CHICAGO — In the Second City, the buzz is all about first place. The Cubs are on top. So are the White Sox. And starting Friday, they play each other six times in 10 days.
Somehow, maybe, this could be a preview of a Windy City World Series. Just imagine fans of the teams who don’t exactly love one another jamming the Red Line train that runs the eight miles between Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field.
The last all-Chicago World Series saw the White Sox, known as the “Hitless Wonders,” beat the favored Cubs four games to two, after the Cubs went 116-36 during the regular season of 1906.
Two years later, the Cubs won the World Series and haven’t captured one since, a 100-year stretch of futility that White Sox fans are quick to point out when there’s a debate over who’s the best team in town.
The White Sox, meanwhile, ended an 88-year drought of their own by winning the World Series in 2005, an accomplishment that apparently didn’t impress some Cubs’ backers.
“It’s so different. You might as well build a border, a Great Wall of China on Madison (Ave.) because we are so different,” White Sox general manager Ken Williams said this week in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “We might as well be in two different cities.
“The unfortunate thing for me is that it’s a shame that a certain segment of Chicago refused to enjoy a baseball championship brought to their city. The only thing I can say is ‘Happy anniversary.’”
When they meet Friday at Wrigley Field, it will mark the latest date both teams have been in first since Sept. 9, 2003. The Cubs won the NL Central that season before falling apart in the NLCS and losing to Florida after being five outs away from the World Series. The White Sox finished second to Minnesota in the AL Central.
And since interleague play started in 1997, it’s the first time the White Sox and Cubs will meet as first-place teams at the start of the series.
“It’s great for the fans, it really is. It’s great for the city,” Cubs manger Lou Piniella said of the series, which he managed in for the first time a year ago, winning five of six. “Both teams have played well this year, which adds to it. We look forward to the challenge of facing them.”
Even though the Cubs have the home-field advantage for the first three games — and they are 29-8 at Wrigley Field this season — they could be the wearier team Friday.
While the White Sox wrapped up a three-game sweep Thursday afternoon at home against the Pirates, the Cubs had to play a night game in St. Petersburg, Fla., before Friday’s 1:20 p.m. series opener at Wrigley Field.
“I’m going to talk to a few people in Tampa and make sure they delay that plane until 7 a.m,” White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. “You never have an advantage against the Cubs in Wrigley Field.”
In the past, Guillen has expressed his dislike for the Cubs’ home ballpark. He was especially unhappy one season when he was forced to park in a fast-food restaurant lot across the street from the stadium.
Guillen’s major complaints have been Wrigley’s small and cramped visitor’s clubhouse and a long twisting tunnel to get to the field. He was in a foul mood last year when his team played on the North Side, calling up a radio talk show from his car on the way to the park and unleashing a profanity-filled tirade after the host questioned why A.J. Pierzynski wasn’t in the starting lineup.
And emotions do surge during the series as players on both sides feel the rush of a playoff-like atmosphere where fans are roaring on every pitch.
“You learn the whole situation of how passionate the fans really are here in Chicago. Both teams are in first. It adds even more excitement,” White Sox third baseman Joe Crede said.
“Both teams could be in last place and there will still be brawls and all that stuff,” said White Sox outfielder Brian Anderson, who drew a suspension two years ago when a melee ensued after then-Cubs catcher Michael Barrett punched Pierzynski after a collision at the plate.
Both teams will be less than full strength.
The White Sox are without first baseman Paul Konerko, who has 14 career homers against the Cubs, but is on the disabled list.
Cubs star Alfonso Soriano, who homered in three straight games against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular last season, is also sidelined. And Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano — who was not scheduled to pitch this weekend — had to leave his start Wednesday night with a sore shoulder.
So far, the series is about as even as it gets. It’s tied 30-all and each team is 16-14 on its home field.
“When you see the enthusiasm in the street and the people in the stands you get pumped up,” Guillen said. “I don’t care what you’re doing or saying. You get into it.”