From Bear Down and Get Some Runs
October 16, 2005: The White Sox to the World Series!
So here we are again, back in what should be the most exhilarating and wondrous place for a sports fan, and yet I find myself terrified and anxious. Illinois-UNC? Forget it. I was cool. Bulls-Wizards Game 6? No way. I was still pumped, and that’s considering that we’d just lost three straight, including the heartbreaker in Game 5. Cubs-Marlins 5 and 6? Nope. I was pumped up for those too. Even Game 7 had an excitement to it. Now, staring down Game 5 of the ALCS with the Sox up three games to one, I know this team isn’t too far from putting the city through 2003 all over again.
As usual, I am most nervous in situations where I should be most calm. Any time a Chicago baseball team is favored to win a series or key game, I get nervous, because we’ve made the mistake of putting ourselves in a sticky position in which we have to win, lest we choke.
And we all know how good we are at that.
Of course, there’s a part of me that is so amped right now it’s unbelievable. That’s the part of me looking at The Facts, facts like three straight complete games from Buehrle, Garland, and Garcia, Sox bats on fire, and of course Vlad Guerrero, walking nightmare.
But more exciting than The Facts are The Possibilities. Imagine: a Chicago team in the World Series! Nothing I’ve ever known as a sports fan approaches that, and even though my emotions are not fully engrossed in this team, my objective side is still damn-excited.
I care deeply about football, baseball, and basketball, and the World Series is the most historic and holy of any of those championships. The NBA Finals? Exciting and important because it’s a championship, but not over-the-top in the areas of myth and lore. The Super Bowl? Amazing, a true pinnacle, and obviously I’d rather see the Bears win the Super Bowl than seeing the Cubs (and certainly the Sox) win the World Series. But there’s so much spectacle, and it’s just one game, and since I was only four in January ’86, I can’t honestly say that I was more excited/anxious for that than I am this. When the Bears go back to the Super Bowl, I will be infinitely more excited. But for now, this tops January of ’86 simply because of my age.
I’ve experienced just about everything as a sports fan. Teams I’ve rooted for have won a Super Bowl and six NBA titles along with appearances in the Stanley Cup Finals and the Rose Bowl. The World Series? Never. Not once. So close and yet so, so, painfully, far.
So now that Chicago has a chance to go to the World Series, even if it is the other guys, I’m expected to remain calm and in control? How is that possible?
It will have to be possible, because until I see a final count that says the White Sox have won four games out of seven in the ALCS, and until I’ve confirmed that count with at least three friends or family members as well as three separate, unbiased media sources, and until I’ve slept, and then woken the next day and found the count still standing, I will not get excited. I refuse to revisit 2003…and even though it won’t be my team on the field today, the possibility of experiencing some sort of horrible flashback has left me rather cautious. You’d better believe I won’t be counting outs during this game.
But first, Bears-Vikings at noon. It’s an easy one. Vikes open with a field goal knocked home by our old friend Paul Edinger. 3-0 Minnesota in the second…but later in the quarter the Bears go 49 yards on eight plays and score on a three-yard TD from Orton to Dez Clark.
In the third, Peanut picks off a Daunte Culpepper pass and runs it back 55 yards to the three. Orton goes back to Clark for another score. 14-3 Bears. The Bears get two TDs from Jones in the fourth, the second one following a turnover on downs after Urlacher sacked Culpepper on fourth and nine for a loss of eleven. That is what they call a statement play, Soldier Field and the rest of us damn near exploding.
Urlacher’s sack has a similar feel to the Peanut Tillman/Randy Moss endzone pick, albeit to a lesser extent…but still, the sight of Urlacher dragging the monstrous Culpepper to the grass at Soldier Field gives us the same kind of thrill…that’s MY guy doing that…and if Tillman’s pick was symbolic of how the Bears snatched the game away from Minnesota late in 2003, then certainly Urlacher’s sack is symbolic of the Bears’ physical domination of Minnesota today. Bears win easily, 28-3, and much to my delight, all four of the previously listed X-factors went in our favor:
1. Kyle Orton—Solid game: completed 64% of his passes, put up an 84.9 passer rating, threw two scores with only one turnover.
