The biggest catch of the 101st World Series was not the leaping-into-the-stands one made by Chicago White Sox shortstop Juan Uribe for the second out of the ninth inning of Game 4 Wednesday night. It was the one made moments later, once the final out was secured, when Bobby Jenks, Chicago's plus-sized closer, turned his head toward home plate to find catcher A.J. Pierzynski running full-bore, right at him. Jenks braced himself as Pierzynski leaped into his arms, and made the catch -- about 500 combined pounds of White Sox girth sharing a tender moment, just before they were engulfed by joyous teammates.
They were a strange, fascinating bunch, these White Sox, who swept the Houston Astros in four tense, tight games to win the franchise's first World Series title in 88 years.
Did this collection of no-names, castoffs, role players and humble semi-stars really go 11-1 in the postseason, including 6-0 on the road? Did they really rewrite the history of a franchise that, until this month, was better known for a 1919 gambling scandal, a 1979 on-field riot and awful 1970s uniforms that at one time included shorts?
"We're proof that you don't have to put together an all-star team to win it, like some teams that went down along the way -- I don't have to mention their names," veteran first baseman Paul Konerko told reporters. "We're not a team that was a lock to win. We could start the playoffs again tomorrow and get knocked off in three games, because we aren't some unbelievably great team. We're just a team that played our best baseball when we had to."
Indeed, this improbable and improbably swift World Series victory, which seemed to be laughably lopsided, actually was microscopically close.
The White Sox never led by more than two runs in any of the four games, and they outscored the Astros by a total of only six. It's only a slight overstatement to say that, had four hits -- one in each game -- gone the other way, it would have been the Astros, not the White Sox, celebrating a sweep on Minute Maid Park's infield under a starry Texas sky Wednesday night.
"Every game was tight, down to the wire," Astros veteran slugger Jeff Bagwell said. "It was just one of those things where we didn't win. I don't know how else to say it. We didn't play great and we didn't play awful. They just beat us."
For all their shortcomings in terms of star-power, the victorious White Sox were a team full of characters and charmers, from the smug-mugged Pierzynski, to the radar-gun-spinning Jenks, to their gregarious manager who seemed to never stop talking.
In the aftermath of the Game 4 victory, someone reminded Manager Ozzie Guillen of his claim, repeated often during the postseason, that he might retire if the White Sox won it all. And someone else reminded Guillen that, as the manager of the pennant winner, he gets to manage next year's AL all-star team.
Well, that settled it.
"I'm not retiring," Guillen said, "until the all-star game."
That resolved one major question that lingered over the proceedings in the aftermath of the White Sox' victory. But there were others:
Has Roger Clemens pitched his final game? Will the White Sox be able to re-sign free agent Konerko?
Here's a closer look at those questions and others, as we note the losers and winners of this World Series:
* Phil Garner. Nobody had a worse World Series than the Astros' manager. He needed four games to figure out that Mike Lamb had no business batting against White Sox lefty Neal Cotts. He threw his team under the bus following the traumatic Game 3 loss. And finally, in Game 4, he pinch-hit for starting pitcher Brandon Backe with two outs and the bases empty in the bottom of the seventh, opening the door for the White Sox to pull together the winning run.
* Morgan Ensberg. The Astros went hitless in their final 29 at-bats with runners on base -- a simply staggering figure -- and Ensberg was the biggest culprit. Somehow, his turn at-bat always seemed to come at a critical point, and somehow, he always seemed to fail.
* Brad Lidge. The Astros' closer suffered three gruesome losses in less than a week and a half, including twice in the World Series. Will he bounce back, or will he become a latter-day Mitch Williams, the last reliever (in 1993) to suffer two losses in a single World Series?
* Bagwell. One can only wonder whether he hurt the team by insisting he was healthy enough to bat, practically forcing Garner to use the immensely popular veteran as designated hitter in Games 1 and 2, and as his primary pinch hitter in Games 3 and 4.
"I wish I could have been out there on the field," said Bagwell, whose injured shoulder prevented him from playing defense, "and done a little bit more."
* Former president George H.W. Bush. It appeared as if wife and former first lady Barbara stiffed him when the "Kiss Cam" found them in the front row behind home plate Wednesday night -- offering only a quick peck on the cheek. What did 41 do to get in the doghouse?
* Clemens. He was a favorite to win the Cy Young as September dawned, but since then he endured the loss of his mother, stumbled down the stretch and aggravated a hamstring injury that forced him out of Game 1 of the World Series after only two innings.
Will he return for a 23rd season?
"Everybody knows he can still pitch," said Andy Pettitte, Clemens's teammate and best friend. "But I'm not sure if he wants to put his body through what it takes for him to keep going out there."
* Don Cooper. The White Sox' pitching coach was in the middle of the perfect storm of publicity: He possesses a brilliant pitching staff. He loves to talk. And he had drawn the interest of the New York Yankees, which meant the Gotham media flocked to him all week. He is still under contract to the White Sox for another year, and the team has yet to decide whether to grant permission for the Yankees to interview him. But whether he leaves or stays, Cooper made himself some money this month.
* Konerko. His entry into the free agent market comes on the heels of a career-defining performance in the postseason -- a phenomenon known as "The Beltran Effect." Konerko probably won't find anyone to give him $119 million, the way the New York Mets did to Carlos Beltran a year ago. But he might get half that -- if not from the White Sox, then certainly from the Los Angeles Angels or Boston Red Sox -- which is more than he would have before he became Chicago's Mr. October.
* Advocates of small ball and modest spending. Offensively speaking, the White Sox led the league in nothing except sacrifice bunts. Although the biggest memories of their title run will be huge homers by Konerko, Scott Podsednik and Geoff Blum, they also did all the little things well, like moving runners over and executing hit-and-run plays.
And they did it with a modest payroll that ranks as the 11th-highest in baseball, and without a single player on their postseason roster making an eight-figure salary.
"People are looking for big theories. We've just got 25 hard-working, grind-it-out guys," General Manager Ken Williams told reporters. "We asked one thing from each and every one of them: to leave it all out on the field. They did that more than any team I've ever seen."
* The Midwest. The last World Series champion that did not hail from the East or West? The 1991 Minnesota Twins.
"It's important for fans of middle-market teams to see," said White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, "that you don't have to be New York or Boston to win."
* Steve Perry. Yes, that was the former Journey lead singer partying in the White Sox' clubhouse, where his one-time hit, "Don't Stop Believing" -- the team's adopted theme song during its title run -- played over and over on the boom box.
"Steve Perry owes [us] a big, fat check," Pierzynski said, "for all the love we've gotten him lately."
* The Chicago Cubs. First the Red Sox. Now the White Sox. Isn't it their turn now?
* Reinsdorf. Congratulations. Now can you please turn your attention to the sale of the Nationals?