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It Happened Again

I swear that what you're about to read is true; it happened in just the same way that Mike & I talked about a similar incident in Game 1 of the Red Sox/White Sox Division Series.

It involved the same player, but this time it had a bit more impact.

In the bottom of the ninth, score tied, I said to Mike and the guy sitting next to us, with whom we'd been discussing various aspects of the game:

Who's the least likely guy in all of baseball to hit a home run off Brad Lidge?

You see where this is going. Of course, the answer to that question is "Scott Podsednik", and four pitches later, Podsednik deposited his second home run of the postseason (after hitting zero homers during the regular season) into the right-center field seats to give the White Sox a pulsating 7-6 win over the Astros in game two of the World Series.

The win gave them a two-games-to-none lead, but as I said to Mike on the way back to the car: "the history of baseball is littered with teams that won the first two games of the World Series and lost the series anyway."

We shall see about that, but at this moment I can't think of a more exciting baseball game I've ever seen.

No, seriously. This one had everything, so let's begin at the beginning.

It rained all afternoon; on our way to the game, since I had been charged with the responsibility for picking up some World Series caps for co-workers, we decided to stop by Grandstand on 35th Street, figuring it would be less busy due to the weather.

No go. Still a thirty-minute wait, so we went toward the ballpark. None of the outside souvenir stands had any WS merchandise whatsoever; they had sold it all out on Saturday. Neither did the first couple of stands we found inside. Finally, in a corner of the upper deck, I found the last two caps with the WS logo and the team logos. It appears that MLB seriously underestimated the demand for merchandise this year. It kept raining and my friend Mike from California, who's not used to seeing this sort of weather, said, "By 7:30 they're going to call this game."

Consider the source here, remember: a guy who doesn't even see rain where he lives more than once or twice a year. That said, it did not look good when we arrived at the park, and so we spent the entire pregame time hanging out in the upper deck concourse (since we were limited there by our behind-3B upper deck tickets). But about half an hour before game time, the rain pulled out of the area, and the ground crew was ready, getting the field prepared for play in short order, and play began only seven minutes past the scheduled starting time.

Once that happened, you knew they weren't going to stop unless there had been a torrential downpour, and there wasn't. It didn't rain for the first hour or so, and then rained off and on for the rest of the night, steadily at times, misting at times. We were just in front of where seats in the back of the upper deck are covered by the roof, but since the wind was blowing from the north-northeast, so was the rain, and that kept a lot of it away from our area.

I had brought an umbrella, and they did allow umbrellas into the park, but no one used them. I only saw one or two umbrellas unfurled, and not wanting to be the one at whom everyone was yelling, "Put that damn thing down!", I simply stuck with the poncho I'd packed, and that kept everything -- the scorecard most importantly -- mostly dry.

The game was back-and-forth and pretty tense through the first five innings. Neither Mark Buehrle nor Andy Pettitte was totally sharp -- on a night that should have favored pitchers, both gave up several early-inning runs on hard-hit balls, and Pettitte would have given up more if not for some terrific defense by Astros 3B Morgan Ensberg. Some bad defense by 2B Craig Biggio -- who dropped an easy popup, although he turned it into a fielder's choice -- gave the White Sox a gift run in the bottom of the 2nd, briefly giving them a 2-1 lead before the Astros tied it up again in the next half-inning.

Pettitte, despite issuing no walks, somehow threw 98 pitches in six innings and thus, Phil Garner decided to go to his bullpen, which has been terrific most of the postseason, after Lance Berkman had given Houston a 4-2 lead with a fifth-inning double.

It wasn't. With two out and a runner on second, Tadahito Iguchi drew a walk off Dan Wheeler, who was quite wild despite getting those two outs. That may have been what fooled plate umpire Jeff Nelson into awarding Jermaine Dye first base on a hit-by-pitch, when replays showed that the ball likely hit Dye's bat for a foul ball. Oddly, there were no arguments after this play.

It was the next pitch that turned this from an ordinary game, tying up an ordinary World Series, into something spectacular.

