALCS, and he lasted 7 1/3 innings. Clement, meanwhile, pitched only 3 1/3, and surrendered six of those runs on three home runs.
A.J. Pierzynski, with two outs and two on in the first inning, launched a misplaced 91-mile-per hour fastball into the balmy breeze on an 85-degree October afternoon. Paul Konerko, in the third, turned on a lingering, inside-corner slider for a solo shot. And No. 9 hitter Juan Uribe, with one on and one out in the fourth, crushed an 0-and-2 Clement fastball to make it 8-2.
Ballgame. Both for Clement (he was lifted) and in the minds of at least one teammate.
When was this game over?
''[When] they scored eight runs," said Ortiz.
Not insurmountable for the Red Sox' catalytic offense, except that it was clear, early and often, that Jose Contreras was here to be counted. As advertised, he mixed fastballs with a splitter that was rarely in the strike zone but frequently drawing empty swings.
''His split was acting like a knuckleball," Damon said. ''It was unbelievable. The best we've seen all year."
The best pitching performance the team has seen all year?
''Absolutely," Damon said. ''Go back, rewind, look at all those pitches and how much they moved. Even on TV they looked incredible. In person, it was not fun."
Damon lined out to begin the game and went 0 for 4, striking out looking at a splitter in the third and swinging at an 0-and-2 splitter to end the fourth. That prompted the organist to bang out ''Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?"
Evidently, not Contreras, who lasted two outs into the eighth inning, allowing just two runs on eight hits. He struck out six and walked none, the zero free passes a genuine indicator of the Contreras of now vs. the Contreras who used to wear pinstripes to work.
''We got to him in the past when he wasn't throwing strikes, when he was walking guys," Damon said. ''And we'd have that one big inning off of him."
The fourth inning had the makings of that one offensive eruption. Trot Nixon, 1 for 27 to end the season, singled to lead off, his second hit of the day. Jason Varitek then bunted to third base, where Joe Crede couldn't barehand the ball and kicked it to the backstop.
That advanced Nixon to third, Varitek to second. With Kevin Millar batting, Contreras unleashed a wild pitch, scoring Nixon and allowing Varitek to take third. Millar then doubled in Varitek, closing the deficit to 6-2, all with no outs. But Bill Mueller and Tony Graffanino bounced into fielder's choices, and Damon whiffed.
Uribe tacked on two more against Clement in the bottom of the inning, and, at 8-2, the day was effectively done.
''We had some time today, unfortunately, to come to grips with the way the game was going," manager Terry Francona said.
''I can't feel sorry for myself," said Clement, who has allowed 15 runs in 15 2/3 innings in three career postseason starts, the other two coming with the Cubs in 2003. ''Hopefully, I'll get a chance to redeem myself."
His opportunity won't come any sooner than Game 5 Sunday. His team's redemption can come as soon as tonight's Game 2 on the South Side, though there will be much to forget.
The White Sox scored a postseason club-record 14 runs. They clubbed a postseason club-record five home runs, tying a Division Series record established by the Cardinals a year ago. Scott Podsednik and Pierzynski supplied the final two home runs.
Podsednik, until the sixth inning yesterday, had never homered with the White Sox, his last blast coming in September 2004 as a Brewer. He changed that against Jeremi Gonzalez (2 1/3 innings, 2 hits, 4 runs, 1 walk, 1 home run, 1 hit batsman), pumping Chicago's lead to 12-2.
Pierzynski, leading off the eighth, hammered a wheelhouse Bronson Arroyo offering out of US Cellular, becoming the first White Sox player since Game 1 of the 1959 World Series to homer twice in one postseason game (Ted Kluszewski). In fact, that date, Oct. 2, 1959, was the last time, until yesterday, that the White Sox won a postseason game within city limits.
Peel off that ''small ball" label.
''I don't particularly care about the label," Francona said. ''They can one-run you to death. And then when they do hit the home run it makes it a little bit more significant.
''Hopefully, they had their day, and hopefully [today] will be ours."