NEWS

Mike Nadel: White Sox keep getting up off canvas

Mike Nadel

Punch the White Sox in the face. Kick them when they're down. Spit on them, watch them wipe it off and then spit on them again. Tell them they smell worse than your little brother's feet. You're just playing into their hands.

 There's a scene late in "Rocky" -- the original, not the sequel featuring 97-year-old Sly Stallone fighting his walker -- in which Apollo Creed finally delivers what he believes to be the knockout blow ... only to watch Rocky Balboa get up off the canvas and signal Apollo as if to ask, "Is that the best you've got?"

 Sunday night, the White Sox asked the same question to the Tampa Bay Rays.

 Less than a week after beating three teams in three days of must-win games just to get into the playoffs, the White Sox struck again. Facing elimination from the postseason, they battled their way to a 5-3 victory in front of 40,000-plus black-clad, hanky-waving, loud-and-proud fans.

 And so, after dropping the first two games in Florida, the White Sox lived to play at least one more game. Game 4 is Monday night at Sox Park; if the South Siders can win, they'll force a decisive fifth game Wednesday back in St. Petersburg.

 "Obviously, we didn't put ourselves in a good position in the series," said John Danks, the young lefty who pitched superbly Sunday in building upon his growing reputation as a dependable big-game performer.

 "We still have an uphill battle. I don't know if we're playing with more intensity or we're just getting lucky or what, but it seems we have played better in games we have to win.

 "We're a very tough-minded group. We're not gonna go down easy. You have to beat us. We're not gonna beat ourselves in a must-win game. And here we are."

 Yes, here they are, again surviving their own near-death wish.

 You can tag their toes and lower them into the ground ... but as soon as you start shoveling on some dirt, they spring up out of the coffin and yell: "Surprise!"

 Thing is, it's no longer surprising.

 "Maybe we don't like our wives and don't want to go home," A.J. Pierzynski said. "Just kidding. I love you, honey!

 "This has been the most resilient team I've ever been around. I've never seen a team in big games act as normal and as unflappable as this team has. Everyone is the same; everyone is having fun. That's all you can ask for in this situation."

 Well, you can ask for a few other things: Danks working into the seventh inning; fine relief pitching by Octavio Dotel, Matt Thornton and Bobby Jenks; aggressive play, as when plodders Jim Thome, Paul Konerko and Ken Griffey Jr. all advanced (with Thome scoring) on Alexei Ramirez's medium-deep sacrifice fly; and, of course, timely hitting.

 DeWayne Wise, who has been the team's out-of-nowhere offensive star the last month, followed that fourth-inning sac fly by slapping Matt Garza's 98 mph fastball for a two-run double. In the third, Wise had drawn a walk and scored on Pierzynski's single to tie the game. In the sixth, Griffey walked, pinch-runner Brian Anderson stole second and Juan Uribe came through with a two-out RBI single for a 5-1 lead.

 The White Sox, who usually can’t score five runs without hitting at least three homers, played small-ball as if they had invented the concept.

 "Yeah, how about that?" Wise said. "Small-ball, large-ball, whatever, when your back's to the wall, you play whatever kind of ball that let's you win.

 "We're not ready to go yet. We still feel we can win this thing."

 I'll be honest with you: The only reason I hustled back from Los Angeles, where on Saturday the Cubs completed yet another humiliating postseason experience, was that I felt I needed to be at Sox Park to write about both Chicago ballclubs getting swept out of the playoffs.

 But these White Sox aren't those choking Cubbies.

 Having won the World Series just three years ago with many of the same players, these Sox understand what it takes to win big games.

 Flawed and injured, they almost surely won't be the last guys standing this time around. Still, their opponent will have to land a hell of a punch to knock out the White Sox for keeps.

 Mike Nadel (mikenadel@sbcglobal.net) is the Chicago sports columnist for GateHouse News Service. Read his blog, The Baldest Truth, at www.thebaldesttruth.com.