2. The Thomas Jones/Cedric Benson backfield—The Bears focused in on TJ, giving him 23 of the team’s 26 running back carries. He picked up 89 yards and two touchdowns, and the Bears won. Point: Jones.
3. Charles Tillman and the Bears’ secondary—Peanut played a great game, making seven tackles to go along with the INT. Chris Harris had a pick, and the Bears held the Vikings’ four receivers to 117 yards and no scores on 11 receptions. Nice work.
4. The #2 receiver—Nothing special here for the receivers, though they made no bad plays, which is good. It’s not even a number two receiver that I want so much as a second down-field receiving option, and to that end today was a huge success with Dez Clark’s two scores.
And so it was on to baseball.
I call Sven’s house shortly before the game, but he’s on a White Hen run to grab more beer and frozen shrimp. Bill picks up.
“Hey Bill, it’s Jack.”
“Jaaaaaack. How ya doing buddy? Ready for our Sox to wrap this thing?” He’s very confident.
“I am indeed sir.”
“The big fella’s out at White Hen, grabbing some more beer and some frozen shrimp. You should come through.”
“What is that, three hours?”
“I’ll have him call you.”
And then a call to Luke, who can hardly hold the phone to his face. And then Meghan calls Don, and he answers with a loud, “Here we go…!”
And here we go.
Paul Byrd begins the game by striking out Podsednik. Byrd won Game 1, putting together Anaheim’s most complete starting pitching performance of the series, the only guy other than Washburn who seems to have equaled the White Sox’ starters.
His opponent is Jose Contreras, who came up two thirds of an inning shy of a complete game in their Game 1 matchup. Contreras has been wonderful in the postseason, and makes short work of the Angels in the first.
Shortly thereafter, the Sox get on the board. Rowand clocks a ground-rule double to right, Pierzynski lays down a bunt to move Rowand to third, and then Crede sacrifies to center to score Rowand. 1-0 Sox on the Ozzie-Ball maneuvering.
The rain beats down. The Angels tie in the bottom of the third off an Adam Kennedy single, but the Sox answer in the fifth: a Uribe double, a walk to Pods, and after Iguchi flies out Jermaine ropes a double to left center to score Uribe. 2-1 Sox, and out comes Paul Byrd with a nice hand from the crowd at Angels Stadium. Too bad. I was really starting to like Byrd; he seemed like a guy who could have battled Contreras all night.
Their starting pitcher gone, the Angels turn to their pen and their bats, and with Kennedy on first, the much-maligned Chone Figgins rips a ball to right on an off-balance swing that energizes the Angel crowd. The hit and run is on, and Kennedy is rounding second before the ball hits the ground, and as it skips off the grass and makes its way for the wall, a fan cloaked in red flips his hand over the rail and snatches the baseball.
A good souvenir…oh, and by the way, you just cost your team a run as Kennedy was rounding third on the reach. Nice job you horse’s ass. Kennedy stops at third, Figgins at second, and the crowd’s mood drops from euphoria to betrayal…
…though it takes a little while for the L.A. fans to dig what’s happening, as they never seem fully engaged in the ballgame. Mike Scioscia scoots out of the dugout to argue fan-interference…and, in what seems to us an unprecedented turn of events, fan-interference is granted. Wait a second! They actually do that? Kennedy takes home, the game is tied, and every Cubs fan watching wonders why we are never quite that lucky.
Figgins stays at second though, and when Orlando Cabrera hits a high chopper to Iguchi, Figgins takes third on the out to first. Then it’s the perpetually disinterested Anderson, who sends a deep, deep fly to right field. Figgins tags and scores easily. 3-2 Angels, and that’s where it would stay until the seventh…
Late in the game…late in the game…this has been the White Sox’ time: they outscored Boston 3-0 in the seventh inning or later, and so far in the ALCS they have outscored the Angels 4-0 after the seventh. Ozzie’s White Sox have been an intelligent, defensive-minded squad all season. That’s how they were built; their dominance during the final three innings of their postseason games has been confirmation of their strengths.
