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The White Sox pulled off their most stunning and complete pillage Friday night in one of baseball's most revered villages.
A culmination of timely hitting that involved muscle and finesse, as well as the resurrection of postseason pitching legend Orlando Hernandez, capped a 5-3 victory over 2004 World series champion Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park to complete a three-game sweep in the American League Division Series.
"Every time you win a round, it gets better," said A.J. Pierzynski, who hit a double and scored an insurance run on Juan Uribe's suicide squeeze bunt in the ninth inning. "But to win against these guys, the way we did it and playing the way we did, was amazing.
"We have two rounds to go, and hopefully we can do this two more times."
The Sox's celebration was understandably rowdier than their AL Central-clinching party Sept. 29 in Detroit.
The Sox won their first postseason series since winning the 1917 World Series.
And they extended their winning streak to eight games, dating to Sept. 28.
"At this point, I call it a train," designated hitter Carl Everett said. "Get on it, and keep riding it."
The Sox never were as resourceful as they were Friday. "El Duque" Hernandez, who was nearly left off the postseason roster because of his late-season ineffectiveness, bailed his teammates out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the sixth and pitched two more scoreless innings.
"I was hoping we could get out of it with a run," Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said while soaked with champagne. "I have to give [manager Ozzie Guillen] credit. There was very serious debate whether El Duque was on the roster, but Ozzie and [pitching coach] Don Cooper wanted him and [general manager] Kenny Williams deferred to [them]. He came up big."
Twelve of the Sox's players had playoff experience entering the ALDS, and they kept their composure throughout the series. They kept their poise in rallying from a 4-0 deficit in Game 2, and they weren't rattled when Boston sluggers David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez hit consecutive homers off starter Freddy Garcia in the fourth inning Friday to tie the game.
But after Ramirez's second home run in the sixth and left-hander Damaso Marte loaded the bases, Guillen opted for Hernandez, who lowered his ERA to 2.57 in 18 career postseason appearances.
"He's the only experienced guy in the bullpen," Guillen said. "I wasn't afraid, but players get nervous
anxious, and I was a little worried about it. He's a big-time, postseason player. He has cold blood."
That was the only tense moment for the Sox, who silenced a usually fervent Fenway crowd with clutch hitting, solid defense and formidable rookie closer Bobby Jenks.
"This team is special in the playoffs," said injured Frank Thomas, who sprayed champagne with his teammates while wearing a cast on his left foot. "They went through the worst time in September and built character. They're loose again. It's just like the first part of the season when the wins were coming, and everyone was saying, 'Is this team is for real?' It's for real. I wish I were playing."
Guillen deflected credit to his players.
"Every day was somebody different," Guillen said. "I feel proud of the players. They busted their tails for the fans. They never panicked."
The same Sox team that batted only .259 with runners in scoring position batted .416 in that situation in the ALDS.
They took a 2-0 lead in the third on four consecutive two-out hits.
But their most unselfish display of offense came in the ninth after Pierzynski hit a double and moved to third on Joe Crede's sacrifice.
Uribe, who ignited the third-inning rally with a double, laid down a suicide squeeze bunt on a 2-1 pitch for the insurance run.
Batting coach Greg Walker, who played on the 1983 Sox team that won 99 games but was eliminated in the ALCS, put the Sox's conquest in perspective.
"It's unbelievable," Walker said while holding a bottle of champagne.
"When we went to spring training this year, everyone picked us fourth. [The Red Sox] are the kings of the country, and rightfully so. To beat them, that's pretty special."