Monday, October 25, 2010

At Last

     “No matter what happens,” White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said before the 2005 World Series, “when you win the American League pennant, you’ve had one wonderful year. But then you get greedy, and you want to get four more [wins]. It’s only been since 1917, so I think it’s time, and hopefully these guys can get the job done.”
     The South Siders’ opponents in their first World Series since 1959 were the Houston Astros, who had come into being in 1962 and were appearing in their first Series ever. As far as casual fans, the national media, and TV ratings were concerned, the match was made someplace other than heaven. But the White Sox and their fans couldn’t have cared less.
     Game 1 was played in Chicago on October 22. Roger Clemens started for Houston and was not effective, leaving with a sore hamstring after two innings and three White Sox runs. Joe Crede made the difference for the Sox with both bat and glove; his fourth-inning home run snapped a 3-3 tie, and he made diving stops at third base in the sixth (with a runner on third and one out) and the seventh (with two on and two out). The Sox added a run in the eighth on Scott Podsednik’s triple with A.J. Pierzynski aboard. Sox closer Bobby Jenks struck out three of the four batters he faced to preserve the 5-3 win for Jose Contreras.
     Game 2 was one of the most entertaining games ever played in Chicago—or anywhere else, for that matter. The cold, wet weather did not dampen the enthusiasm of the 41,432 who turned out. Mark Buehrle pitched seven innings for the White Sox, allowing four runs on seven hits. His counterpart, Andy Pettitte, left after six innings with a 4-2 lead. Dan Wheeler started the seventh for Houston and retired Crede on a foul pop-up. Then Juan Uribe stroked a double to center. Podsednik struck out. Tadahito Iguchi coaxed a walk. Jermaine Dye was up next; he worked the count to 3-and-2 before the next offering hit his bat—but was ruled to have hit his arm. Now the bases were loaded, and the crowd was in an uproar.
     Chad Qualls replaced Wheeler on the mound. Konerko stepped up to the plate. He swung at Qualls’s first pitch and drilled it over the wall for a grand slam. It was one of the most electrifying moments in Chicago’s long baseball history. Konerko circled the bases and then took a curtain call to acknowledge the tremendous ovation from the rain-soaked crowd. After the game, Konerko maintained that he’d been focused on getting a hit to tie the score and that the idea of hitting a home run hadn’t occurred to him. “That’s usually when you get them,” he said, “when you’re not trying to.”
     Cliff Politte retired the Astros in order in the eighth, and Jenks came on in the ninth with the Sox still ahead 6-4. With two outs and runners on second and third, pinch hitter Jose Vizcaino lined a single to left, and the game was tied. Neal Cotts replaced Jenks and got the third out with no further damage.
     Houston manager Phil Garner handed the ball to All-Star closer Brad Lidge for the bottom of the ninth. Lidge retired Uribe for the first out, but then the unlikely Podsednik belted a home run to right-center field, and the White Sox were 7-6 winners. After hitting no homers during the regular season, Podsednik had now hit his second of the postseason. Few home runs, even by the most illustrious sluggers, have been more impactful. It was only the 14th game-ending (or “walk-off”) homer in World Series history, and it gave the Sox a commanding 2-0 lead in the Series.
     “Clearly, everything they’re doing now is right,” Garner said. “They can’t do anything wrong.”
     The White Sox were hitting on all cylinders as the series moved to Houston, and they were soon to be world champions.

Adapted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c) 2009, 2010 by Christopher Tabbert

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