Sure enough, the New Mr. October slams the second Kelvim Escobar pitch he sees well over the fence to tie the game. HOT DAMN! What a hit by Crede! Sox fans in the house are seen choking rally monkeys, and on FOX’s let’s-hear-what’s-happening-in-the-dugout shot, Pierzynski lets out an exhuberant “Fuck yeah!” which is promptly ignored by Buck, McCarver, and guest Lou Piniella. (I love when that happens.) Crede is the first batter that Escobar has faced since Crede himself, when the Sox’ third baseman ended Game 2. Poor Escobar; just can’t catch a break.
On a whole, however, Anaheim’s pen has been pretty sharp. FOX flashes a stat comparing the teams’ relievers…
WHITE SOX: 2/3 innings, 7 pitches
ANGELS: 17 1/3 innings, 245 pitches
…and even though they’ve worked a slew of innings, the Crede home run is only the third earned run allowed by the Angels’ pen. Scot Shields has been the best of the lot; he just completed his fourth appearance in five games, and has given up only four hits in six innings, walking one, K-ing five, allowing no runs. Kudos to the Angels’ pen…but it’s not good enough when your starters are averaging just under five innings pitched per start.
Into the eighth. Don’t say it Jack…
Escobar strikes out Konerko and Everett to begin the eighth. And then: more madness. Rowand walks on a 3-2 breaking ball that misses away, and Pierzynski comes up. A.J. is greeted with boos from the Angels’ crowd, and he settles in to face Escobar, and now we’ve got the matchup that spawned the controversial game-changing play of Game 2. A pick-off move to first to hold Rowand, and then a brief conference on the mound with the pitching coach, and finally a pitch to Pierzynski, who looks at ball one outside.
The Angels’ crowd is anxious, but hopeful and supportive, and with Crede on deck and K-Rod warming up Escobar turns and fires to the plate, and Pierzynski bounces a comebacker at Escobar, and it bounces away from him and rolls towards the first base line, and now Escobar scoops it with his pitching hand and reaches to tag Pierzynski with his glove for the third out…whoa! Wait a second!
“Did you see that??!!!” I yell to no one, as Meghan is out of the room. I laugh, nearly dumbfounded. “He tagged him with his empty glove!”
Pierzynski is initially called out by the first base umpire, who does not have a good sightline, but A.J. and Tim Raines argue, and Ozzie hauls ass out of the dugout to do likewise, and the umpires confer and overturn the call. The Angels fans are pissed, feeling betrayed—Pierzynski again? I know what happened, but can’t they just give it to us as a makeup?—and Scioscia comes out to rage in vain. Poor Angels. You gotta feel for them.
No doubt about that one though, and there are runners at first and second with two outs. Rodriguez replaces Escobar and promptly stares down Crede. Ball, strike, strike, and then two more balls, and now the count is full, and it’s the Angels’ best reliever against the White Sox’ best clutch hitter of the postseason with two outs and two on in a tie ball game…
…and BAM! Crede bounces one, hard up the middle past Rodriguez. Kennedy dives and stops it, but he’s already in the outfield grass, and as he pops to his knee to throw home Rowand charges the plate and slides head first to score. YES! YES! 4-3 Sox in the eighth. More excited, audible cursing from Pierzynski, who is now standing at second, and once again it is the White Sox who prove that’s it’s not That Play that determines wins and losses, but rather what happens after That Play.
Rodriguez walks Uribe on four pitches to load the bases, and then in a tense at-bat that reaches a full count, K-Rod regains his control and K’s Podsednik to end the chaos.
