The World Series and Da Bears, in: A legendary sports weekend, Part I

From Bear Down and Get Some Runs

A legendary weekend of Chicago Sports

PART I: Game 1 of the 2005 World Series

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Two years later, two of the five pitchers from the S.I. cover were squaring up in Game 1 of the World Series.

Meg and I spent this past weekend in Chicago, and although the driving over the past few weeks has become excessive, it was, as always, wonderful to be home. Of course the reason we went was obvious: Don had four tickets to Bears-Ravens. That’s a no-brainer…never turn down Bears tickets. Going home would also mean I would get to see Sven for the first time since January, and probably watch Game 1 with him. We scooped Wendy’s on our way out of Indy, and then headed out for what would end up a truly incredible weekend of Chicago sports.

Saturday C.J.’s. Always good. About midway in, I saw that NU was up 21-7 on 22nd ranked Michigan State. Northwestern has already blown out ranked Wisconsin and put a hurt on Purdue this season, and a win against the Spartans could mean a national ranking for our Wildcats.

We polished off lunch—as Nana would say, I was a part of the “Clean Plates Club”—and headed home to watch the rest of the Northwestern game.

When we got into the car, we turned on the radio, and to our delight the Cats had not let up, pushing their lead to 35-7.

“Holy hell!” I screamed. “Cats are rolling!”

Dad and I turned the game on at home, just as Basanez was handing off to Tyrell Sutton, who darted nine yards for another Northwestern score. We sat back and smiled. I phoned Sven.

“Hey man.”

He beats me to it. “You watching this Michigan game?”

“Hell no. I’m watching the Cats.”

Cats won. Turn on Michigan.”

The Wolverines were up 17-14 after a 52-yard TD pass to Steve Breaston.

“What are you doing for Game 1?” I asked him.

“Don’t know yet. My dad’s going, and my mom’s going to be out with friends.”

“What about your friend who you were going to the bar with?”

“He bailed.”

“Alright. I’m going somewhere on the South Side with Don, Meghan, and maybe one of Meg’s friends. You wanna go?”

“Perrrfect.”

“Alright.” I begin to coordinate. “Pick me up after this game’s over.”

“It’s too early.”

“Yeah?”

“Come over after the game, and we’ll hang out and watch high-definition football.”

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Brett Basanez was outstanding on this smooth autumn afternoon: 24-30, 331, 2/0, and 17 yards on five runs, with two more TDs to boot.

Michigan won in overtime 23-20, and I headed over to Sven’s. It was great to see him after eight months. We swapped stories from Europe/Road Trip, and he showed me his scrap book and photo album. He was working at a home for mentally retarded adults, and one page featured pictures of each one of the adults wearing Sven’s beat up dusty Sox hat.

Along with pictures were his monthly emails, hilarious reports of German culture—“In America, (I know this because Michael Jordan tells me), it’s not summer until you’ve had your Ball Park Frank, but apparently in Germany it’s not summer until you’ve had your asparagus.”—along with “quick hits” about whatever else was going on, filled with Sven’s classic dry humor and big laughs. My favorite, taken from the May report:

“The White Sox are off to the best record in baseball, which means that we can start thinking about the possibility of the Sox winning their first playoff series since 1917, the same year as the Bolshevik Revolution. The Soviet Union has also never won a playoff series.”

We had a couple of Berghoff Darks and watched some high-def college football that I did not care a lick about. We got a call from Meghan, who reported, via Don, that the South Side was locked down “like a war zone,” and thus they were thinking about going to an Evanston bar, probably Prairie Moon.

“Sven, you cool with Prairie Moon?”

“What’s the TV situation there?”

“They’ve got one.”

“Is it big?”

“It’s big…but it’s behind a pool table.”

“Well,” he said, gesturing to his TV, “no point downgrading.”

“True. Meg, Sven doesn’t want to downgrade. Plus, their TV is behind a pool table.”

“That’s true. Dad!…” she yelled, “Prairie Moon’s TV is behind a pool table…well, people will be playing pool…well that’s no good.”

“How about Champps?”

Sven nodded to himself, approving, eyes still fixed on the high-def.

“Baby?”

“Yeah, Champps.”

“We’ll meet you there at around six.”

We watched some more football, and then both used the bathroom, and then, before we left…

“One second,” Sven said, walking into his room. “I have to put on my shorts.”

“What shorts?”

Sven came out wearing a pair of blue basketball shorts. He stood proudly in front of me.

“These are my playoff shorts.”

“Ah,” I said in understanding, waiting for the rest of the story.

