From Bear Down and Get Some Runs
A legendary weekend of Chicago Sports
PART III: From the bats of Paulie and Scotty Pods…victory in Game 2!
For Part II, click here
The Bears added a field goal in the third to make it 10-6, and when we went to the fourth the rain was still a-stormin’. I looked south, over the opposite scoreboard, and took a peak at the sky.
“Doesn’t look like a good day for baseball,” I said, and judging by the conversations in the stands, that was the general sentiment. But it was a great day for football, and with Thomas Jones leading the offense and the defense stuffing the Baltimore run and beating down on Wright, the Bears won the game convincingly…10-6. After a solid but limited 45 yards on nine carries in the first half, TJ took over in the second gaining 105 and carrying the team on his back in the fourth with 83 yards on 12 carries, including a spectacular 42-yard breakout dash down the right sideline that broke Baltimore and sent the fans home smiling and full of cheer. During the Bears-Eagles playoff game, I didn’t realize how cold it was until the final gun, and then it all caught up to me in a blast of brutal chill. This game was the opposite, with me shivering a bit all throughout until Orton sealed the win with a kneel down, at which point I felt energized and refreshed and oddly warm. Most importantly, I felt ready for baseball. Of course that ended up being the adrenaline; when I really down, I was pretty damn cold.
“How are your ears?” Dad asked as we headed out of the stadium.
“Not so bad,” I said, as I blew on my hands.
“How are your hands?” he asked.
“They’re alright,” I said, as I used them to cover my ears. “How are you feeling?”
He smiled, and then laughed. “I’m generally bone-chilled.”
Dad drove the three of us back to Meghan’s, dropping us off and then heading to pick up Mom. They headed over to a friends’ to watch Game 2, while Meghan, Don and I warmed up in their TV room. Bonnie was making some food, and promptly brought me in my cheeseburger just as I like it.
“No problem. How was the game?”
“Cold,” said Meghan.
“Wet,” said Don.
“Awesome,” said I.
If watching Game 1 was like watching the Super Bowl, everybody’s energy way up for every play, watching Game 2 was more like watching a golf match, everybody relaxing until The Big Moment. Of course that probably had a lot to do with the circumstances under which I watched both games: I was dry and warm and in a restaurant with lots of people for Game 1, wet and cold and in a house with three people for Game 2. But still, even without those circumstances, I just felt different. Game 2’s’ll do that to you.
Things began with the intriguing pitching matchup of Mark Buehrle and Andy Pettitte. Lefty against lefty, the old standard of the Sox rotation against the man who finally started doing this year what he was supposed to do last. The first run came in the top of the second when Morgan Ensberg delivered a solo shot for the Stros but the run did not seem like such a big deal because it came off the first pitch after the break. We felt as if Houston had simply started the game with a 1-0 lead.
Jason Lane followed Ensberg, and after he ripped a base hit that scooted past Uribe, FOX posted their Lunesta Trivia Question: Who was the last pitcher to start the All-Star Game & a World Series game in the same season?
“Clemens and Unit!” I yelled. “2001!”
That was exciting.
Then in the bottom of the second with Rowand and Pierzynski on base, The New Mr. October Joe Crede singled to right to score Rowand. That was followed by Juan Uribe blooping a ball to right, and like straight out of the “growing pains” montage in Major League, Lane, Biggio, and Berkman all closed in on the ball he missed. Biggio got under it, but he was backpeddling as he extended, and the ball bounced off the tip of his glove, dropping behind him as Pierzynski scored.
2-1 Sox…still, we weren’t getting excited. It seems like every game of this White Sox postseason has been an up and down affair, and so while the lead was a good sign, we were waiting it out.
Sure enough, with the bat of their star Berkman, Houston came back.
Willy Tavares tripled in the top of the third leading to a Berkman sac fly. Then in the fifth, a double from Ausmus and a single from Tavares put two on for Berkman, who ripped a two-bagger into deep left field. Both runners scored. The Astros led 4-2.
The Sox looked like they might challenge in their half of the fifth with Uribe slicing a lead-off double down the left field line. But Podsednik popped out leaving Uribe at second, and then Iguchi smacked a comebacker to Pettitte, who caught Uribe off the bag and ran him down at second. Two outs, and then it was Pettitte once more, this time picking off Iguchi at first for the inning’s final out. Now the wind was picking up. It was blowing hard and the rain was coming down and I couldn’t help but think of Sven, and how, along with being cold and wet, his team was now losing.
