In the wee hours of Wednesday morning at Minute Maid Park, it was a toss-up as to what was the more remarkable, more fascinating, more astounding sight -- the home run off the bat of Chicago White Sox reserve infielder Geoff Blum in the top of the 14th inning, which vanquished the Houston Astros and allowed the White Sox to win the longest game in World Series history by a 7-5 score, or Blum's hair.
Both defied gravity. Blum's line drive, off Astros reliever Ezequiel Astacio -- which came at precisely 12:54 a.m., with the game well into its sixth hour -- seemed never to rise above the height of the right field fence, yet cleared it with inches to spare. Twenty-six minutes later, when the 17th pitcher of the night, White Sox lefty Mark Buehrle, secured the final out, the White Sox had taken a 3-0 lead in the World Series.
And Blum's hair? When he met the media moments after game's end, it appeared to have been styled with a blowtorch.
Him? This guy, with the hair sticking up so high it would have made Don King cringe, was the guy who put the White Sox within one victory over the franchise's first World Series title since 1917?
Often this postseason, it has seemed as if fate has sifted through each team's rosters and selected the most obscure, most unlikely players in whom to bless with game-winning powers on a particular night. So it was with Blum, whom the White Sox themselves had entrusted with only one plate appearance in the postseason before Tuesday night, and that three long weeks before.
"You keep seeing names getting marked off and marked off [the lineup card], and eventually it gets down to the last guy," said Blum, who had entered the game at second base as part of a double-switch in the 12th inning. "We were running out of bodies on the bench. Guys were getting tired and hungry."
Later, when Blum, a humble sort, was asked where the homer would rank on his list of the biggest hits of his career, he chuckled. "Good Lord," he said. "Have I had any big hits?"
Who could have foreseen Blum winning the game?
"Believe it or not," White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen said, "my kid next to me said, 'Blum is going to win it for you.' "
But the choice of Blum -- a former Astro, the father of infant triplets -- as the hero was not the only absurdity on a night when there 482 pitches thrown, of which nearly half of them could have ended the game, or at least put one team ahead.
"It's difficult," Astros third baseman Morgan Ensberg said, in a quiet clubhouse. He almost could not continue. "Sorry," he finally said, "I'm having a tough time."
No World Series game in history had ever taken so long -- 5 hours 41 minutes -- to finish. And only one previous World Series game had ever required 14 innings to decide a winner. That was Game 2 of the 1916 Series, with the Boston Red Sox -- behind starting pitcher Babe Ruth, who went the distance, but was 0 for 5 at the plate -- beating the Brooklyn Robins.
A side-by-side examination of those two games, 89 years apart, is a lesson in how the game has changed:
The 1916 game took 2:32 to play -- which is about how long the seventh-inning stretch lasted Tuesday night.
In 1916, both pitchers -- Boston's Ruth and Brooklyn's Sherry Smith -- pitched 14-inning complete games. On Tuesday night, the White Sox and Astros combined to use 17 pitchers, a World Series record.
In 1916, a total of 21 players saw action -- the 18 starters, plus three Boston reserves. On Tuesday night, the teams combined to use 43 players, another World Series record.
But it is by digging deeper than the record books that one can find the truly astounding aspects of Tuesday night's game:
* The White Sox's pitching staff closed out the game by pitching the equivalent of a 10-inning one-hitter, beginning with the second batter of the fourth inning (following Jason Lane's leadoff homer) and lasting through the final pitch of the 14th -- that's a 1-for-33 spell by the Astros. In fact, over the final six innings, the Astros were held hitless.
"That's some pretty poor hitting, absolutely rotten hitting," said Astros Manager Phil Garner. " . . . It's embarrassing to play like that in front of our hometown."
* But that's not to say the White Sox's pitchers were outstanding. They issued a total of 12 walks (yet another World Series record), including four in one official inning of work by Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez -- who still, somehow, despite throwing only eight strikes among his 28 pitches, escaped without a run scoring.
* Where had the White Sox been hiding all these players? Blum had not appeared in a game since Oct. 4. Winning pitcher Damaso Marte had not pitched in a game since Oct. 7. Two other pitchers -- Dustin Hermanson and Luis Vizcaino -- last pitched on the final weekend of the regular season.
* Buehrle, who had pitched seven innings in Game 2 just 48 hours earlier, became the first pitcher in history to save a World Series game after starting the previous game.
* Blum and teammate Scott Podsednik combined to hit one homer (that by Blum) in the regular season. But in back-to-back World Series games, both have hit game-winners.
So it has gone this postseason, and in this World Series, in which the improbable has become commonplace, and the laws of physics -- at least as they pertain to baseballs in flight and wild hairdos -- seem as malleable as baseball's own record book.