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Revisiting the last Chicago championship

Often the overlooked team in the Windy City, we examine the White Sox’ 2005 near-perfect playoff run.

2005 World Series - Chicago White Sox vs Houston Astros - Game 4 Photo by G. N. Lowrance/Getty Images

The Cubs were the rage in 2016 from Spring Training until the final out of the season was recorded. They ran pole-to-pole as the most impressive team in the game, overshadowing nearly every other team since February, not the least of which were the Chicago White Sox.

Writers, bloggers, newspapermen all spilled a lot of ink when the Cubs sealed their first championship in 108 years, but fact is, Chicago as a city ended their World Series drought in 2005.

It seems the ‘corporate’ and ‘stuffy’ (by reputation) White Sox generally play second-fiddle to the ‘fun’ and ‘exciting’ Cubs. In reality, the White Sox’ playoff run in 2005 is one of the most impressive in recent memory. Chicago still holds the record for best wildcard-era single season postseason record, yet the team is largely forgotten.

Part of the reason that 2005 team is overlooked is because the White Sox never had a competitive team over the longer-term. From 1995 (the first wildcard season) to 2005, the South Siders only made the playoffs one time (2000); they were swept in the ALDS.

Additionally, it’s not like they had a ton of success afterwards either. Chicago has reached the postseason only one time since that 2005 championship. They were quietly and quickly sent packing by Tampa Bay in 2008, losing the ALDS in four games (in case it didn’t seem like a long time ago, referencing a Tampa playoff series win will help).

The Sox’ last winning season was in 2012, which they promptly followed up with an abysmal 63-99 record in 2013. It’s not surprising they have been largely overlooked and forgotten since Theo Epstein took over the Cubs front office and former Rays skipper Joe Maddon joined the clubhouse.

But enough about the tribulations of the White Sox ; I’m putting pen to paper today to remember the glory years...err, year…specifically 2005. The 2005 White Sox had an amazing postseason, and it’s worth reflecting on their success

Banished from World Series bliss since the Black Sox scandal of 1919, the 2005 White Sox managed to win 99 games and finish with the best record in the American League. They managed to outperform their pythagorean record by eight games and gained home field advantage throughout the playoffs through strong pitching anchored by Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland, and Jose Contreras. The Sox starting quartet all managed to throw over 200 innings and post at least 3.3 FanGraphs’ Wins Above Replacement.

The White Sox postseason train steamrolled past the World Champion Red Sox, 95-win Angels and NL pennant-winning Astros, losing all but one game they played. Their 11-1 record is a post-wildcard playoff record. The White Sox outscored opponents 67-34 in those dozen games and tossed a number of complete games in the ALCS. It was something to behold.

American League Divisional Series

With home field advantage throughout the playoffs, the White Sox landed a best-of-five divisional series against the Red Sox. Fresh off their streak-ending crusade in 2004, Boston managed to tie the Yankees atop the AL East with 95 wins, but lost on a head-to-head tiebreaker. Boston managed 95 wins despite scrapping together a pitching staff consisting of Matt Clement, David Wells, and Tim Wakefield (all of whom started divisional series games for Boston).

The Boston / Chicago ALDS was practically over before it even began. In the bottom of the first inning of Game One, the White Sox took a 5-0 lead over Boston, knocking Clement out after only 3.1 innings. 18 batters faced, 8 runs, 3 homers, and 0 strikeouts. The White Sox took Game One 14-2.

Game Two took a different turn, with Boston taking a 4-0 lead in the third inning. Chicago’s bats got the better of David Wells in his third time through the order, assisted by a Tony Graffanino error at second base. Tadahito Iguchi topped it off with a three-run bomb.

Game three was more competitive than the first two games although Boston fell behind 2-0 early. Despite tying the game in the fourth inning, Chicago took a two-run lead in the sixth and never looked back.

The 2005 ALDS was the White Sox first playoff series victory since the 1917 World Series, and the train rolled on to Anaheim to face the Angels in the ALCS.