“I was wearing these for all three games of the Red Sox series, and then Will and I went to Game 1 against Anaheim, and I wore pants. Naturally, we lost, and I realized that it was probably because I wasn’t wearing my shorts. So I wore the shorts to Game 2, and I’ve been wearing them for every Sox playoff game since.”

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Sven, seen here in shorts. But not THE shorts.

“Beautiful.”

“Aren’t they?”

When Sven and I got to Champps, there was already a pretty good crowd. Meghan was sitting at a round table near the bar with her parents, her sister, and Swami. Don was wearing a Sox hat and Sox jersey, FOX 2 ironed onto the back for his favorite player, Nellie Fox. As they’d already had appetizers, Sven and I ordered a plate of mozzarella sticks to split.

“Are you going to have dinner?” the waitress asked.

“I will. I gotta pace myself. It’s a long game.”

We wait patiently for Game 1 to start, and unfortunately the game is on FOX, which means we have to slosh through lots of ridiculous intros, including a reenactment of Shoeless Joe Jackson being confronted by the “little boy” outside of the courthouse…you know, the one who supposedly said “Say it ain’t so, Joe. Say it ain’t so.” Later, FOX reminds us that the White Sox have not won a World Series since 1917, pounding that storyline into the ground like Pedro Cerrano. I would’ve gone mad if I didn’t have Sven to catch up with, because FOX is pretty much turning the World Series into “Super Bowl Lite”…or is this worse, since we’ve got at least four games? I can’t tell.

No matter, catching up with Sven and rapping baseball is a great time, and before I know it, Game 1 is underway.

Jose Contreras rolls through the top of the first, and then Clemens takes the mound for Houston. This guy is unbelievable. When he walked off the field in Game 6 of the 2003 World Series, everybody thought he would retire. And he did…only to return a few months later with the Astros. In his first season with Houston, the then 41-year-old went 18-4 with a 2.98 ERA (his lowest since 1998) to win his record seventh Cy Young…and then this season he went 13-8 with a sparkling 1.87 ERA, his lowest ever. To quote Blumberg: Reeeeee-diculous.

So yes, he’s very good at baseball, but he’s 43, making him the second oldest pitcher to ever start a World Series game. I know this because FOX tells me.

Joe Buck: “Roger is the second oldest pitcher ever to start a World Series game. Jack Quinn was 46 in 1929…with Philadelphia.”

Tim McCarver: “Two weeks after his start, the stock market crashed.”

Thank you, Tim.

But maybe there’s something to that, because two innings later, Clemens would be sitting in the dugout nursing a hamstring injury and a 3-1 defecit…

The scouting report on Clemens, according to FOX:

·       RARE COMBO: Power & Control

·       Mr. Splitty (which is, apparently, what McCarver calls Clemens’ split-fingered fastball)

·       As Good Now As Ever (which is what FOX posts, despite the fact that they have plenty of room to turn that last point into an actual grammatically-functional sentence.)

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The Rocket, seen here possibly throwing Mr. Splitty.

So it’s Contreras against Clemens, teammates with the Yankees in 2003, two guys who have defied expectations and emerged as (arguably) the best starting pitchers in their respective leagues…

…but the Sox jump on Clemens early, getting it going in their half of the first when Jermaine Dye smokes a solo shot over the right field wall. It’s a weird hit; Dye had already fought off eight Clemens pitches, and after yet another foul ball, Dye pushes this out to right. It doesn’t look like much from the swing, but I guess it plays differently live because the crowd at the Cell knows immediately, their voices pulsing suddenly in excitement. The 43-year-old Clemens turns, and that is that.

We’re celebrating the Dye home run when Ben walks in. He is greeted by high fives and fist pounds (me and Sven), hand shakes (Don and Bonnie), and hugs (Meghan, Swami).

“What just happened?” Ben asks.

“Solo home run Jermaine off Clemens one-nothing Sox,” says Sven in a single breath, eyes on the screen.

“Have you guys eaten?”

“I’m about to,” I say as I motion to the waitress.

“I’m ready,” I tell her. “Cheeseburger, medium, American cheese, and most important…” I look her right in the eye, “…no, veggies.”

“I got it.”

“None. No slaw, no pickle, nothing.”

“Hey, I’m the same way. I know what you’re saying.” And then, just to show me that she truly does know what I’m talking about, she gives me the close, tight, important eye-to-eye look. “Nothing.

“Exactly!” We shake hands, keeping the eye contact of two people who possess a Clear Understanding.

