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White Sox not content to sit on first title since 1917
Seattle Times baseball reporter
The White Sox came to Seattle on Monday for the first time ever as World Series champions — unless Shoeless Joe, Eddie Collins and the gang barnstormed here back in 1917, the last time they won it all.
The soaring Sox served a useful function at this troubled time in Mariners history, reminding local fans what a well-conceived, well-rounded, charismatic, confident team looks like. And that description holds up despite Monday's 4-3, 11-inning loss to the Mariners, which snapped Chicago's eight-game winning streak.
"There's a certain edge about these guys, a certain proving ground they have that I think is going to serve us well the remaining months," observed general manager Kenny Williams, holding court in the dugout.
"I saw it last year, and I'm seeing it now. I just think they really want it."
The White Sox had no sooner finished their four-game sweep of the Houston Astros last October than Williams was adopting the mind-set that they weren't good enough to repeat. So instead of standing pat, he acted with the urgency of a GM trying to fix a badly flawed team.
Out went playoff hero Orlando Hernandez, popular center fielder Aaron Rowand, designated hitter Carl Everett and other key parts of the team that won 99 games and finished with 16 wins in its final 17 games (regular season and playoffs) to hold off fast-charging Cleveland and romp through the playoffs.
Back came free agent Paul Konerko, who flirted with the Angels but re-signed for five years and $60 million. In came designated hitter Jim Thome, starter Javier Vazquez and super-sub Rob Mackowiak, among others. The Sox seemingly ignored the old adage that you don't mess with the chemistry of a winning team.
"I didn't consider it a gamble to our team chemistry," countered Williams. "You do your research, your homework. We were not interested in bringing anyone in here that would jeopardize that. We were interested in bringing in talented people that would fit what we were trying to do, but certainly people of character.
"Javvy and Jim, just as good as they are on the field, they're even better men. That wasn't a reach. ... It's always tough when you get rid of popular guys, whether it be fan favorites or clubhouse favorites. But ultimately, from year to year, we're going to do what's necessary to win that particular year, not live off what transpired in the past."
One reason Williams felt confident adopting such an attitude is the presence of manager Ozzie Guillen, who has the rare ability to keep the pressure off young players while creating a loose attitude for veterans to thrive.
"It kind of eases the mind a little. He's behind his players. If you go out and play the right way for him, he's always going to be behind you."
Right now, the Sox are playing the right way. Following a 1-4 start that catcher A.J. Pierzynski said "had everyone ready to jump into Lake Michigan," they won 12 of the next 13 to move back atop the American League Central.
This is a team that can throw out an ace a day — Jose Contreras, Freddy Garcia, Mark Buehrle, Vazquez and Jon Garland, an 18-game winner last year. The White Sox entered Monday's game hitting .288, with six regulars hitting over .300.
Thome, who came over with concerns about his back and surgically repaired elbow, has been sensational, setting a major-league record by scoring runs in his first 17 games. With nine homers and 19 runs batted in, he has made a good lineup potentially great.
"Starting with spring training, from Day 1, they really talk about winning here, and preaching winning," Thome said. "It's been very fun. It's been great. I can see now why this team wins. They're very focused, they're very upbeat about playing every day, and it's great."
"We have a better bench, a better rotation, and having Thome swing the bat the way he is now, he'll really help our team," Guillen said. "But when you win the world championship, you can't say this team is better. That's not fair."
Williams, who seems dedicated to avoiding complacency at all costs, put it another way, citing a lesson that seems particularly apt for a team that waited 88 years between championships:
"Whenever you think you have the right formula in this game, whenever you think you have all the answers ... that's when this game humbles you, bites you right in the butt, and reminds you: No, you don't."
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company