October 26, 2005: Part I
Meghan and I woke up this morning with the TV on.
“OH NO!” I yelled, springing upwards, realizing at once what had happened.
“What? What?” She sat up, rubbing her eyes, confused.
“We fell asleep. We missed the end of the game.”
That’s right folks: one of the most historic and exciting games in the history of baseball, and Meghan and I fell asleep before it was over. I feel like my grandmother.
As Houston ace Roy Oswalt warmed up on the mound just before Game 3, two storylines had everybody talking:
1. Oswalt pitching Game 3, which seemed to surely mean, even to the biggest of Sox fans, that the Astros would go into Game 4 down 2-1. The line on Oswalt: 20-12 with a 2.94 this season…and in the playoffs, three wins against no losses, five earned in 21 and a third for a 2.11 ERA. He was also named MVP of the NLCS. Yowza.
2. Major League Baseball’s decision to force the Astros to leave the roof at Minute Maid Park open, despite their objections.
By game’s end, Oswalt was long gone, and nobody could even recall the “roof controversy.” That’s what happens when you play the longest game in World Series history in both time (5 hours 41 minutes) and innings (14).
We began watching the game in our TV room, and for a while it looked as if we would finish there. The Astros jumped all over the Sox with a run in the first, two in the third, and one in the fourth. 4-zip, Stros. Oswalt was cruising, Garland was struggling, and it looked as if Houston was headed to a Game 3 win. It was to be expected. After all, a White Sox win in Game 3 would put the Sox a game away from a World Series sweep, and that was an impossibility…right?
No sooner did the Astros trot out to the field in the fifth did the White Sox stake their comeback. The New Mr. October cranked a solo shot to right to lead off the inning. A Garland strike out was sandwiched by singles from Uribe and Podsednik, those followed by back-to-back singles from Iguchi and Dye. 4-3 Astros. The Sox dugout was pumped: even Big Frank was clapping it up, shouting “Here we go! Here we go!” Konerko flied out to center for the second out…Houston fans settling, feeling better…and then it was Mr. Controversy A.J. Pierzynski smoking a double to deep center to score Tad and Dye. 5-4 Sox.
It is a powerful hit by Pierzynski. I know all big hits are powerful, but this is not simply a physical power. It feels powerful, the way the President feels powerful. The hit itself embodies power…or perhaps control is the word I’m looking for. It feels controlled, like the Pujols shot last week, or Sammy’s homer that tied Game 1. That kind of power.
Then came the Rowand at-bat. This was weird because nothing important happened, and nothing unique or interesting happened, and yet it felt as if both were the case. All Rowand did was draw a walk after six pitches, and yet Oswalt, the Houston crowd, and the announcers all reacted as if the Houston right-hander had just walked the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth of a tied Game 7 with 2002 World Series Barry Bonds coming to the plate.
Maybe it really was that important. Maybe not. All I know is that it felt like that. Part of the reason was that it was the third long AB of the inning. First was Garland, comically working a 2-2 count with a foul that nearly chopped through first base coach Tim Raines before ultimately striking out. Then with two on and two in, Jermaine Dye battled through a seven-pitch AB that ended with an RBI single to center. And then Rowand:
1. Ball high (not close)
(Disparaging FOX graphic comparing Oswalt’s numbers in his last two postseason starts against his numbers in the fifth inning.)
2. Ball low and away (even less close)
3. Sharply hit foul ball down the right field line
(Shots of Houston fans praying—these people look like they truly believe that you can lose a postseason best-of-seven in the fifth inning of Game 3.)
4. Hard, well-placed strike that Rowand can not catch
(Houston fans standing and applauding to support their pitcher on an important two strike, two out pitch…anticipating the punch-out…getting ready…)
5. Ball inside, just missed (full count)
(Crowd bristling, nervous, as if they’ve been betrayed by Fate.)
6. Low and away, Rowand resisting the pitch, tossing his bat, walking to first.
With that, the crowd moans, like they’ve just been punched in the stomach. Oswalt himself looks guilty, grimacing like a kid who breaks a vase while playing ball in the house, realizing suddenly “Uh oh. I’ve done it this time.” Then Oswalt plunks Crede to load the bases, and now Oswalt really looks bad, and Crede is pissed, and the crowd is going into actual shock, and then Carl Everett nearly climbs out of the dugout to yell at Oswalt, and then the Astros’ dugout starts yelling at Everett, and there is Oswalt in the middle, freaked out of his mind, standing on the mound, and though the attention is off him momentarily he knows it won’t last, because the bases are loaded and he loaded them.