Houston ties the game on Mike Lamb’s bomb to center, and then the Sox untie it with A.J.’s fielder’s choice and Uribe’s fading double that floats majestically away from Houston’s outfielders. Pierzynski scores. 3-1 Sox.

(Meanwhile, FOX continues with their spectacularly dumb broadcast, dropping this gem during Rowand’s at-bat: OZZIE GUILLEN-1st White Sox manager to win postseason series since 1917. Really? You mean while the Sox were busy not winning a postseason series over the past 88 years, their managers also did not win one? You sure?)

Podsednik comes up with two outs and Uribe on second, and FOX tells us that the three runs given up by Clemens ties his World Series career high. And then they flash over to the Houston pen, where Wandy Rodriguez is warming up.

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Jose Contreras was outstanding in the 2005 postseason. Out-freaking-standing.

“Damn,” I say. “43 for a reason.”

But the Astros come right back in the third, and with two runners on Lance Berkman doubles to deep right to tie the game at three apiece. The inning ends, and FOX cuts to the bullpen cam, which follows Wandy Rodriguez towards the mound.

“And that’s it for Clemens,” I say.

Rodriguez gets out of a jam in the third, and then Crede homers to left-center in the fourth. 4-3 Sox, and that’s where we stand when, after a leadoff double for Taveras in the eighth, the Sout’siders finally go to their pen for the first time since Game 1 of the ALCS.

“Who are they bringing in?” I ask no one in particular.

“Cotts,” says Sven, who is staring so far into the screen that I’m surprised his eyes aren’t bulging out of his head Total Recall-style.

The lefthander Neal Cotts jogs out of the pen as Contreras exits to a standing ovation. Cotts had a terrific season, 4-0 with a 1.11 ERA in 60.1 innings of relief work, the kind of guy who turns up on every contending club. The left hander stares down the switch-hitting Berkman…BAM! Single to left, runners at the corners with nobody out for Morgan Ensberg. Awww nuts. The restaurant is certainly rocking, and yet everybody in the joint is focused. We lean in, a tidal wave of focused patrons eyeing Ensberg as he strides to the plate. If I wanted to right now, I could break a stool over Sven’s head and he wouldn’t shift his eyes.

Ensberg swings at strike one and everyone claps. Not Sven though. Sven’s not moving. He’s just staring deep into the screen, rubbing his hands together and bouncing his head slightly from side to side. Two balls, and the count is two and one. Ensberg takes a pitch that smacks the mitt for a strike…we pump our fists, the crowd at the Cell stands, and we’re all waiting, everyone waiting, and then Cotts hits, blowing the next pitch by Ensberg as he swings hopelessly away.

One out. Everyone breathes.

Next man up is Mike Lamb, the man who homered in the second. Lamb works the count even at two, and again we stand, anticipating, and Lamb goes down swinging, and we all scream. Sven is now clapping his hands, Let’s go Sox!, Let’s go Sox!, but before Cotts can face Jeff Bagwell to finish the inning, Ozzie comes out to make the most memorable bullpen call I’ve ever seen.

Normally a manager points to the pen or taps his arm to request the services of a reliever, but not Ozzie. Nope. As Guillen walks to the mound to take the ball from Cotts, he motions twice with his arms, first putting them out as wide as they can go like he’s playing an accordion, then extending his right arm up over his head as far as possible while bringing his left arm down, like a kid doing a gator-chomp.

Translation: I want the big guy.

Translation of that: I want Bobby Jenks.

Don starts yelling: “Ozzie wants the big guy!”

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The Big Guy.

As soon as we realize that Cotts is coming out, we give him a hand. As soon as we see Jenks shoot out of the pen, we holler in anticipation. And then, as soon as we put it all together and realize what Ozzie’s hand signals meant, we laugh, and smile, and lock that image up in our minds, where we will forever be able to locate it so that when our children ask us, “Why does everyone love Ozzie Guillen so much?” we’ll be able to give them an answer.

Jenks, the 24-year-old closer unemployed at season’s start, hustles to the mound while the fans at the Cell cheer him, laugh with Ozzie, and salute Cotts for a job well done. Jenks came up late in the year but ended as the White Sox closer, going 1-1 with six saves while compiling a 2.75 ERA. Chris Burke enters as a pinch-runner for Berkman, and with two outs in a one run game in the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 1 of the World Series, the rookie pitcher loads up and fires a pitch to the veteran Bagwell. He swings.

Strike one!

