ANAHEIM, Calif. – At long last, the Chicago White Sox (search) seem to have figured out how to make it back to the World Series: great pitching and big home runs, with lucky breaks from the umps sprinkled in.
Freddy Garcia (search) became the latest White Sox ace to pitch a gem, Paul Konerko homered in the first inning for the second straight night and Chicago beat the Los Angeles Angels 8-2 Saturday to take a 3-1 lead in the AL championship series.
A checked swing in the first inning, a catcher's interference call that wasn't made in the second and a pickoff play in the fifth all went against Los Angeles (search).
Seeking its first World Series title since 1917 and its first appearance since 1959, Chicago can wrap up the AL pennant on Sunday night, when Jose Contreras pitches against Paul Byrd in a rematch of Game 1 starters.
"I don't think I have the words to describe what that city is going to be like if we're able to pull that off," White Sox leadoff man Scott Podsednik said.
Garcia pitched a six-hitter, following up on Mark Buehrle's five-hitter and Jon Garland's four-hitter. The White Sox became the first team to pitch three straight complete games in the postseason since the New York Mets' Tom Seaver, Jon Matlack and Jerry Koosman in the first three games of the 1973 NLCS against Cincinnati.
"From the first day of the playoffs the pitching always has been good," Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen said.
A.J. Pierzynski also homered for the White Sox, his third of the postseason. That was more than enough offense for Chicago — its pitchers have given up just eight runs in the series and 17 in seven postseason games.
While the Windy City team found its power stroke on the West Coast, some of Los Angeles' leading lights have flamed out: Vladimir Guerrero, the 2004 AL MVP, is hitting .063 (1-for-16), with cleanup hitter Garret Anderson at .133 (2-for-15) and Bengie Molina at .154 (2-for-13). The trio have combined for three RBIs and Guerrero, who grounded out four times, was repeatedly booed.
But the crowd of 44,857 concentrated its loudest jeers on the umps.
With two on in the first, Konerko checked his swing on a 2-2 pitch in the dirt, and first-base umpire Ed Rapuano ruled he didn't go around. Konerko, whose two-run homer sparked Chicago on Friday, deposited Ervin Santana's next offering into the left-field seats for a 3-0 lead.
Los Angeles closed to 3-1 in the second on Molina's soft RBI single and had runners at the corners with one out when Steve Finley pulled the ball between first and second. Pointing toward the plate as he ran up the first-base line, Finley claimed Pierzynski's mitt nicked his bat.
"It might of just nicked it," Pierzynski said. "It was so loud, the umpire couldn't hear it."
But plate umpire Ron Kulpa didn't call it, and Chicago turned an inning-ending double play, with shortstop Juan Uribe's relay just beating Finley to the bag. Angels manager Mike Scioscia and Finley argued in vain, though a replay appeared to show the bat hit the glove.
"It was big," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
After Scot Shields relieved in the fifth, his pickoff attempt appeared to beat Podsednik at first. Rapuano ruled the runner slid in ahead of Darin Erstad's tag. Scioscia, in the dugout, shook his head.
Podsednik swiped second and scored on Carl Everett's two-out single for a 6-2 lead.
Chicago has gotten most of the breaks since Game 2, when a disputed call on a Pierzynski strikeout that would have ended the ninth inning gave the White Sox a runner who wound up scoring for a series-tying victory. The crowd gave a mock cheer in the eighth when Pierzynski swung and missed a ball in the dirt for strike three, Molina tagged him and Kulpa signaled out.
Garcia pitched for the first time since the division series clinched against Boston on Oct. 7 and the first time since his daughter Sophia was born Wednesday. He needed just eight pitches to get his first four outs.
On Friday, the White Sox needed just 12 pitches to take a 3-0 lead against John Lackey. It took them 18 to do so against Santana, who pitched the Angels to victory in the AL West clincher and a Game 5 triumph over the New York Yankees on Monday.
With the temperature 67 — 22 degrees cooler than Friday — Podsednik opened by working out an eight-pitch walk against Santana. After a pitchout, the 22-year-old rookie hit Tadahito Iguchi on the left elbow. Jermaine Dye's flyout moved up the runners, and Podsednik hit his fourth homer of the postseason.
Everett's RBI single in the fourth made it 4-1 against Santana, who allowed six runs — five earned — in 4 1-3 innings. He gave up three hits — two of them were homers — and three walks.
Joe Crede added a two-run single in the eighth against Esteban Yan.
Notes:@ White Sox starters were winless in six previous Game 4s, including the 1919 World Series, when Ed Cicotte allowed a pair of unearned runs in a 2-0 loss to Cincinnati. Two years later, Cicotte was among eight "Black Sox" banned by baseball for life for throwing the Series. ... Seaver's complete game was 8 1-3 innings — he lost 2-1 on Johnny Bench's ninth-inning homer. ... Angels LHP Jason Christiansen, who is not on the ALCS roster, pitched batting practice.