Baseball Keeps Paying Off Its Debts
HOUSTON In the last 365 days, baseball has squared some of its longest standing debts. Last Oct. 27, the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years. On April 14 this spring, the first baseball game was played in Washington after 33 vacant seasons. Last Wednesday, the Houston Astros won their first pennant in 44 years of existence. And on Wednesday night in Minute Maid Park, one day shy of the anniversary of the Red Sox' championship, the Chicago White Sox beat the Astros, 1-0, to win their first World Series in 88 years, storming through October with 11 wins in 12 postseason games.
Say it's so, Jermaine, Geoff, Ozzie, Paul, Scott, Jose, Freddy, A.J., Bobby and Joe.
After the final out, the White Sox formed a scrum at the pitcher's mound, often hugging each other until they toppled to the ground. Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio, Harold Baines and Carlton Fisk, Frank Thomas and Robin Ventura, Ray Durham and Carlos Lee -- all of whom played and lost in past postseasons for the Pale Hose -- were not there. But all their efforts, fallen short over the decades, were fully honored by the work of a team, managed passionately by Ozzie Guillen, that respected every baseball fundamental. The Chisox preached pitching, defense and situational hitting -- a doctrine as valid in 2005 as it was in 1917, when the South Side of Chicago last ruled the sport.
The final two outs of this game bore the team's stamp of toughness and precision. With an Astro in scoring position, Chicago shortstop Juan Uribe battled his way into a third base box seat to grab a foul pop-up. No, this Chicago team was not afflicted with any meddlesome ball-deflecting fans. Then, to end the season, Uribe nipped Orlando Palmeiro at first base by inches on a slow dribbler. Throughout this postseason, the White Sox often seemed blessed by mistaken or controversial umpiring calls that went their way. This call was correct, just as the coronation of a White Sox team that won 99 regular season games and stood in first place for every day of the season was altogether proper.
"We played great baseball," said Guillen, who played more than 1,700 games for the White Sox. "Our fans have had so much patience. We did this for them."
For the White Sox, the list of major contributors was so long, including game-winning hits in the last three games from Scott Podsednik, utility man Geoff Blum and Series MVP Jermaine Dye, that it would probably be easier to construct a very short list of the men in White Sox uniforms who contributed nothing dramatic. For example, bullpen coach Art (Caveman) Kusnyer didn't seem to be doing much. But you never know. On this team, so short on stars but long on baseball savvy, he might have been stealing signs.
For those keeping score (which includes every soul in Chicago), the last original big league franchise that remains accursed is the Chicago Cubs, who, since Orval Overall won the final game of the '08 Series, are 0-for-96 seasons.
For the White Sox, all that annoying foolishness is finally and mercifully finished. This championship was won in a fashion so dominant that no one can gainsay the title. Chicago swept the defending champion Red Sox, then lost only one game to the Angels, who had whipped the $200 million Yankees. In this last Series act, they turned the Astros, who had soundly licked the 100-win Cardinals, into an embarrassing facsimile of the Hitless Wonders. Houston did not score a run in its last 15 innings and, in that span, went 0 for 28 with men on base.
After watching his team lose 7-5 in 14 innings, ending at 2:20 a.m. East Coast time in Game 3, Astros Manager Phil Garner said, "If the game had gone 40 innings, it looked like we might not have scored." Way to plant the seed, Phil. Chicago's Freddy Garcia immediately began Game 4 with seven scoreless innings. Rookie closer Bobby (100 mph) Jenks closed the show.
After 25 years as the owner, Jerry Reinsdorf finally has a champ. And he did it his hold-the-payroll-line way, with only the 11th biggest budget in the sport and no player making as much as $9 million. Houston, for its part, stood 12th in payroll, proving to fledgling franchises like, perhaps, the Nats that $75 million a year wisely spent can buy more than $100 million squandered. Reinsdorf and GM Kenny Williams found a way to win without a single man who seems bound for the Hall of Fame.
In fact, the mighty Thomas, with his 449 White Sox homers, missed this postseason with a broken ankle. Yet the White Sox still filled the field with many good to very good players -- such as Paul Konerko (15 postseason RBI) and Dye, who finished this Series with two homers and an eighth-inning, game-winning RBI single into center field off (oh, no) Brad Lidge. If one player deserved far better this October, it was Lidge, one of the game's best relievers, who gave up three game-losing hits in nine days, including two in this Series.
Most of all, Chicago had a powerful, well-rounded starting staff, led by lefty Mark Buehrle who came out of the bullpen for a one-out save in Game 3 -- delivering the 482nd and mercifully final pitch.
"We don't have any egos on this team," said Dye, who was one of perhaps a half-dozen White Sox who could have shared the MVP trophy. "Everybody got along with each other. . . . Ozzie will say whatever is on his mind and he keeps everybody loose."
This final game was really an emotional continuation of Game 3. If this Series had a hidden hero -- well hidden, in fact -- it was Geoff Blum, the man who hit the most important World Series homer that almost nobody saw. His solo home run in the 14th inning off the Astros' Ezequiel Astacio broke a 5-5 tie and prevented the Astros from, potentially at least, shifting the momentum of this Series. Because that crucial game ended at 2:20 East Coast time, few saw the liner over the right field fence. But, in a way, it epitomized the entire cast of unlikely White Sox worthies. After all, 59-steal speedster Scott Podsednik won the heart-stopping Game 2 with a bottom of the ninth-inning home run. And Podsednik did not hit a home run for the White Sox in the regular season. So why shouldn't the journeyman Blum, who had one home run for the White Sox this season, become the first man since Dusty Rhodes in '54 to hit an extra-inning homer in his first Series at-bat?
"You keep seeing names getting marked off the lineup card and eventually it gets down to the last guy on the totem pole," said Blum, who was the sixth player to occupy the No. 5 spot in the Chicago batting order.
Anyone who doesn't believe in destiny -- at least the baseball kind -- didn't watch Blum, who had only had one at-bat in the month of October, hit a ball out of the park with his first and only swing of this Series. From that moment, the White Sox had no doubt that they would finish this Series in quick order.
The Red Sox overcame something called "The Curse of the Bambino," which, to players, seemed like a confection of the press. Over the years, however, White Sox players themselves have been acutely aware of the stigma of the 1919 Black Sox, who threw the World Series. In a sense, they were glad to see the vital breaks of the game that seemed to follow them around all month like tame puppies. Surely, the gods of the game had finally forgotten the sins of Chick Gandil and Buck Weaver.
The sight of Podsednik's Game 2 homer set a tone. But Blum's unlikely blast seemed like indisputable evidence of baseball providence. If the White Sox wanted one moment to capture the improbability of their great season and the hidden strength of their entire roster, there could be no better man than Blum -- just a South Side journeyman working the 2 a.m. shift.
This evening's crisp and classy 1-0 work merely finished the job.