We stand, clapping, slapping the tables, screaming our lips off. Sven is now jumping, still focused, and I pat his back a few times for encouragement. Bagwell fouls off the second pitch. 0-2. Jenks throws a ball, and Burke steals second to move both runners into scoring position, but Jenks isn’t worried about Burke. He, like the rest of us, is focused solely on the batter.

Another pitch, another ball. Count is even. We are nervous. Can the rookie cut it? Will the borderline Hall of Famer and sentimental favorite Bagwell deliver here in Game 1? Another pitch, and this time Bagwell fouls it off. The count remains 2-2, but that one got the crowd and everyone in the restaurant jacked up. Now we’re all swaying, waiting for the pitch, waiting, waiting, and here it comes…

Bagwell pinch hits as Biggio awaits on deck

The old guy.

Bagwell swings and misses! Strike three! Inning over!

Jenks emphatically pumps his fist, swinging it upwards, and everybody screams. As I slap Sven on the back with my flat palm, Don begins shaking me by the shoulders, and Sven is high-fiving the White Sox fans at the table next to us. Sure, that only ended their half of the eighth, but it feels much more important, almost as if the Sox had just won a fierce Game 5 rubber match, with Game 6 now returning to Chicago.

We go to the bottom of the eighth, everybody charged up as the Sox grip their 4-3 lead, and coming to the plate is the emotional blood pump of the White Sox this postseason: the backstop, the catcher, the battery charger, A.J. Pierzynski. After working the count 2-0, A.J. singles to right to start the inning. Crede and Uribe fly out for back-to-back outs, but with two down and Podsednik up, Pierzynski steals second just before Pods ropes a two-out triple into center. Pierzynski scores easily, Pods slides into third, and when Iguchi flies out to end the inning, everybody at Champps applauds and then sits to compose themselves, mentally preparing for the ninth.

Jenks returns to the mound, Jason Lane comes to the plate, Sven stands up, and here we go. The big guy works fast, throwing a strike past the frozen Lane before fouling him off on pitch number two. I look over at Meghan, who is clapping her hands, yet since she’s on the other side of the table I had almost forgotten that she was here. The restaurant prepares for the next pitch, eyeing the screen, and bang! Jenks shoots a diving curve right past a swinging Lane. Strike three. One out.

Now it’s Sven who pumps his fist, high-fiving me and Ben and Don and a Sox fan to our left. Ben and I look at each other, and as we raise our fists to celebrate the punch out we duck beneath the noise and waving arms and say quietly to each other, “Go Cubs.” Brad Ausmus comes to the plate with one down, the Cell rocking. Like Lane, Ausmus looks at strike one, but instead of pushing Jenks, Ausmus swats quickly at the next pitch, hitting a roller to short. Uribe fields it, throws it, and hits Konerko’s welcoming glove. Two down.

Sven is now bouncing in place, his legs bending up and then back down, his head bobbing like Rain Man. Ben and I each give him a fist, and then one to each other, and another “Go Cubs,” just as a reminder to ourselves as to where we really stand.

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It was the bottom of the 9th inning of Game 1 of the World Series, and tension was high.

Now it’s Adam Everett, Houston’s rangy short stop. 5-3 White Sox. Top of the ninth. Game 1 of the World Series. Two outs. Nobody on. The rookie closer on the mound. The Cell swaying madly, the folks in the restaurant doing the same. Jenks digs in. Everett is determined. Like the first two batters, Everett looks at strike one. We cheer and clap and yell as the umpire motions the strike sign. Two out. Nobody on. Top of the ninth. 5-3 Sox. Sven beating on the small, round table which is near collapsing, and since we’ve been compiling drinks and dishes for going on three hours, everything on the table is bouncing just a little, a nice glass-jangling to go along with the clapping and yelling.

Jenks sets and fires, and Everett is late. He fouls it off: a quick strike two. Houston down to their final strike. Everybody cheering. Don gripping the table. Ready to burst. The Sox fans to our left clapping. All eyes square on the game, focused and still. But our hands and our feet and all other parts are pumped full of excitement, awaiting release. Two out, nobody on. Top 9. 5-3. Here comes the pitch…

BOOM! Everett swings and misses! Sox win!

Emphatic fist pumps from Jenks and Sven, who after high-fiving me, Ben, Don, and Meghan sets off around the table to slap hands with every single Sox fan to our left, to share this moment with as many Sox fans as possible. Don is doing the same on the other side, triumphantly pointing to the FOX 2 on his back. Sox win! Sox win! Sox win! Ben and I look at each other, and smile. “Go Cubs.” And another fist pound to cap it.

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