CHICAGO (AP) – Down at Jimbo’s, the mood is decidedly different these days.

Jammed earlier this season with families and friends pumping up the White Sox, the bar-restaurant just two blocks from U.S. Cellular Field is now full of worry warts.

“It’s like they lost their chemistry,” patron Sarah Grady said.

Rarely do baseball fans on the South Side dare to dream. Resigned to being second place in their own city, and without a World Series title since Shoeless Joe Jackson helped them win in 1917, they believed this season was going to be different – until the White Sox headed toward a record collapse, the kind usually seen by the crosstown Cubs.

Leading the AL Central by 15 games on Aug. 1 and on the verge of a runaway, the White Sox find themselves hanging on with two weeks to go, trying to hold off the hard-charging Cleveland Indians.

Chicago still tops the league in wins, but a 7-5 loss to the Indians on Monday night cut its edge to 21/2 games. It was the eighth loss in 11 games for the White Sox and suddenly, instead of the playoffs, there’s talk about them blowing the biggest lead ever.

The 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers squandered a 13-game lead on Aug. 11, beaten when Bobby Thomson’s homer doomed them in a playoff with the New York Giants for the NL pennant. The 1978 Boston Red Sox wasted a big edge over the New York Yankees and the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies blew it in the final week.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen can tell how things have changed from the tone of the e-mails he gets. After guiding Chicago to the best record in the majors for much of the season, he’s under assault from angry critics and frustrated fans.

“A lot of nasty ones,” Guillen says. “”It’s your fault. You stink. I know you are going to choke.”‘

The Indians, meanwhile, won for the 13th time in 14 games Monday night.

“Everybody wants to put the blame on us and say this and that. We haven’t played our best in the second half or since August or whatever,” White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko said. “But at the same time, I tip my hat to them.”

Sounds like a collapse that usually happens on the other side of town, where the Cubs – under the so-called curse of the Billy Goat – haven’t been to a World Series since 1945 and haven’t won one since 1908.

The Cubs led most of the 1969 season before a late swoon – and, some say, the appearance of a black cat on the field – helped the New York Mets win the pennant.

And the Cubs were five outs from the World Series two years ago when a fan interfered with a foul ball at Wrigley Field, fueling a Florida Marlins rally that led to an eventual World Series title.

Don’t forget, too, that the White Sox haven’t been to a World Series since 1959, so years of baseball futility in this city is not limited to one side or the other.

The Cubs always outdraw the White Sox, regardless of the records, mainly because of the appeal of Wrigley Field and the surrounding saloons, although White Sox attendance this season has surpassed 2 million – with 38 crowds of more than 30,000.

Sitting on a porch on a side street near U.S. Cellular Field, 89-year-old retiree Nick Bertucci, who once worked for the White Sox and sold hot dogs, said he’s doing everything he can to help the team snap out of it.

“I make all kinds of signs for them to get hits. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t,” he said.

His daughter, Ava Bonomo, said it’s been difficult watching the team’s season crumble.

“It’s heartbreaking, but they’re still our Sox and we love them,” she said.

The strong starting pitching that had been the centerpiece of a team that started 27-9 has faltered recently with All-Star Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia and Orlando Hernandez struggling.

Jose Contreras, the most inconsistent starter for the first half of the season, is now the best pitcher on the staff with a 9-2 record since the All-Star game. He’s the only White Sox starter with a winning record since the break.

The bullpen also has been a mess, having allowed nine earned runs in its last 18 innings.

After jettisoning run producers such as Carlos Lee and Magglio Ordonez in the offseason and relying on Guillen’s preferred small-ball attack featuring speedy leadoff hitter Scott Podsednik, the White Sox have struggled during stretches to score.

Last week, as the Indians continued on their tear, the White Sox dropped two of three in Kansas City – the worst team in the majors – and prompted the always opinionated and outspoken Guillen to proclaim: “We really flat-out stink.”

“When I say my team stinks and doesn’t play the way it can play, I don’t want to hear it from anybody else because they can hear it from me,” Guillen said.

The Indians are amply aware the White Sox are wobbling.

“They don’t have that big lead anymore and they’ve got to be thinking about that,” Cleveland pitcher C.C. Sabathia said.

Chicago’s road is rough in the final two weeks. After the Indians, they play four games at home against the team that has dominated the AL Central the previous couple of years, the Minnesota Twins. Then it’s on to Detroit for four games and then – perhaps fitting – a three-game finale in Cleveland.

“People told me if you don’t make the playoffs you’re going to be the biggest loser ever,” Guillen said. “Well, that’s part of the game.

“I’m not choking,” he added. “This is baseball. My life is going to continue to move on, maybe here or somewhere else. As soon as the season is over, believe me, I’m going to turn the page.”

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