It was amazing. I kept looking at Oswalt throughout the entire ordeal. The look on his face was the same as that of every Astros fan in the house—“How can this be happening? Oswalt is our ace. We’re at home. Are we really going to go down 3-0 in the World Series? Did I fail to mention that Oswalt is our ace??!!!”—except that Oswalt had the added pain of actually being Oswalt, which meant that while he was objectively asking all of those questions, he was also suffering through the indignities of actually pitching. Even when he popped Uribe out to finally escape the inning, things did not feel calm.
(Then, just to intensify things, FOX came back from the break to remind us that “on this date in 1986,” Bill Buckner made his famous error in Game 6 of the World Series. This was one of the all-time spookiest games of any sport in the history, right there with the ’72 USA-USSR gold medal basketball game. Again, does this mean anything? Not necessarily. But it’s like walking through a graveyard. Just eerie.)
Oswalt is fine in the sixth, but when he walks Konerko to lead-off the seventh, his time is up. Garner gives him the hook, Russ Springer comes in, and as Oswalt leaves, Minute Maid Park has a funeral feel. FOX goes back to the pitcher-coming-off-the-field wide shot, but instead of being majestic, this one had the feel of watching a six-year-old who just fell and scraped his knee (Oswalt) scampering into his mother’s waiting, sympathetic arms (the crowd and dugout). Ouch.
Springer retires the next three in order, and Game 3 completes its biggest pregame storyline: Roy Oswalt, Astro Ace.
So Garland out-pitches The Great Roy Oswalt, and when Politte replaces the tall, slender righty in the bottom of the eighth, the White Sox still lead 5-4. Politte does a nice job, retiring the first two batters of the inning (including a monumental strike out of the nearly unstoppable Berkman on a 3-2 change), before walking Ensberg. This brings up Lamb, in what is the biggest at-bat of the game, and perhaps, up to that point, the series. It is time for one of baseball’s biggest joys: managerial chess matches.
If I had to point to one aspect of the game that the designated hitter ruins for me, it is these late game situations in which managers strategize (and sometimes, over-strategize) by getting into their bench and pens. The White Sox only used one reliever in the ALCS, made possible by the fact that Contreras, Buehrle, Garland, and Garcia did not have to hit. And in the World Series’s first two games, the Sox had yet to go to their bench for either a pinch-hitter or a defensive replacement. But now, in a National League park…
Ozzie pulls Politte in favor of Neal Cotts, and now we are in the midst of Situational Baseball, the game at its best. The Big Baseball Situation (BBS): Game 3 of the World Series, 2-0 Sox in the series, 5-4 Sox in the game, bottom of the eighth, runner on first, two outs, here comes the pitch…
Lamb walks on five pitches. First and second now, two outs, 5-4 Sox, and Ozzie goes back to the pen. This time he sets his hands about a foot apart, moves them up and down, and then sets his hand up at his waist, requesting the “skinny small guy.” Cotts sits, Dustin Hermanson enters. Out comes Mike Lamb for the pinch-runner Bruntlett. Ball, swinging strike, swinging strike, and the 1-2…
BAM! Jason Lane doubles to left, Ensberg scores, the Astros win the situation and tie the game at five.
I inhale. “Well…?”
The next BBS comes in the top of the ninth. Dye grounds out to short to start the inning, and then Wheeler hits Konerko on the wrist. One on, one out, and in comes Mike Gallo to face Pierzynski. A.J. grounds out to second, advancing Konerko a base. Runner at second, two outs, Lidge coming in. They go to commercial, and when they return FOX has a Brad Lidge montage, with clips of the Pujols home run in Game 5 and then the Podsednik walk off in Game 2, all set to “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Yikes.
Lidge to face Aaron Rowand. Ball outside, strike looking, ball up and away, strike swinging down and away, and once again the Houston crowd is on its feet, sucked back in, giving themselves to their team, and Rowand waggles his bat in his stance, and Lidge delivers…
Strikeout. End of the inning. Runner left at second. Damn. Missed one there.
El Duque enters for Pierzynski on the double switch with Chris Widger entering to catch, and with Hernandez on the bump, visions of Game 3 against Boston dance in our heads. (Luke, screaming at me in a maniacal joy…) El Duque pops Everett out to Uribe on one pitch. One out for Chris Burke, who walks on four pitches. Ninth inning of Game 3, one out, game tied, winning run at first, Craig Biggio to the plate, and then after a pick-off attempt on Burke that misses him by this much followed by a pitch out to Biggio—B!G!O! B!G!O!—Hernandez turns to fire back to first. Burke slides head first and the low throw bounces off of Burke’s body and into foul territory. Winning run now at second, one out, Biggio still up…
…and Burke steals third! Holy crap! What a ballsy move by Burke, who made it easily to the bag. Widger can’t believe it. He just stands there. Houston’s crowd is teaming—This is it! We’re gonna do it! We’re going to win Game 3! This will turn the series around!—and with the count already at two balls and one strike, El Duque goes head-high for ball three, shoulders-high for ball four.
