The haunting, gray skies above Fenway Park matched the pensive mood of most of the Red Sox fans who came here one more time in hopes that it would not be the final time this season. The Red Sox had to win to keep their season breathing, to have a chance of keeping the magic of 2004 alive for at least another day.
But the magic faded for this fragile team and this immediately despondent city as the Chicago White Sox beat Boston 5-3 to sweep their AL division series 3-0 and advance to the AL Championship Series. One year after the Red Sox won the World Series title and forever ended the chants of "1918," their hopes died quickly.
After ending their Series drought last October, the Red Sox trudge into a disappointing winter with the same feelings they have now had after 86 of the past 87 seasons. Wait until next year, the Red Sox and their fans were forced to utter on a black Friday night. The pain was still raw.
Orlando Hernandez, the former Yankee who treats October baseball as if it is being played in his backyard -- with his bat, his ball and his glove -- smothered the Red Sox. He came into a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the sixth inning and sneaked out of it. He protected the one-run lead, then sprinted off the mound shouting and pumping his fist.
Because Hernandez was his usual gutsy self and because Paul Konerko's two-run homer in the top of the sixth broke a 2-2 tie and showed that the White Sox were not baffled by Tim Wakefield's knuckleballs, the White Sox have become the 2005 version of the Red Sox as a team chasing history. The White Sox snared their first postseason series victory since 1917 and will try to snare their first title since that year of the Russian Revolution, too.
"We're not happy," Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon said. "We felt like we had a good-enough team this season to win it all. We got to the playoffs, which is the first step. We just couldn't put anything together in this series."
After Manny Ramirez's second home run off Freddie Garcia sliced Chicago's lead to 4-3 in the sixth inning, manager Ozzie Guillen summoned Damaso Marte. Marte had a disastrous outing, allowing a single by Trot Nixon and walking Bill Mueller and John Olerud to fill the bases. Guillen hustled out of the dugout to ask Hernandez, who was dropped from the starting rotation and almost did not make the playoff roster, to rescue the White Sox. Somehow, he did, and he did it with style.
Hernandez, known as El Duque, was always one of those pitchers who became better as the games became more intense. But he was only 9-9 with a 5.12 earned run average in the regular season, so there was no guarantee that he would come close to being the same pitcher who was 9-3 with a 2.65 ERA in his postseason career.
Perhaps Hernandez was not the same pitcher. Maybe he was better. He reached 93 miles an hour with his fastball and got Jason Varitek to foul out. Tony Graffanino fought him through a classic 10-pitch at-bat before he popped out to the infield. Finally, Damon, who had a .421 lifetime average against Hernandez, struck out swinging on a 3-2 slider.
"He did not really throw hittable pitches," Graffanino said. "He went through Tek, me and Johnny. We gave him a fight. Even 3-2, he was throwing slow curves. That's tough right there. That's a guy who's a big-game pitcher who made big-game pitches."