But these were the White Sox, the 2005 White Sox, a team that has benefited greatly from an acute sense of timing, and so it was in Game 2. After out-pitching Buehrle for six innings, Pettitte (6 IP, 8 hits, 2 earned runs, 4 K’s with no walks) left the game with a 4-2 lead, leaving reliever Dan Wheeler to take over. We were pretty quiet at this point; Meg and I were sitting on the couch in sweats and socks covered by a blanket, Don was nearly sleeping in his La-Z-Boy, but when the bottom of the seventh began with Pettitte in the dugout instead of on the mound, it seemed like a possible turning point. Crede fouled out, Uribe doubled, and then after Pods K’d, Iguchi waked, and then…
Dye had been clutch all year for the Sox, particularly in the postseason, and when he worked the count to 3-2, you just knew something good was going to happen. Visions of Dye roping a game-tying double into right center danced in my head, and after he fouled a pitch off, Wheeler fired one high and tight, and…it hit him.
“Oh man!” I said, sitting up quickly. Not exactly the heroic at-bat we envisioned.
“Got him right on the hand,” said Don, but then, as we watched the replay, we weren’t too sure. Neither were the announcers. They showed the replay, and it wasn’t clear, but we didn’t have time to watch it because the bases were now loaded and Paul Konerko was coming to the plate. I could hear Luke’s voice as he delivered one of his favorite Sox phrases: “Come on Konerko! Konerk one out of here!” He loves saying that, and I almost did, but I was still thinking about the possible phantom hit by pitch, and then a comment flashed through my head—“Well, what do you think? Grand slam time?”—but I kept it to myself because it just didn’t seem like a smart thing to say, but damn, did it feel right, and then, on the first pitch to Konerko…
BAM! GRAND SLAM! GRAND SLAM! GRAND SLAM! A no-doubt-abouter from the moment it left his bat, and Don shot out of his chair yelling and screaming and nearly tripping over the audoman in an effort to high-five us. Holy cow! Like Thomas Jones’ 42-yard dash—only much more important—Konerko’s blast sent everybody out of their seats, and while I can’t be sure, it probably made everybody at the Cell a little bit warmer, if only for a moment. 6-4 White Sox.
The inning ended, and while Cliff Politte was busy polishing off the Astros in a 1-2-3 eighth, all FOX could do was show the ball hitting Dye again and again, except the more everybody looked at it the more we became convinced that the ball didn’t hit Dye’s hand at all but rather the shaft of the bat, and quite obviously. Whoops. First Pierzynski’s phantom dropped third strike, and now Dye’s phantom HBP. Two That Play’s in one postseason.
The Sox didn’t score and so the rookie Jenks came in for the ninth to close it out.
First up for Houston: Jeff Bagwell, who singles into center. Jenks then strikes out Jason Lane with an 0-2 fast ball that “climbes the ladder,” so to speak. One out in the ninth. FOX goes to a dugout shot of Ozzie, and then they flash up a graphic that reads WORLD SERIES FACT: 11 OF LAST 12 TEAMS WITH 2-0 SERIES LEAD HAVE GONE ON TO WIN THE SERIES, and I can hear my dad scoffing at that one—“So what? What does that mean? That doesn’t mean anything. Just stupid.” Jenks walks Burke, missing high on 3-0, and Don Cooper comes out to the mound. Next up Ausmus, who tries to check but can’t hold out and so he chops one down to Konerko at first. Konerko steps on the bag, the runners advance, and now it’s second and third with two outs for the pinch-hitter and former Cub Jose Vizcaino, who enters the game for Adam Everett. Not good.
“This is not good,” I say. And then, out loud, yet really to myself because I’m pretty sure neither Don nor Meghan will know what I’m talking about, and yet I still deliver the sentence as a question: “Didn’t Vizcaino came through with that hit in the Series for the Yankees? 2000, I think. His kind of spot.”
The big, cold face of Jenks fills the screen, and Vizcaino ambles up to the plate. Jenks throws, and BAM!…the former Cub sprays a ball into left field. Bagwell scores easily, and as Burke rounds third we stand, anticipating the throw to the plate, and Pods plays the ball off one bounce and fires home. Crede skips out of the way, Burke charges, Pierzynski sets up to field the throw, but the throw is wide to the first base side and as A.J. turns, grabs it, and swings back around to his left to make a play on Burke, the Astros’ rookie slides in beautifully and touches the plate with his left hand just before Pierzynski applies the tag. Boom! Burke leaps up as the home plate umpire motions safe, the Houston rookie barking as he runs over to his dugout to greet his enthusiastic teammates.
“Damnit,” I say. “Vizcaino.”