First and third now, one out, tie game, infield in, winning run in scoring position, Orlando Hernandez on the mound and Willy Taveras to the plate. Two strikes, and then a sailing ball high, and then a sailing ball higher, and then a breaking ball moving away from Taveras, and the rookie reaches and misses. Two outs. Berkman to the plate. Ozzie to the mound. Talking…talking…talking…and now back to it, with El Duque pitching to Berkman. A close pitch. Berkman doesn’t move. Ball one. Burke waiting at third, itching to score, like a kid silently and desperately waving his hand in class so the teacher will call on him. The pitch. Head high, moving Berkman away. Two balls, no strikes, and now Widger stands and extends his glove, and Berkman is walked intentionally for Morgan Ensberg, the power hitting third baseman. Two outs, bottom of the ninth, tie game, bases loaded, El Duque on the mound, Ensberg at the plate.
El Duque checks the runners, and throws a slider that tails away from the swinging Ensberg. 0-1. Fastball belt high, and Ensberg fouls it straight back. 0-2. El Duque checks the runners again, then delivers a breaking ball over the plate that Ensberg fouls back. The lanky Cuban pitcher walks around the mound, adjusting his hat. He returns, and sets, and sails a pitch high for a ball, and then another with the same result, and now the count is even at two, and the bases are loaded, and the game is tied, and it’s the bottom of the ninth of Game 3 of the first World Series game ever played in the Big State of Texas, with the Astros trying to win…
…and he gets Ensberg swinging on the changeup! Strike three. End of nine. We go to extra innings.
“…OK then,” I say. It’s the first time either Meghan or myself have spoken since Lane’s run scoring double in the eighth.
For the next three innings, base runners are scarce. Orlando Palmeiro and Adam Everett each walk in the tenth, Podsednik singles in the 11th, and Konerko is intentionally walked in the 11th. From the tenth to the 12th, that is it. All four are stranded on base. The Sox use two pitchers during that time, Houston one. We are now entering Random Out Of Nowhere World Series Hero Mode; this was the type of deal that turned Francisco Cabrera into a name. In fact, just two weeks earlier, it was then-little known Chris Burke who won Game 4 of the NLDS against Atlanta with a walk off solo shot in the bottom of the 18th.
Three times batters take to the plate with two on and two outs. Three times they fail to drive in the winning or go-ahead run. Burke enters the Potential Hero’s Role first, but grounds out to the pitcher. Timo Perez has a chance for the Sox but swings on the first pitch and grounds out to first. Then it is Orlando Palmeiro’s turn, and the Astro outfielder promptly grounds to Jenks.
The game was nearing Historically Long status. Before the bottom of the 11th, FOX showed a graphic of the LONGEST WORLD SERIES GAMES:
BY TIME: 4:51 (2000, Game 1)
BY INNING: 14 (1916, Game 2)
TONITE: 4:15, 11 innings
It was now past midnight. Chad Qualls and Jenks traded 1-2-3 innings in the 12th, with Jenks striking out the final two batters of the inning…
It is about this time that Meghan says…
“Yeah, me too.”
She starts her cutsy voice. “Um, baaaaaaaaby. Maybe we could go cuddle up and watch the rest of the game in bed.”
“That’s probably not a good idea. We’ll fall asleep.”
“This is not a good plan,” I protest.
Once we were both in bed and the game was on, I felt pretty confident that I would make it. I couldn’t be sure about her, but I was pretty sure that if I stayed seated upright, I’d be fine. Plus, how could I possibly fall asleep while watching a tense, late-inning, home city World Series game? Impossible, yes?
But as Charlie Murphy once said: “Wrong! Wrong!”
After a double play, Iguchi falls behind 0-2. Two outs, two strikes, Iguchi against Qualls in the 13th…got him swinging. Houston rejoices.
“Cool, we could get a 14th inning stretch,” I remember saying. “I love those.”
FOX comes back from the break with the sound of an old fashioned gold-plated circular bell alarm clock, the kind cartoon characters always smash with a mallet they pulled from under the covers. WORLD SERIES FACT: Tonight is longest game by time (4:57). Another great sentence. That very good.
Double switch…Marte pitching to replace the closer Jenks …Geoff Blum replacing Iguchi at second base and batting fifth…
Ooh, Marte just struck out Biggio looking. He looks really sharp right now…now that guy’s out…bouncer to short…cool, 14th inning stretch…I think I’ll scoot down off the wall a bit…
“OH NO!” I yell, springing upwards, realizing at once what has happened.
