ANAHEIM, Calif. Freddy Garcia made it three in a row for the Chicago White Sox.
And with the finest trio of postseason pitching performances in more than three decades, the White Sox are on the verge on making it back to the World Series at long last.
Garcia pitched a six-hitter, 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.
''Our pitching has set the tone for us all season long,'' Konerko said.
And what a tone!
Garcia nearly duplicated Mark Buehrle's five-hitter and Jon Garland's four-hitter, making the White Sox the first team to pitch three straight complete games in the postseason since the 1973 New York Mets got stellar starts from Tom Seaver, Jon Matlack and Jerry Koosman to open the NLCS against Cincinnati.
''I tried to follow those guys,'' Garcia said of his rotation mates.
The Angels are batting .177 in the series, with a total of 22 hits.
''It's half them and half us,'' Angels infielder Adam Kennedy said. ''They've got some great pitchers, but at the same time, we stink right now at the plate. And if we keep doing that, tomorrow is the last day.''
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.
Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen would prefer the series end Sunday.
''I always say, don't let the monster wake up,'' he said.
Of course, there were a couple of lucky breaks from the umps sprinkled in. 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.
''I don't think the umpiring in this game is why we're behind 3-1,'' Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
A.J. Pierzynski also homered for the White Sox, his third of the postseason, and Joe Crede added a two-run single in the eighth off Esteban Yan. 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.
''This is beyond what I was expecting,'' White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper said. ''It's pretty amazing. I don't know, maybe I should stop being amazed by these guys.''
Garcia pitched for the first time since the division series clincher 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.
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.
''They're not making mistakes, and they're living on the corners,'' Anderson said. ''You don't make a living hitting borderline pitches that are off the plate.''
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.
''I thought it was a strike,'' pitcher Ervin Santana said.
Konerko, whose two-run homer sparked Chicago on Friday, deposited Santana's next offering into the left-field seats for his fourth postseason homer and a 3-0 lead. The White Sox, who have scored seven first-inning runs in the series, led by three runs after 12 pitches in Game 3 and by three runs and 18 pitches in this one.
''We've been looking up at their dust for a while early in the games,'' Scioscia lamented.
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.
''I felt it,'' Pierzynski said. ''The only two people that knew it hit me was me and Steve.''
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.
''That was a big part of the game,'' Guillen 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.
It's been like that for the Angels since that ninth inning in Chicago on Wednesday night.
''When a team gets on a roll, it just seems like all the breaks go your way,'' Los Angeles hitting coach Mickey Hatcher said. ''We've got to turn it around and start making the breaks go our way.''
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. 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. ... Of the 62 teams to take 3-1 leads in best-of-seven postseason series, only 10 failed to win.
Peninsula Clarion ©2014. All Rights Reserved.