CLEVELAND -- Ozzie Guillen insisted it was only a joke, but Indians fans will never forget when the former White Sox manager put his hands to his throat, giving a choking sign at the end of Cleveland's collapse from contention in 2005.
Seven years later, Chicago is in Cleveland for a three-game set, but this time it is the White Sox experiencing a late-season fade. Reminded about Guillen's gesture, Indians interim manager Sandy Alomar Jr. laughed.
"I respect Ozzie," Alomar said. "But I'm not going to do that. ... It has nothing to do with choking or an organizational rivalry or anything like that. We just play the game, respect the game and go out there and play baseball."
In 2005, the Indians were 1 1/2 games out of first place on Sept. 24 before losing six of their last seven games, including a three-game sweep at the hands of the White Sox to close it out. As a result, Cleveland missed out on the playoffs, which were dominated by a Chicago club that captured the World Series.
Entering Monday, the White Sox had dropped 10 of their past 12 games, sliding from two games ahead of the Tigers for the American League Central lead to three games behind Detroit with three games to play. One more loss or a Tigers win will eliminate Chicago from contention.
Alomar said he has been surprised to see the White Sox fall apart over the past few weeks.
"They have a pretty good offensive team," Alomar said. "I'm kind of surprised. I don't know if they got a little tired. They have a lot of young guys in the bullpen. I don't know if they got tired. But they've still done a tremendous job. I think that you have to tip your hat to them.
"They went from a team last year that was in the bottom of the division to, now, fighting for a playoff spot. I'll tell you what, [manager] Robin Ventura has done a great job. the whole organization -- [general manager] Kenny Williams and the front office -- has done a great job."