Both teams tried to downplay the importance of the four games, though Sox catcher Carlton Fisk did say, "It's going to be a great experience for a lot of our young guys. They've never been through something like this. I think they're going to enjoy it." Before Thursday night's game, Fisk gave some of them instructions on how to acknowledge a standing ovation properly by going to the top step of the dugout and doffing one's cap.
The weather for opening night was splendid, and so was the game. The matchup was between Oakland's Dave Stewart (9-3) and Chicago's Eric King (5-1), ranked first and fourth, respectively, in ERA in the American League, but both struggled early. The Sox scored in the first on a walk, a single and a sacrifice fly. In the second, Stewart nearly hurt his left leg coming off the mound, and the game was held up for several minutes while groundskeeper Roger Bossard raked the mound to Stewart's satisfaction. "I've never gardened in front of so many people," said Bossard of the crowd of 30,076. Chicago then raked Stewart for two more runs, the second one coming on an RBI single by Lance Johnson.
King, meanwhile, dodged bullets in the first and third. In the fourth, with the bases filled with A's and nobody out, Henderson lined a shot to Robin Ventura at third. King then struck out Doug Jennings and induced Carney Lansford to hit into a groundout, preserving the Sox's 3-1 lead. The fans were so moved by the rally-killing that they actually gave their team a standing ovation.
Stewart settled into a groove, but after King gave up his ninth and 10th hits in the sixth, Torborg turned the game over to his relievers. The White Sox bullpen is structured very much like that of the A's, with several left-right combinations leading to the closer. First came a left, Wayne Edwards, then a right, Barry Jones, and then a left, Scott Radinsky. That left Thigpen to protect the 3-2 lead in the ninth. With one out, Mark McGwire singled for the A's 13th hit of the game, but then Thigpen blew the ball by both Dave Henderson and Felix Jose to get his 21st save of the season.
"Wasn't that great?" said reliever Donn Pall, who grew up in Chicago as a White Sox fan. "That brought back '77 and '83. It's so unbelievable to me that I'm actually pitching for a Sox team fighting for first place. What's even more unbelievable is that I dress in the same clubhouse with Carlton Fisk and Ron Kittle."
"This must have been how Buster Douglas felt after the first round with Mike Tyson," said Chicago outfielder Dan Pasqua. (A few days later, the Sox would know how Henry Tillman felt.)
One Athletic, however, remained decidedly unimpressed after the White Sox victory. "They don't have anybody in their lineup," said Rickey Henderson. "They got the best breaks. I think we outplayed them. I know we outhit them." (That they did, 13-8, but hockey games are not decided by shots on goal.)
"The White Sox are legit," said La Russa. "I just have to convince Rickey of that." Asked if he thought Henderson's comments might fire up Chicago, La Russa said, "If a team needs that to get up for a game, they're in trouble."
The White Sox fans were certainly up for the second game of the series. Comiskey had a sellout crowd of 40,417, its first since 1984. The banners were out in full force, and they provided a nice backdrop to the proceedings: WORST TO FIRST; SOUTH SIDE REVIVAL; COMISKEY PARK: FIELD OF DREAMS; and the lovely sentiment YUPPIE SCUM GO BACK TO WRIGLEY.
In a move suggested by La Russa's 80-year-old father, also named Tony, the A's batted the slumping Dave Henderson second in the order, and in the first inning Hendu hit a shot into the upper deck off Greg Hibbard to give Oakland a 1-0 lead. But the White Sox tied the score in their half of the first when Johnson drew a leadoff walk from Bob Welch, stole second and scored on Ventura's single.