White Sox 5, Astros 3
The damp, cool air that whipped off Lake Michigan and into the bowl of U.S. Cellular Field, as the first World Series game in the Windy City in 46 years played out Saturday night, brought an old familiar feeling to these parts. Baseball in late October has a feeling like no other, and it must have felt this way in 1959, the year the Chicago White Sox last played in the Fall Classic, and in 1917, the last year they won it.
The chill conjured warm memories for the faithful here, but for a 43-year-old legend of a pitcher who went to the mound for the opposition, the chill penetrated the skin and latched on to an aching muscle, and Roger Clemens's night ended in disappointment a few hours earlier than it did for his Houston Astros teammates.
By the end of the night, 100-mph fastballs, fired by the arm of the White Sox's hulking closer, Bobby Jenks, were cutting through the chill, placing the finishing touches on Chicago's 5-3 victory in front of 41,206 rapt fans, all of whom, at that moment, understood what they had been missing all those years.
In a World Series matchup of franchises that had waited a combined 89 years for this night to come, Game 1 went to the White Sox, who produced their quintessential performance -- full of strong pitching, clutch hitting, brilliant defense and small-ball strategy -- while the Astros saw their game plan derailed the moment Clemens limped off the field at the end of the second inning.
"You just saw a Chicago baseball game," White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen said. "It's the White Sox. [That's] the way we run."
Game 2 is here Sunday night, with Chicago's Mark Buehrle facing Houston's Andy Pettitte in a matchup of all-star left-handers.
The story of this series, at least until it began, was of dominating starting pitching, the Astros' three aces against the White Sox' deep trove of power arms. But that storyline disintegrated within three lengthy, messy innings.
Clemens, who was born in the same year, 1962, as the Astros' franchise, was gone after just two innings, the victim of a strained hamstring and a wealth of hard-hit balls off the White Sox' bats. White Sox starter Jose Contreras lasted until the eighth -- snapping a string of four straight complete games this postseason by White Sox starters -- but he twice coughed up leads in the early innings.
There is no guarantee Clemens, whose plans beyond this season are unclear, will pitch again, in this series or ever. After the game, he spoke briefly and curtly, saying, "They gave me some medication and I'm going to treat it, and that's all I can tell you."
Contreras survived his rocky start, departing to a standing ovation in the top of the eighth. At that point, in a 4-3 game, with Houston's Willy Tavares on second base and nobody out, Guillen did something he has rarely had to do lately: call upon the long-lost members of the White Sox' bullpen, a collection of arms that had barely been used during the American League Championship Series.
Into the game came left-hander Neil Cotts, pitching on 10 days' rest, who gave up a single to Lance Berkman to put runners on the corners. But he struck out Morgan Ensberg and Mike Lamb.
Next came Jenks, working on 14 days' rest, who entered to face Astros designated hitter Jeff Bagwell. Jenks threw five straight fastballs of 99 and 100 mph until, finally, he fooled Bagwell with a cut fastball -- also at a smoking 100 mph -- that swerved out of the way of Bagwell's bat, a strikeout to end the inning.
"A cutter at 100 miles an hour," Bagwell said, "is not too easy."
The White Sox flew their small-ball flag high and proud, using a perfectly executed hit-and-run play to set up a run in the second inning and bunting with their No. 5 hitter, Carl Everett, at the plate in the fifth.
But ultimately, it was a pair of home runs that spelled the difference. The first, by Jermaine Dye in the first inning, rattled Clemens and provided the first clue that the big man was not right. And the second homer, hit by third baseman Joe Crede off reliever Wandy Rodriguez, put the White Sox ahead for good in the fourth.
With the Astros continually threatening, Crede also made two diving plays at third base to save runs.
As the top of the first inning ended, Clemens was out of his dugout before the first White Sox player had stepped into theirs. He ascended the hill, threw his warmup pitches quickly and casually, then delivered his first pitch of the night -- a 92 mph fastball -- to White Sox leadoff man Scott Podsednik, as thousands of camera flashes went off around the stadium. With that pitch, Clemens became the second-oldest pitcher ever to start a World Series game.
There would be 53 more pitches for Clemens, one of which wound up sailing over the wall in right off the bat of Dye in the first inning. It was in the second inning Clemens felt his hamstring tighten. He labored through the inning, giving up two more runs and eking by on competitive fire alone. Once, when A.J. Pierzynski called time and stepped out of the batter's box just as Clemens was beginning his delivery, Clemens buzzed his ear with a fastball a few pitches later, drawing an angry glare.
But two more White Sox runs would score in the inning -- including one when Carl Everett made a daring dash home on a force out at second base, after Astros first baseman Mike Lamb failed to hold Everett at third. And when Clemens finally struck out White Sox leadoff man Scott Podsednik at the end of a grueling 12-pitch at-bat to end the inning, he limped off the mound, across the infield grass and down the steps of the Astros' dugout.
"If his leg is bothering him, he's going to compensate with his arm," catcher Brad Ausmus said, "and if he compensates with his arm, he's not going to last very long."
On a cool night that erased years of October longing, only the coldest of Chicago hearts could delight in the sight of the greatest pitcher of his generation, wounded and defeated, lurching off the field and out of sight, perhaps forever.