6-6, two outs, Cotts replacing Jenks. Mike Lamb to bat, and as Cotts pitches to Lamb, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver talk about Vizcaino, who stands dutifully and patiently at second.
Buck: “The 37-year-old (dramatic pause), has played in the big leagues in three different decades.”
McCarver: “And harken back to the 2000 World Series in Game 1, when Jose Vizcaino singled to left field…almost in the identical spot to win the game for the New York Yankees…”
Lamb flies out to Podsednik. The inning ends.
“Uch,” Don snorts in disgust. “I can’t believe the kid blew that one.” He slaps his hands together in disappointment, knowing an opportunity was missed. “Damn.”
Brad Lidge enters to pitch for the Astros, and when I see him, I perk up once more. This guy was lights out for Houston the past two seasons, and until Game 5 of this season’s NLCS his postseason career had been stellar: 21 IP on thirteen appearances, (all coming in ’04 and ’05), with two earned runs allowed on 12 hits, 8 walks, and 31 strike outs. His ERA in 2004 was 1.90. This season it was 2.29. Lidge pitched in Games 2, 3, and 4 of the NLCS, recording saves in all three outings. I mean, this guy had been unhittable…and so it was with much confidence that the Astros handed him the ball to close out Game 5, the game that, if won, would send Houston to their first ever World Series. Lidge struck out the first two batters he faced, then allowed a single and a stolen base to David Eckstein. He walked Edmonds on the “unintentional” intentional walk, and then Albert Pujols.
After missing the first pitch, Pujols absolutely obliterated Lidge’s next, the stone-faced right hander sending it above the train tracks at the top of the wall at Minute Maid Park. I tell you: I’ve never heard a stadium fall completely silent after having reached a frenzic pitch just moments earlier as quickly as it happened in last Monday’s game. The Astros went down in order in their half of the ninth, and all of a sudden they found themselves going back to Busch Stadium for Game 6. What a nightmare…but it wasn’t. Remarkably, the Pujols home run did not put Houston in the kind of super-funk that the California Angels found themselves in after Dave Henderson’s blast in ’86; Houston came out roaring and won 5-1 behind Biggio (2-5, run/RBI) Ausmus (3-4, run), Lane (1-4, solo HR), and Oswalt (7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K). The Pujols home run could have landed Lidge on the short list with Mitch Williams, Donnie Moore, and Bob Stanley; instead, it was a road block, one that the Astros easily overcame…
…and yet, I felt immediately that the Pujols at-bat would be with him, somehow, in some capacity, that the baggage from that home run would work in the White Sox’ favor. McCarver chimes in to that effect, just to be sure that Houston fans have not yet forgotten: “The last time Brad Lidge pitched in a game was in Houston—the Pujols home run…met with silence as he left…and tonight he comes into the game, met with silence here in Chicago because of that remarkable hit by Jose Vizcaino.” Thanks Tim. A sound connection. (“So? What does that mean? There was silence…wow. That doesn’t mean anything. This guy’s an idiot.”)
Joe Buck is still fawning over Vizcaino, and then Crede sends a ball to Taveras. One out. The rain is falling. Podsednik (0-4 with a strikeout) comes to the plate. Lidge misses away, and then low, and the count is 2 and 0 on Podsednik.
“Come on Pods,” says Don, who is leaning way up in his chair.
Pods takes looking down the middle. Called strike one.
“Come on Pods.”
And then, in classic announcer style, Buck dribbles out a sentence that begins as a question and ends as a flat, monotone statement:
Buck: “Do you sir, buy into the theory…people said in regard to Lidge: ‘Woulda been nice to get Lidge in the game in Game 6 in St. Louis in the NLCS to get that taste out of his mouth, from the Pujols home run.’”
McCarver: (as Lidge delivers the 2-1 to Podsednik) “I don’t think that taste is there.”
“Yes! Yes! Yes! That’s going out! Yes! Ahhhhhhhh!”
Only one home run all season for Podsednik, and now he lashes out and ropes his second of the playoffs into the right field stands, and I’m not sure but I think I see Sven and his blue shorts leaping up and down with the rest of the crowd. Oh man! Sox win! Sox win! Sox win!
When Podsednik connects, Don catapults himself out of his chair, nearly flying into the TV before lunging at Meghan and me for high fives. And the Sox’ dugout clears, gathering around home, awaiting Podsednik, and Pods ducks under their hands to touch home and tip off the leaping-baseball-mob celebration. Jenks comes out to join them, rubbing Podsednik’s head in celebration; he’s off the hook. Lidge walks to the dugout; he has failed again. White Sox 2, Astros 0, heading to Houston.