CHICAGO -- It was weird to watch the Chicago White Sox and the Name-That-City Angels playing the first game of the American League Championship Series last night at US Cellular Field.
White Sox? Angels? Who let these mystery guests into our exclusive October nightclub? This was supposed to be Red Sox-Yankees III -- the Thrilla in the Bronx . . . this time it counts. We were going to spend 10 days arguing David Ortiz vs. Alex Rodriguez for MVP. We were going to tell you that the Sox and Yankees already had met a record 71 times over the past three seasons and supplied some of the most memorable moments in regular-season and postseason history.
It was all set. Reggie Jackson was going to stand around the cage and talk about 1978. Bucky Dent and Grady Little were going to throw out first balls. Sox fans were going to wear T-shirts stenciled with reminders of 2004, when the Big Apple was lodged in the throats of the Yankees. Dr. Charles Steinberg, continuing his Mighty Wind Tour of 2004, had reunited Steppenwolf to sing ''Born to Be Wild" before the first ALCS game at Fenway. The Sox grounds crew had the World Series logo ready to go on the Fenway lawn.
And then the White Sox and Angels spoiled the fun. Instead of Sinatra's ''New York, New York," we're getting the Chairman of the Board crooning ''(Chicago is) My Kind of Town" on the public address system. Instead of our own Bob Ryan sitting down with Dan Patrick and Peter Gammons on ESPN's remote set, we get Jay Mariotti of the Chicago Sun-Times. Think Stephen King will do a book on the White Sox if they win? Think the Farrelly Brothers could replicate ''Fever Pitch" in Orange County? No and no again.
Ed Gorin, president of Fox Sports, acknowledged, ''I think around the country the Red Sox-Yankee rivalry has become the greatest rivalry in sports, if not of all time. There's no question a lot of people would have liked to have seen a rematch. That's just not the way it works out in sports."
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, trying not to cry, said, ''It would have been hard to believe, even a month ago, that neither the Red Sox nor the Yankees would be playing for the American League pennant, but that's what makes the sport so great. The fact that so many clubs are competitive is good for baseball."
Lou Piniella, hired by Fox for some TV knowledge, said, ''The Red Sox-Yankee rivalry is so great and so intense and both teams have such a great fan following. Now we're missing that. But the Angels and White Sox are darned good baseball teams and this is going to be a good playoff. The two underdog teams got in."
Naturally, the owners of the White Sox and Angels think it's a good thing for baseball when the Yankees and Red Sox lose exclusive rights to the ALCS.
''There is a part of the country west of the Hudson River," said Chicago owner Jerry Reinsdorf. ''I would think having fresh faces in the postseason is a good thing."
Los Angeles's Arte Moreno added, ''Obviously this is good. We're here. It's always good for one to get to see new teams."
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen observed, ''A lot of people put their eyes on the White Sox because of the way we played against Boston. We beat Boston, now we're good. Before, we're not. It's funny like that, but it's true.
''A couple people told me this game is going to be televised to the troops and in Venezuela. Nice for those people to see there's other teams in the United States, not New York and Boston."
Away from the New York-Boston corridor, there has been resentment about the Yankees and Red Sox playing in a league of their own. They have the top two payrolls in the game, which generates plenty of anger and envy. The titans also operate in media capitals and have national followings. You can be sure a lot of people in the other hardball markets are smiling now that the Steinbrenner and Henry clubs are out.
''The beasts of the East have been eliminated, and that's good for baseball," said Angels broadcaster Rex Hudler, a longtime big leaguer. ''I don't think you'll ever duplicate what the Red Sox and Yankees did, but I don't see a downside."
Jim Caple, a veteran baseball scribe for ESPN.com, said, ''I'm just happy and relieved we don't have to go through it again with the Red Sox and Yankees. I enjoyed the first two, but this would be like 'Star Wars III' with the little bears in it. It was good, it was fun, but it played itself out. I want to see teams that aren't the richest teams in baseball."
Still, you can't go very long without a reminder of 2003 and 2004. The first pitch of Game 1 was thrown by Jose Contreras -- the same man who was the subject of a bidding war between the Red Sox and Yankees in the winter of 2002-03. You might remember how that one ended. The Yankees won, and Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino responded with his ''Evil Empire" remark, which infuriated George Steinbrenner and ignited a new flurry of insults between Boston and New York.
No Evil Empire this year. No Red Sox Nation, either. The torch has been passed to a new generation of American League powers.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is email@example.com.