White Sox 7, Astros 5
By the time the 14th inning of Game 3 of the World Series slithered around early Wednesday morning at Minute Maid Park, all that pregame controversy -- something involving a roof? -- seemed like it had been eons ago, and pointless at that. Even the fifth inning, when a neat, seamless story about the Houston Astros and their savior of an ace, the one who would rescue their season, began to unravel at the hands of the Chicago White Sox, seemed like it must have occurred a day before. Because it did.
They played deep into Tuesday night, under the stars, big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas, and they played well into Wednesday morning. And at 1:20 a.m. CDT, the Great Outdoor Game -- the longest contest in World Series history, 5 hours 41 minutes -- came to a swift and stunning conclusion, with the White Sox winning, 7-5, to move within one victory of baseball's ultimate prize.
It came to end because of one swing of the bat by White Sox reserve infielder Geoff Blum, the 40th player to be entered into this night's messy, lengthy box score. It was Blum who, at 12:54 a.m., hit a two-out homer off Houston's Ezequiel Astacio, a rookie right-hander, in the top of the 14th inning, yanking a 2-0 pitch over the wall in the right-field corner.
A crowd of 42,848 tired, drained and disappointed witnesses was stunned to silence, then moved to boos when Astacio, young and helpless, walked home a second run.
In a postseason in which any old Podsednik or Burke could etch their names in history, it was fitting that it was Blum, a former Astro, who would be the hero. One of the last players off the White Sox' bench, he had entered the game in the 12th. When he came to bat against Astacio, it was only his second plate appearance of the postseason.
The White Sox are on an unbelievable roll, in terms of both karma and victories. They have now won 18 of their last 21 games, dating to the final two weeks of the regular season. They can win the franchise's first World Series title in 88 years as soon as Wednesday night, when right-hander Freddy Garcia faces Astros right-hander Brandon Backe.
For the Astros, it was the second marathon game of the postseason; they played an 18-inning game against the Atlanta Braves in Game 4 of the Division Series. They won that game, primarily, because they had a deeper trove of lock-down relievers than the opposition. They lost this one because they did not.
The White Sox' bullpen effort was an heroic one, involving seven innings of one-hit ball from eight relievers. Lefty Damaso Marte earned the win, entering in the bottom of the 12th and surviving a leadoff walk.
In the bottom of the 13th, the Astros put the tying runs on base when Orlando Palmeiro drew a one-out walk off Marte, and with two outs, White Sox shortstop Juan Uribe booted Brad Ausmus's grounder.
White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen then called upon his ninth pitcher of the night -- and his second starting pitcher of the night. Left-hander Mark Buehrle, who had started Game 2 only two nights earlier, entered and retired Adam Everett on a popup to shortstop to end it.
The Astros' bullpen pitched valiantly as well. Dan Wheeler, Mike Gallo, Brad Lidge and Chad Qualls combined for six scoreless innings of two-hit ball, before the Astros had no choice but to bring in Astacio. The success was particularly poignant for Lidge, who when last seen was giving up disastrous homers in each of his previous two outings. Here, by contrast, he recorded four outs with nary a stumble.
None of the extra innings would have been necessary, if only Astros ace Roy Oswalt had been able to hold an early four-run lead, rather than give it all back -- and then some -- in a stunning, five-run, 48-pitch top of the fifth inning.
Or, if White Sox right-hander Dustin Hermanson had not hung a 1-2 slider to Astros right fielder Jason Lane with two on and two out in the bottom of the eighth inning of a 5-4 game -- in other words, with the White Sox just four outs away from a victory and a commanding 3-0 series lead.
Or, if either team had converted one of its many scoring opportunities in the late innings into even a single run. In the bottom of the ninth, the Astros loaded the bases against White Sox right-hander Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez on three walks, only to strand them all. Meantime, the White Sox had a runner in scoring position with less than two outs in the eighth, ninth and 11th innings, coming away empty each time.
It was the first World Series game ever staged in the state of Texas, and certainly the first one in which center field featured a large hill with a flagpole in the middle of it, and the left field horizon was dominated by a train hauling a load of pumpkins back and forth on railroad tracks.
The majority of the pregame buzz was not about bullpens or pitchers batting or lineup changes -- but about the roof at Minute Maid Park, where the Astros had won 79 of their previous 109 games. The Astros had planned to keep the roof closed all night, as it had all postseason, believing it would boost the noise level and give them a fuller home-field advantage.
But Major League Baseball overruled the Astros and decreed that the roof be opened, touching off what appeared to be the biggest controversy in Texas since Willie Nelson put out that reggae album.
The outcome of the roof controversy, of course, was merely another chapter in the charmed existence of the White Sox, who by this point had grown accustomed to every little break, bounce and call going their way.
That stopped being the case for a few hours Tuesday night. They were losing to Roy Oswalt. There was a mounting body of evidence that their run of luck was over. But then Tuesday night turned to Wednesday morning. A new day dawned. And when Game 3 was over, the White Sox would be within a matter of a few hours of a chance to claim their place in history.