Despite having already thrown 95 pitches, Contreras remains in the game and works a perfect, eight-pitch eighth, retiring Cabrera in two pitches, Anderson in five, Guerrero on one. Vlad has been particularly absent during this series; before his at-bat FOX flashes a comparison graph of Vlad’s ’05 postseason against Dave Winfield’s ’81 postseason with the Yankees:
WINFIELD ’81: .086, 0 HR, 3 RBI
VLAD ’05: .053, 0 HR, 1 RBI
Goo on both counts, and no sooner do they drop that stat does Vlad ground out to Iguchi. End of eight, Sox 4, Angels 3. Don’t say it, Jack. Don’t say it.
FOX goes to a shot of Reinsdorf in his box, and the two kids with him cheer madly. Joe Buck mentions that “his Chicago White Sox are three defensive outs away from their first pennant in 46 years.” That stuff usually freaks me out, but I’m actually pretty cool right now. I know it’s weird, and I’m kind of surprised about it, but this feels like a different team than we’re used to.
Iguchi walks to start the inning. Then he swipes second. Top nine, runner in scoring position, nobody out, Dye at the plate, and Jermaine walks on a ball high. Boy, K-Rod does not look like K-Rod. Now’s the time…
Konerko to the plate, the rain still coming. Ball low and away. 1-0. Ball up and in. 2-0. Crowd getting antsy. Rodriguez looks surprised, and now we have another mound visit, and Buck announces that the last time the White Sox put together four consecutive complete games was August of 1974. It feels so normal right now…
…and then, on a 2-0 pitch to Konerko, Paulie sends one over Vlad’s head that bangs off the wall. Iguchi scores, and it’s 5-3 Sox with runners at second and third. Oh man! We’re beating up their best pitcher! Then Rowand hits one to right, and it’s Vlad’s Hall of Fame arm against Jermaine’s less than swift feet…and he misses him! Guerrero makes an awful throw that Bengie Molina fields about four or five steps off the plate up the third base line allowing Dye to score easily. Molina fires to third, and Figgins makes the catch and the tag on the sliding Konerko to end the inning.
But the run counts, and now it’s 6-3 Sox going into the bottom of the ninth, with the Sox now…come on Jack, don’t say it. Don’t say it…
When the ninth begins, Jenks and Cotts are warming up, with Contreras back on the mound. FOX gives us another grammatically-limited POSTSEASON FACT: last time team had 4 consecutive complete games: 1956 W.S. (NYY)—5 consecutive (Games 3-7). I have a hunch, and I go online quickly to confirm, and sure enough I find that one of those complete games was Don Larsen’s perfect game in Game 5, still the only perfect game pitched in the postseason…Yogi Berra jumping into Larsen’s arms after catching the final out…and once again I am awed by the feeling of connection felt in baseball’s steep history.
First up for the Angels: Darin Erstad. Strike looking, strike swinging, foul…Sox fans wiping rain from their faces, waiting waiting…and now Erstad chops one high to Uribe, who sits on it and then makes a quick throw to Konerko. One out. Don’t say it.
Bengie Molina up, and as I try harder and harder to zone in on the at-bat and ignore the Big Picture, Joe Buck spells things out to a ridiculous level: “It has been 16,825 days since the White Sox last won a pennant. They clinched it in 1959, September 22nd”…(pause, as Contreras delivers strike one looking to Molina)…“against Cleveland.”
A strike from Contreras, and Molina fouls it away. The rain pounds down. 0-2 to Molina, and Contreras misses away for ball one. Another foul tip, and a shot of Garcia in the dugout. 1-2 to Molina, and he shoots one into center that looks for a moment like it will drop in front of Rowand, but the Sox’ ace of a defensive centerfielder has made the perfect jump on the ball. Two outs, and Buck says what I can’t: “In the air to center…Rowand is there…one out away for the White Sox.”
Once again, I’ve forgotten that Meghan is with me, and now I look over to see her squatting on the couch, her chin on her knees and her fingers squeezing the cushion beneath her.
“Oh my god,” she says. “The Sox are about to go to the World Series!”