Shortly after I bring Meg up to date, her phone rings. It’s Don.
“Wow! Could you believe that?”
Meg looks at me, and tells her dad: “We missed it.”
“We fell asleep.”
“I can’t believe it!”
“I…uh…I kind of talked Jack into it.”
She laughs. “Here, talk to him.”
I take the phone. “We missed it.”
“Oh man. Well, you missed a good one. When did you fall asleep?”
“The last inning I remember was the 13th.”
He laughs, taken aback. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“What? Why? What?” I’m reeling. “When did it end?”
“Son of a bitch! Meg, it ended in the 14th.”
“Wow. So, what happened?”
And he tells me.
Dye singled to center to lead off the inning, and then Konerko pulled one down the line, hard. Ensberg snared it, stood, turned and fired to Vizcaino at second, who turned and threw to Berkman to beat Konerko by half a step. Incredible.
And then came Geoff Blum.
Following the White Sox biggest two stars was Blum, the seldom used backup infielder, the guy acquired on July 31st from the Padres for somebody named Ryan Meaux. And after staring at two bad pitches in a rather indifferent manner, Blum reached out and tagged a ball that was down and away, and it curved upwards, way down the right field line, and then it went over the fence.
“Wow,” I say. “Wow.”
“Pretty incredible,” Don says, admiring it all.
“I’m speechless. I have no speech.”
I give Don back to Meghan, and while they talk I turn on SportsCenter. To my delight, they are still running all of their Game 3 highlights. It’s funny: whenever SportsCenter is running day-after highlights of a big game, I always laugh, wondering who in the world could possibly have interest in a monster game and yet, nearly nine hours after its completion, still not know what had transpired. Who was this person tuning into the now fifth or sixth generation highlight reel for The News?
Now we know.
Later, I talk to Luke.
“You missed it?”
“Oh man! It was crazy. Blum just smacked it, but it didn’t even seem like a home run. I just thought it was a hard hit double, and then it just kept flying, and then it was out. It was almost casual.”
“I know. And Blum was so chill the whole time, but everybody else—I mean, I was up and yelling at it, waving at it…I felt like Robin Williams in the Pudge Fisk scene.”
I shake my head. “That’s amazing, dude.”
“I still can’t believe it.” He breathed. “And then Rowand and Crede dinked out infield singles, and then they walked Uribe and Widger to give the Sox a two run lead.”
“Man! What a breakdown.”
“I know, right?”
“So that was the final? 7-5?”
“Who closed it out?”
“Oh, yeah…you’re not gonna believe this one either.”
“What?!! Randy Johnson style!”
“I know, right?” He breathes. “Yeah, Damaso Marte was in, and he got the first guy, walked the second guy, and then got the third guy to pop out, and then they had it on a grounder, but Uribe bobbled it and couldn’t make the throw.”
“Yeah. Everybody safe, two on, two out, Sox up two, bottom of the 14th, and Buehrle came in. And he got the save. They said it was his first appearance out of the pen since the 2000 playoffs. And he got—I think it was Everett—Everett to pop up to Uribe.”
“Yeah. I gotta say though, I did feel for the Astros fans. I was happy we won, I didn’t feel bad about winning or anything like that, but I did feel for them. FOX kept showing this woman on her cell phone. She was, like, literally pleading with the team itself, it seemed. And then I remember the Sox were lined up doing their post-game high five line—ya know, with just the team—and it was so quiet in the stadium that you could actually hear their hands slapping together, one after another, just a hundred little hand smacking sounds. And that was it.”
We get off the phone. Later in the night, right before we start watching Game 4, I get a call from Nana.
“Boy oh boy.” She’s very excited. “What did you think about that game last night?”
“You were up for the whole thing?” She’s awesome.
“Of course,” and she drags out the “or” sound in “course,” the way she does when you’re at her house and you ask if you can have a cookie. It’s an inviting, loving “of course,” one that suggests that you are silly for even asking. “I wouldn’t miss it. I stayed downstairs the whole time.”
“You didn’t go to bed?”
“Nope. I thought about it—I thought about watching the end in bed, but I knew that if I did that I’d fall asleep.”
I swear, I’m not making this up.
“Wow.” Damnit. “Well…we missed it.”
She’s appalled, like I’ve told her I’ll be missing Passover seder to celebrate Easter. “You missed it? How could you?” You were making out during Schindler’s List?
I’m defeated. “We decided to watch the end in bed. And we fell asleep.”
“Oh Jack! You missed a great one!”
I feel like my grandmother?
From September 24, 2006: Nostalgia comes early–a tribute to the 2005 White Sox
From May 8, 2005: Cubs vs. Sox…the painful existence…
From the ’93 Sox to the ’98 Cubs: A sports conversion
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