It was not supposed to be Geoff Blum who ended the 72/3-inning scoreless streak by the Houston Astros' bullpen, a streak that had brought redemption to a group of relievers who didn't think they needed to be redeemed in the first place.
And Ezequiel Astacio was not really a member of that bullpen anyway. He had been held in reserve in case Roger Clemens could not start a possible Game 5 on Thursday.
But the Astros ran out of relievers in the longest game in World Series history and they called on Astacio for the 14th inning. It may have been the decision that ended the Astros' World Series hopes. He allowed a home run to Blum and later walked in a second run, and the White Sox had a 7-5 victory in Game 3 and a three-games-to-none lead in the Series.
On Tuesday, Astros pitchers allowed just two runs in eight innings in relief of starter Roy Oswalt, who gave up five runs in six innings. It was Oswalt who was expected to carry the Astros back into this Series. Instead, the bullpen nearly got Houston its first win.
Perhaps no one needed redemption in Game 3 more than did Brad Lidge. His outing on Sunday in Game 2 had ended with Scott Podsednik's game-winning home run. It was the second game-winning home run Lidge had allowed in the week. Albert Pujols's towering three-run home run to left field gave the St. Louis Cardinals the win in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. For the first time in his short career, Lidge was being doubted. Reporters hovered around his locker after Game 3 and gathered again during Monday's workout. Was it possible that this man who had built such a solid reputation with a stellar postseason last year was ordinary now?
But here, Lidge was again unhittable. He struck out three of the four batters he faced. None was more important than his strikeout of Aaron Rowand in the ninth inning with Paul Konerko on second base. Rowand swung past a wicked slider, a pitch that Lidge threw to perfection during his 11/3 perfect innings. The slider proved to be Lidge's best weapon on this night, and he threw it often. Podsednik had hit a fastball against Lidge to end Game 2, but here, the closer's fastball was unhittable, too.
There was no show of emotion from Lidge as he walked off the mound after the strikeout of Rowand, just as there had been no show of emotion after he had allowed the home runs to Podsednik and Pujols.
Lidge had promised that Podsednik's home run would not affect him one bit. Teammates laughed when asked if Lidge had anything to prove after that home run. It appeared he was not bothered.
But it was not only Lidge who kept the Astros in the game. Dan Wheeler, who allowed three runs on Sunday, pitched 11/3 scoreless innings. Chad Qualls, who allowed a grand slam to Konerko on Sunday, threw three scoreless innings.
The bullpen's stellar outing was almost threatened by a simple call from home plate umpire Jerry Layne on a 1-2 pitch to Podsednik in the 11th inning. The pitch from Qualls appeared to be a strike, but Layne called a ball, Podsednik then singled with no outs.
Podsednik put pressure on Qualls, stealing second base. But Qualls stranded him there.