October 2005 was an extremely fun month for the Chicago White Sox. September 2005 was not.
It is almost forgotten 15 years later, but in the final month of the regular season, the public confidence in the White Sox had essentially disappeared – just like their lead in the division almost did.
And the angst actually started in August. On Aug. 1, 2005, the White Sox had a 15-game lead in the American League Central. By Sept. 1 – after the White Sox went 12-16 in August -- that lead was cut in half, down to 7.5 games. A seven-game winning streak to start the month of September pushed the lead back up to 9.5 on the red-hot Indians, but another slump followed. After winning just four of the next 14 games, the division lead was down to 1.5 games on Sept. 22.
“We flat out stink," manager Ozzie Guillen famously said on Sept. 15 after a 1-6 stretch.
Outsiders said way worse things. The White Sox were starting to be labeled as chokers and even though they had been in first place since Opening Day, their chances of holding off the Indians looked bleak. To get within 1.5 games of the White Sox, the Indians reeled off a stretch of 17 wins in 19 games, even stomaching a walk-off home run by Joe Crede in one of the two losses. They bounced back the next day to shutout the White Sox 8-0. Cleveland simply looked like the better team.
It was a stressful time to follow the White Sox. As a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I was walking proof of it. The week Crede hit that walk-off home run, I started to feel a nagging pain in my left chest that ran over my shoulder and down my back. Having lost a good friend to a heart condition in high school, I didn’t take any chances and went to the doctor. On Sept. 24, 2005, I was diagnosed with a partially collapsed lung. The doctor said it was most likely caused by a cyst that ruptured due to stress. Stress? I was a 19-year-old living the dream on a Big Ten campus. The only source of stress in my life at that time was the White Sox blowing the division.
Fortunately, that was the weekend they turned things around, winning three in a row against the Twins. I also ignored my doctor’s advice and went to Wisconsin’s primetime showdown against Chad Henne and Michigan. “Jump Around” was a struggle, but it was all worth it when John Stocco’s quarterback draw with 29 seconds left won the game for the Badgers.
The next day, things really turned in the White Sox favor. Seemingly on their way to their 18th win 20 games, the Indians blew a 3-0 lead to the awful Kansas City Royals and lost in walk-off fashion when Grady Sizemore lost Paul Phillips’ pop up to centerfield in the sun.
It was a bizarre way for the Indians’ run to end. Cleveland only won one more game after Sept. 24, finishing 1-6 while the White Sox won eight of their last 10 games.
All month long, it looked like the three-game series in Cleveland to close out the season was going to be a death-sentence for the White Sox. Suddenly, on a Thursday afternoon in Detroit, the White Sox had Freddy Garcia on the mound with a chance to clinch the A.L. Central before even arriving in Cleveland.
On the field, the White Sox handled their business, winning 4-2 as a very reserved celebration occurred in front of just 13,983 fans on the road. But in the locker room, the celebration went off, as the players went through 20 cases of champagne and at least one giant blue tub of Miller Lite.
“About time. The way the first half of the season went, I thought we were going to clinch this thing a lot sooner,” Mark Buehrle told Chuck Garfien on White Sox Post Game Live that day. “Glad to go into Cleveland having clinched already so we can have a little fun and get ready for the playoffs.”
The word that comes to mind is relief. Not just for the fans, but for the players in that locker room too.
“Now that it’s over and done with, this is the best thing that could have happened to us because we’ve been playing playoff games for the last three weeks and I think this will get us hungry for the postseason now,” Paul Konerko told Garfien.
At that point, the Indians were still tied with the Red Sox for the wild card. The final series of the season meant a lot for them and Jacobs Field was sold out in advance of all three games. But by Friday night, the White Sox wrapped up home field advantage throughout the playoffs by winning the opener and even though they had nothing to play for in the final two games, they completed the sweep, sending the Indians home for the winter.
Suddenly the White Sox were the red-hot team going into the playoffs.
“No one picked us,” Konerko said. “I know we had the big lead all year, but still, no one picked us at the beginning of the year to do this so it feels good.”
It was about to feel a whole lot better.
The White Sox's division-clinching win over the Detroit Tigers can be seen on NBC Sports Chicago Wednesday at 7 p.m. CT. The entire "Sox Rewind" schedule can be found here.