Had this been the Cubs, I would have scolded her, but it’s not my team, and furthermore, this group feels different, and I look at Meghan, and I’m grateful that someone has the balls to say what I’ve been preventing myself from even thinking.
FOX cuts away to run clips from the Sox’ clincher on September 22, 1959, complete with “Go-Go White Sox!” playing on the soundtrack. My dad was nine…how could he have appreciated the fact that the Sox hadn’t won a pennant since 1919? How could he know that they wouldn’t win another until…
Not yet…Not yet…
…and now my head goes spinning back to Game 7, the Marlins celebrating on our field, and then to the pain and confusion of Game 6, and then back to Frank and Mags and Konerko being swept by Seattle, and the Cubs being swept by Atlanta, and then back to the White Sox losing in six to Toronto, and then Will Clark pounding us in ’89…my first real Cubs team…and then the Cubs in ’84 and the Sox in ’83, my brother’s life beginning with back-to-back Chicago baseball playoff seasons, and now my parents are getting married after eight years of on again/off again dating/friendship, and now they’re finishing college, and now the Mets have topped the Cubs and won the pennant and my mom is wondering if she’ll ever be able to watch this team again, and now my dad is sorting his baseball card collection, and now it’s Leo Durocher and Al Lopez, and now the Go-Go Sox are going to the World Series after a 40-year layoff, and surely it won’t be another 40 years before they get there again…
Don’t say it, Jack. Don’t say it…
…GROUND BALL TO FIRST! KONERKO STEPS ON THE BAG! SOX WIN! SOX WIN! SOX WIN! OH MY GOD THE WHITE SOX ARE GOING TO THE WORLD SERIES!
Meg and I are jumping up and down, her on the couch, me on the floor. There is a pure joy to this moment, and I feel a part of it, even though it is not a part of me. It’s the release; the ball is a very hard chopper behind the bag, and Konerko gloves it calmly, steps on first, and then the release as he smiles and puts his arms out in celebration, running over to embrace Contreras, who is also smiling big now after a brilliant straight-faced performance. Everyone breathes, everyone cheers. The city is happy.
For 26 outs, nobody wanted to take any chances jinxing the Sox, and so they kept their mouths shut and their excitement bottled, and then the grounder to Paulie, and everything is fine. Oh man! Oh my god! Holy shit! Holy cow! Don calls Meg, frantic. I call Luke and then Sven, both of whom eventually answer the phone screaming, but I don’t reach them immediately because they are on the phone with each other, and so I call my parents. Mom picks up:
“Wow.” And then: “How great was that?”
Indeed. The story of the ALCS was three-fold:
1. Four consecutive complete games for Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, Freddy Garcia, and Jose Contreras. Including Contreras’ loss in 8 1/3 innings in Game 1, the Sox starters went 4-1 in 44 1/3 innings with a sparkling 2.23 ERA and a crippling 1.79 opponants batting average.
2. The big bat of Joe Crede. Paul Konerko somehow won the ALCS MVP, and though he played well (.286, 2 HR, 7 RBI), the Sox’ best position player was easily Crede. He was the best batsman for either team, hitting .368 (next best average for a regular: Podsednik at .294 followed by Konerko and L.A.’s Kennedy at .286) with two home runs and seven knocked in. He also came through in the clutch, winning Game 2 with the walk-off double and producing three run-scoring AB’s in Game 5: the sac fly in the second to make it 1-0 Sox, the game-tying solo shot in the seventh, and the RBI single in the eighth that gave his team a lead they would never lose.
3. Ozzie Ball. Whatever it is, whatever it means, this team has played differently than have the power-Sox teams of recent years. The Sox outscored the Angels 7-0 in the first inning and 8-0 in the seventh inning and beyond. They also drew more walks (16 to 4), stole more bases (5 to 2), committed fewer errors (3 to 7), allowed zero unearned runs (6 for the Angels), and had an astounding edge in OBP (.315 to .196).
Put it all together and you get the White Sox going to the World Series.
And thar ya go.