White Sox 7, Astros 6
The difference between victory and defeat in Game 2 of the World Series, on a soggy but electric Sunday night at U.S. Cellular Field, was as elemental as the difference between wood and bone, as fleeting as the difference between a hand touching home plate and a fistful of dirt. But ultimately, the difference between victory and defeat -- in a classic, twisting game full of frayed nerves and astonishing sights -- was the difference between a giant swing of the bat that draws only air and one that connects with violent precision.
That swing, the final swing of the night, came from Chicago White Sox left fielder Scott Podsednik, and it came against Houston Astros closer Brad Lidge, and it came with one out and nobody on in the bottom of the ninth. And it sent a fly ball screaming deep into a rainy sky. And that fly ball cleared the fence in right-center field, and suddenly it was over.
In a game the White Sox had already lost, then won, then lost again -- each apparent climax more absurd than the last -- they suddenly, ultimately and absolutely won this time, by a 7-6 score, and there followed a piercing roar from 41,432 fans and a bounding, hugging mass of White Sox players gathered around Podsednik at home plate, oblivious to the cold rain falling on them.
"I don't think anyone in the ballpark was thinking about me hitting the ball out of the ballpark," said Podsednik, who failed to hit a single homer this regular season in 507 at-bats. " . . . To go out and hit one out of the ballpark for a game-winner is pretty indescribable."
It was the first walk-off homer in a World Series game since Florida's Alex Gonzalez did it for the Florida Marlins in Game 4 in 2003 against the New York Yankees. And it gave the White Sox a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, which shifts to Houston's Minute Maid Park for Game 3 on Tuesday night.
"This team has been through a lot and it has always bounced back," Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell said. "And we'll bounce back again."
The Astros' shock after the game was palpable. Moments before Podsednik's game-winner, the Astros had done something equally improbable, tying the game in the top of the ninth with a pair of runs off Bobby Jenks, the White Sox' outsized, fireballing rookie closer, on a two-out, two-run single by pinch hitter Jose Vizcaino.
And on the mound, the Astros had closer Lidge, in whom they had every confidence, despite the fact Lidge's last appearance had ended with St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols blasting a game-winning homer when the Astros were one out from clinching the pennant. Virtually unhittable in the regular season, Lidge has now suffered gruesome, stunning defeats in back-to-back appearances.
"He's my closer," Astros Manager Phil Garner said Sunday night. "The next time we have the same situation, he'll be in the ballgame."
The White Sox believed they had delivered the knockout blow to the Astros' jaws in the bottom of the seventh inning, when first baseman Paul Konerko, with the bases loaded and two outs, crushed the first pitch from Astros reliever Chad Qualls -- who was working on a streak of 81/3 scoreless postseason innings -- over the wall in left for a grand slam, suddenly transforming a two-run deficit into a two-run lead.
Konerko raised his fist as the ball cleared the fence, raised it again as he rounded first base, and raised it yet again as he rounded third. He was mobbed by teammates at his dugout -- including starting pitcher Mark Buehrle, who was already in the clubhouse and out of his uniform, his night's work over, but who ran through the tunnel to the dugout in a T-shirt and embraced Konerko.
The crowd, which had been bundled down tight in its seats, bracing against the cold and the prospect of a loss, exploded at the sight of the ball bursting off Konerko's bat, and it never settled down. The crowd asked for -- and received -- two curtain calls from Konerko.
"It's the second-best feeling I've had all week," said Konerko, whose wife gave birth four days earlier. "It's hard to explain, other than it's fun."
If Konerko's grand slam had not been preceded by a controversial call, it would been completely out of character for a postseason in which the umpires often have been bigger stories than the players.
Indeed, the batter before Konerko, Jermaine Dye, was hit somewhere in the vicinity of his hands by a full-count pitch from right-hander Dan Wheeler, with two outs and runners on first and second. Home plate umpire Jeff Nelson ruled the pitch had hit Dye on the hand, awarding him first base and loading the bases.
However, replays appeared to show the pitch hitting the barrel of Dye's bat, which perhaps Nelson could not see. However, Nelson missed one other crucial bit of evidence -- the fact Dye's hands never left the bat. Doesn't it stand to reason that a fastball on the hands on a 45-degree night would have stung Dye enough to yank his hands off the bat?
Afterward, Dye admitted the pitch had hit his bat. Nelson was unavailable for comment, but he said through a Major League Baseball spokesman that he believed "definitively" at the time that the ball had hit Dye's hand.
Jenks, 270 pounds of high, hard heat, was one strike from closing out the win in the top of the ninth, with the tying runs in scoring position, when Vizcaino slashed an opposite-field single into left field.
The trailing runner, Chris Burke, representing the tying run, scored with a head-first slide, his hand barely touching the plate just beyond the reach of catcher A.J. Pierzynski, whose tag attempt was late -- primarily because the throw from left field was late, weak and off-target.
And who made that weak and off-target throw? None other than Podsednik. As the stadium deflated around him, and the Astros pumped their fists, Podsednik hoped he would get one more chance, maybe one more at-bat, just one swing to turn the electricity on again.