Sox still have plenty to play for

Tribune staff reporter

As fans cheered All-Star center fielder Torii Hunter for perhaps the last time in a Twins uniform at the Metrodome, the end of a cold season will hit the White Sox in steady doses this week.

After completing their final trip Sunday with a 7-1 loss to Minnesota, the Sox will begin shipping their belongings home, thanking support-staff members and exchanging off-season telephone numbers and e-mail addresses with teammates.

And in the case of many players, trying to leave a favorable impression on management in the final six games.

"This week will show a lot of professionalism in a lot of people," said veteran left-handed reliever Mike Myers, who hopes to pitch well enough for the Sox to pick up his $1.1 million option for 2008. "Or lack thereof."

Instead of battling for a playoff berth, the Sox are in the final week of auditions that started in July, when rookies Jerry Owens and Danny Richar became full-time starters and submarine-style reliever Ehren Wassermann replaced power-arm failures David Aardsma and Nick Masset.

Gavin Floyd, under evaluation for a spot in the rotation next year, struck out a career-high seven but allowed three runs in a three-run sixth that snapped his streak of four consecutive quality starts.

Floyd is scheduled to make his final start of the season Saturday against Detroit, two days after Lance Broadway makes his first major-league start.

But there are more questions than answers as a result of the Sox's lackluster hitting all season and a bullpen meltdown that started here May 8 when the Twins' Justin Morneau hit a grand slam off Masset, then bottomed out in a three-game sweep by the Twins three weeks later.

The Sox finished with a 34-47 road record.

"You see guys preparing to go home after working hard since the spring to get to the playoffs," designated hitter Jim Thome said. "When you don't get that chance, there's something that's missing. It's not fun."

After a four-week stint in left field, Josh Fields is back at third base with Andy Gonzalez and Alex Cintron hurt. Fields hopes his return to third doesn't stunt his development and progress.

"It's unfortunate two guys who play there are hurt, but I was getting a lot done in left field, and I guess there's nothing that can be done," said Fields, who played flawlessly at third and started a double play to end the fourth. "I got to play third."

Fields said the Metrodome was the toughest of the five visiting parks in which he played left because of the difficulty of trying to track the ball against the lighting banks. Fields still plans to travel to Phoenix to play in the Instructional League and polish his skills in left.

Hunter, meanwhile, received a standing ovation before his final plate appearance in the seventh. But manager Ozzie Guillen spoiled some of the drama by intentionally walking Hunter with the Sox trailing 5-1.

Hunter, a free agent who could be on the Sox's short list of targets, took his position in the top of the ninth but was replaced by Jason Tyner so he could receive final applause.

"We're going to continue to play the same people," Guillen said. "I expect to win six games. I expect to win every game we have, and hopefully those guys show up with the same attitude."

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