White Sox fall short in ALDS but remain confident about future

CHICAGO -- The game was officially over, the season finally complete, but Jermaine Dye, Nick Swisher and a handful of their teammates wouldn't leave the White Sox dugout.

Sure, they were gritty. Sure, they were resilient. Sure, they had won four do-or-die games in a span of a week before they even put themselves in a position to win Game 4 and send the best-of-five American League Division Series back to Tampa Bay for yet another win-or-go-home affair.

But that didn't take away the pain. That didn't mean that watching another team celebrate on their field and hearing their friends and family carry on in the hall outside their clubhouse didn't feel like a punch in the gut.

"It hurts," Dye said after the White Sox fell to the Rays 6-2 in Game 4 on Monday night. "I think everybody in this clubhouse believed this team could win a championship. And we didn't get it done."

It wasn't for a lack of effort. Or fight.
The White Sox spent much of the season atop the American League Central standings, so few remember that this was a club picked by most observers to be nothing more than a third-place red-carpet doormat for the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians.

Few remember that the two biggest questions heading into spring training were what -- if anything -- the White Sox would get out of their No. 4 and No. 5 starters, a couple of kids named John Danks and Gavin Floyd. And few remember that Carlos Quentin entered the season with 14 home runs in his two-year major league career and wasn't part of the opening day lineup.

Yet during the next six months, Floyd and Danks combined to win 29 games and strike out more than 300 hitters. In the past week alone, the 23-year-old Danks single-handedly kept the season alive. He threw an eight-inning two-hit shutout against the Twins in a one-game playoff Sept. 29 and six days later held the Rays to three runs and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings to force Monday's Game 4. Quentin hit 36 bombs and drove in 100 runs before his season came to an end Sept. 1 after he fractured his wrist smacking his bat.

Yet if there was one word the Sox didn't want to hear in their clubhouse after the game, it was "overachieve."

"I can't say that," Dye said. "Nobody else may have believed in this team, but we did."

"I will never say that we overachieved," catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "We got every hit and made every pitch that we could. We just came up a little short."

And just like that, a week after the Cubs and Sox appeared in the postseason together for the first time in 102 years, October life can return to normal in these parts. The leaves have begun to fall, the Bears are in first place and the hometown baseball season has officially come to an end.

But not all is lost. Besides the Bears, Northwestern's football team is undefeated, and later this month the Bulls and Blackhawks will begin their seasons with exciting young talent. As for baseball, the next meaningful game won't be played until another Chicago winter has come and gone.

But that doesn't mean 25 heads were hanging in the Chicago clubhouse Monday night. Sure, there was pain, but amid the thank-you hugs and "talk to you in the offseason" goodbyes was a group of men who were proud of what they accomplished.

That's because nothing that happened against Tampa Bay could be blamed on curses, pressure or failing to live up to lofty expectations. The Sox simply were beaten by a better team. And they knew it.

"In 2005, when we beat the Red Sox, we didn't sit around the clubhouse and say, 'Oh, what's wrong with Manny [Ramirez] and [David] Ortiz?" first baseman Paul Konerko said. "When we beat the Astros, we didn't ask, 'What's wrong with [Lance] Berkman?' We said, 'Our pitchers are absolutely great.' And that's what happened here. You have to give the Rays credit."

Said Pierzynski: "I'm not ashamed of what we did. They're a great team, and they deserve to move on. That's the way this game goes sometimes."

One person in the Sox clubhouse who wasn't quite as pleased was typically blunt general manager Kenny Williams. Williams, who said he would like to add some speed to his team in the offseason, was anything but satisfied with the team's first-round exit, despite what the experts predicted in spring training.

"I'm a black-and-white kind of guy," Williams said. "I don't take any solace in winning the division championship. We play to win the World Series, and we didn't get it done. We're going to have to step back and figure out what we can do next year to change that."

Still, Williams was pleased with his team's effort. The final month of the season, the Sox won without Quentin and third baseman Joe Crede. They won the division after losing five of their last six games during the regular season, a slide that forced them to win three straight days against three different opponents even to make the postseason. And they were in every game in the series against the Rays.

"They showed me fight. They went out there and played their hearts out," Williams said. "And as a GM, that's all you can really ask for."

But in the end, the team didn't have the talent to continue backing itself into a postseason corner.

"When you look back on this run we had here, it was pretty emotional," Jim Thome said. "And we rode the emotion as long as we could, but in the end it just didn't work."

Depending on the moves the often-aggressive Williams makes in the offseason, the future should be bright. There is young talent to build around in Floyd, Danks, Quentin, rookie of the year candidate Alexei Ramirez and Clayton Richard. Richard, who started the season in Double-A and wound up on the team's postseason roster, tossed 6 1/3 innings of one-run relief against the Rays. And the Sox still have Konerko, Pierzynski and Dye, the offensive core of the 2005 World Series champions.

"The future looks great," Pierzynski said. "We've got a lot of young guys who got their major league careers off to a great start this year. Hopefully they can stay healthy and we can continue to move this thing in the right direction. In a few days, I'll already be looking forward to spring training."

Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn3.com.