Garner called on Chad Qualls, who before last night had thrown 9.1 postseason innings without allowing a run.

Paul Konerko, as you no doubt saw, hit Qualls' very first pitch for a grand slam.

What a mundane description, you're thinking. But it seemed mundane to Mike, who said to me that he'd watched Konerko stretch out his back and shoulders before the pitch, as if to say, "I'm going to hit a grand slam here; I do this all the time!"

It really is uncanny. I don't think I have ever seen a team like this one, that gets a key hit every single time it needs one, that has blown through the regular season and postseason like this -- the only recent comparison might be the 1998 Yankees, but they weren't winning games this way.

I have, as you know if you've read this blog for a while, attended over 2,000 major league baseball games.

I have never, ever, EVER heard a ballpark as loud as the Cell was last night after Konerko's grand slam. In fact, it might have been louder then than it was after Podsednik hit the game-winner.

How unlikely were both these homers? Qualls had allowed only seven homers all season, none since September 13, only one since August 4. Lidge allowed only five home runs all regular season, but has now given up two dramatic ninth-inning home runs in one week.

Just before this, of course, the only ex-Cub in the Series, Jose Vizcaino, had tied up the game on a two-out, two-strike single which nearly resulted in yet another dramatic play. Chris Burke scored the tying run, even though he was nearly thrown out at the plate -- and wouldn't that have been an amazing way to end a World Series game?

I was surprised that Vizcaino was the pinch-hitter; Orlando Palmeiro is Houston's #1 pinch-hitter, but Garner had to play for the tie, and had he used Palmeiro in that situation, he'd have had to bring Vizcaino in the game anyway for defense. The move worked because Vizcaino tied the game, but Palmeiro wound up sitting on the bench, not even getting into the game.

Meeting up with CA Mike (he sat separately from us again last night) after the game, he said people were jumping up and down on their seats, tossing babies in the air, after the game-winner.

He was kidding about the babies. I think.

To any giddy White Sox fans, I do remind you that there are plenty of teams that have won the first two games of the World Series only to lose (the 1981 Yankees won two straight, then lost four in a row to the Dodgers; the 1986 Red Sox won the first two ON THE ROAD and then lost, and you surely know about that one; those are only two recent examples).

But last night's game provided two more "What the f***?" moments, the two homers, and it would appear from my vantage point, having seen the Astros play many times this year, that they're pretty well spooked. Astros manager Phil Garner even said as much:

"They can't do anything wrong," said Astros manager Phil Garner, looking perplexed. "I kind of thought we turned things around, the way things were going."
Minute Maid Park is very, very well suited to the White Sox -- for all the small-ball talk, they really do rely quite a bit on the home run. It's certainly possible that Roy Oswalt, who's probably the hottest pitcher in baseball, may give Houston a win on Tuesday -- but as of now, I expect the White Sox to close it out without having to play another home game.

Signs seen: "Ozzie For President". Of what? Venezuela? He could probably be elected. And he's threatened to retire if the White Sox win. That's probably just Ozzie-speak, but seriously: if the White Sox do win, what does Ozzie do to top it?

"Hey Dad! Mom Took Me To The Game!" These two spent the entire game trying to get their sign on the scoreboard and/or TV, and failed. Part of that was because they were sitting too close to a couple of people waving a Polish flag and holding a sign reading "Pierzynski's Polish Posse".

I didn't see or hear any anti-Cub stuff at all, though the Sun-Times today printed a photo (you'll have to check out the paper for this; it's not online) of a sign in the lower deck that read "World Series Tickets $185; Cub Fans At Home In October: Priceless".

You know what, last night's game was amazing, perhaps the single greatest game I've ever attended, because of the way it went back and forth and ended, and its meaning as a World Series game. You'd think Sox fans could enjoy that in and of itself, without having to stoop to rubbing our noses in it, particularly since it appears that, barring a complete collapse, they're going to win this thing.

That's all I'm going to say about this.

Later today I'll have some photos from last night, as well as some more bleacher reconstruction photos taken on Saturday.