American League Championship Series

Chicago’s only stumble in the 2005 postseason came in game one of the ALCS. Despite Anaheim playing back-to-back games after a winner-take-all game five in the ALDS, they came out of game one swinging. Jose Contreras pitched 8.1 inning and gave up three runs, but the Chicago offense only mustered two runs in the game for a 3-2 loss.

Game one was the only ALCS game in which skipper Ozzie Guillen relieved his starter. Mark Buehrle pitched a classic that many people barely remember. Buehrle tossed a complete game five-hit, one-run gem which tied the series at one. Chicago got off to a 1-0 first inning lead, then the bats lay dormant until the bottom of the ninth. With the game tied at one, Kelvim Escobar appeared to have downed the Sox 1-2-3. AJ Pierzynski was the would-be third out of the inning but despite a swinging strike three, the ball passed by the glove of Anaheim catcherJosh Paul and PIerzynski advanced to first base. With Pablo Ozuna pinch running and stealing second, he came around to score on a Joe Crede double.

Games three and four, highlighted by complete games by Jon Garland and Freddy Garcia, respectively. The White Sox used the same blueprint of getting an early lead and never looking back. They won game three 5-2 and game four even more convincingly 8-2.

In Jose Contreras’ second start of the series, he threw the White Sox fourth consecutive complete game of the ALCS. Chicago never trailed in the game and sealed the American League Pennant 6-3 and delivering the South Side its first World Series appearance since 1959.

World Series

The White Sox got some help from the wildcard Astros who defeated the 100-win Cardinals in the NLCS. The Sox got to Roger Clemens early tallying three runs in Clemens’ three+ innings and forced him out of the game after injuring his hamstring. Contreras tossed seven+ innings and gave up three runs en route to a 5-3 victory.

Houston had an 80 percent win probability in the seventh inning of game two until Paul Konerko stepped to the plate with Chicago down 4-2. His three-run home run put the Sox ahead but the lead vanished in the ninth inning due to a pinch-hit Jose Vizcaino single. In the bottom of the ninth, Scott Podsednik blasted a walk-off solo shot giving the White Sox a 2-0 series lead.

The first ever World Series hosted by the Astros was another nail-biter. This one lasted 14-innings and set the record for longest game by both time and tied the longest World Series by innings. Houston had a 4-0 lead going into the fifth inning but the Chicago lineup got the best of Roy Oswalt in the fifth inning taking a 5-4 lead. Houston tied the game in the bottom of the eighth and the game went into extra innings.

In the top of the 14th inning, Geoff Blum blasted a solo home run off Ezequiel Astacio to give Chicago a 6-5 lead. They plated an insurance run via two singles and two consecutive walks. The Astros got two men to reach base in the bottom of the 14th but the rally was quashed when Guillen called upon Mark Buehrle to come in for the one-out save.

Game four featured White Sox hurler Freddy Garcia against Astros youngster Brandon Backe. Both pitchers threw seven shutout innings with Backe striking out seven and walking zero. The Astros bullpen could not hold the pattern however as Brad Lidge allowed a single, two base advances, and a single. The White Sox won the game 1-0 and celebrated their first World Series title in 86 years.

Despite every game being decided by one or two runs and a 14-inning marathon, the 2005 World Series is one of the least memorable this century. The White Sox won playoff games in every conceivable way ------ they won slugfests as well as pitchers’ duels. 2016 will always be the year of the Cubs, but it wasn’t too long ago that the White Sox had their day in the sun.

2016 will always be the ‘Cubs year’ and nothing will change that. The expectations, the drama, the late inning heart-stopping meltdown in game will always be remembered. Just keep in mind it was the 2005 White Sox that delivered the championship that ended Chicago’s drought, not the Cubs.

Ed’s Note: A previous edition mistakenly listed Jose Molina as the Angels’ catcher on the dropped-third strike.


Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano