- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2005

CHICAGO — The Chicago White Sox opened the playoffs with a bang — five of them in fact. Now, after such a powerful start, maybe it’s their turn to end a title drought.

Stunning the World Series defending champions with five homers — two by A.J. Pierzynski — Chicago routed the Boston Red Sox 14-2 yesterday in the first game of their best-of-5 American League Division Series.

“It’s nice when you get a game like this, but we’ve played enough of the other ones to not expect this,” White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko said. “I don’t think we really felt comfortable until we were up eight, 10 runs.”

Pierzynski went the final month of the regular season without a homer, but his first one — a three-run shot — capped a five-run first inning against Matt Clement. And surprisingly, it came right after the catcher tried to bunt, only to have the ball roll foul.

“Just one of those things, I got good pitches to hit and I hit ‘em,” Pierzynski said. “In the playoffs, you get to start over and forget what you did in the past.”

Konerko, Juan Uribe and even leadoff hitter Scott Podsednik — who didn’t have a homer all season — also connected.

Jose Contreras pitched effectively into the eighth inning, ending Boston’s eight-game postseason winning streak that carried the team to its first title in 86 years last season. But Chicago’s bats took Boston out early this time and made Contreras’ job easier.

“The power, obviously, surprises you. Podsednik hits his first homer of the year, that’s surprising,” Boston’s Kevin Millar said. “But it doesn’t matter how they do it. We’ll just come back tomorrow and try to win a game.”

The White Sox are trying to end a championship drought that’s even longer the one Boston faced a year ago. It dates way back to the days of Shoeless Joe Jackson and their most recent World Series crown in 1917.

One sign in the stands summed up hopes on the South Side: “2004: Their Sox. 2005: Our Sox.”

Then again, Boston has done fine overcoming October deficits. The Red Sox rallied from 3-0 down to beat the New York Yankees in the AL Championship Series last year before sweeping St. Louis in the World Series for their first title since 1918. And they started that remarkable run last October after they were beaten 19-8 in Game3 of the ALCS.

“That was a long time ago,” Boston manager Terry Francona said. “It’s a different team. I’ve said so many times that last year doesn’t matter. What matters to this team is how we bounce back tomorrow.”

Game2 is today at U.S. Cellular Field, with Chicago’s Mark Buehrle facing Boston’s David Wells.

The White Sox got their first playoff victory since 1993, and the home run derby sent a raucous, towel-waving crowd of 40,717 into delirium as they roughed up Clement.

“It’s disappointing. No excuses. I pitched bad,” Clement said. “I threw bad pitches. They hit them.”

Konerko added a solo shot in the third and Uribe a two-run drive to finish Clement in the fourth. Podsednik hit a three-run shot off Jeremi Gonzalez in the sixth. Pierzynski connected again in the eighth.

The White Sox had 200 homers this season, despite their label as a “small ball” team with the speedy Podsednik at the top of the lineup.

“They nick you and then when they do hit the home runs, it makes it a little more significant,” Francona said.

Contreras, who was 2-4 with an 11.67 ERA in his career against the Red Sox, allowed eight hits and two runs in 72/3 innings in his first playoff start.

Clement, who lost three of his final five regular-season starts, struggled with his control at the outset, hitting Podsednik and Jermaine Dye with pitches.

Podsednik stole third and after Konerko sent a long drive to left that was foul, he put the White Sox ahead with an RBI grounder to third.

Carl Everett followed with a single before Aaron Rowand sent an RBI single over shortstop for a 2-0 lead. The din increased moments later when Pierzynski, a veteran of playoff games with Minnesota, lined his three-run homer to left-center.

If he had reached on a bunt, the inning — and perhaps the game — would have been different.

“I was trying to take advantage of the situation, a guy on third and two outs,” Pierzynski said. “I was trying to get a cheapie and it worked out. If I would have gotten it down, maybe something different would have happened.”

Trot Nixon singled in the fourth and, after Jason Varitek dropped down a bunt for another hit, Chicago third baseman Joe Crede kicked the ball as he was trying to pick it up and both runners advanced on the error.

Contreras, who tied teammate Freddy Garcia with an AL-leading 20 wild pitches this season, unleashed another as Nixon scored. Kevin Millar followed with a double to right and the Red Sox were seemingly back in the game at 6-2.

But Chicago second baseman Tadahito Iguchi made a heads-up play on Bill Mueller’s grounder, making a rare throw from second to third to cut down Millar and douse the rally.

And after Pierzynski doubled to start the fourth, Uribe drove a pitch over the fence in left, giving the White Sox a six-run cushion and finishing Clement’s miserable day after just 31/3 innings.

Pierzynski is the second White Sox player to homer twice in a postseason game, joining Ted Kluszewski, who hit two against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game1 of the 1959 World Series.

Notes — Injured White Sox star Frank Thomas threw out the first pitch and got a rousing ovation. … The White Sox got their first playoff victory at U.S. Cellular Field, which opened as new Comiskey Park in 1991. They lost three games at home to Toronto in the 1993 ALCS and two to Seattle in the 2000 ALDS. It was their first home playoff win since Game1 of the 1959 World Series. …

The Red Sox are in the playoffs as the AL wild card for the third straight year. They’ve qualified as a wild card five times overall. … Pierzynski has four career postseason homers. … The five-run first matched the second-biggest inning in White Sox postseason history. The biggest came in the 1959 World Series when the White Sox scored seven times in third inning of Game1. … Manny Ramirez’s 18-game postseason hitting streak was snapped.

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