10/23/05 12:36 AM ET
Moving toward history
It's only one game, but things are going in Chicago's direction
OK, everything has been headed in the same direction, but Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. If you go back to the end of the regular season, the Sox have won 13 of their last 14. You cannot ask for more. Well, you can ask for the 14th, but why get greedy when things are going this well?
Saturday night, the 2005 World Series opened at U.S. Cellular Field. That was good news right there, since the South Side had gone 46 years without hosting this event. But it did not appear that the table had been set for automatic White Sox success. The Houston Astros were opening with a living immortal, Roger Clemens, The Rocket, the most acclaimed and accomplished pitcher of this era.
Clemens had never lost a World Series start. In seven of them he was 3-0, but more impressive than that was his 1.90 ERA. You could not ask for a better starter for the Astros, unless, based on recent performance, you asked for Roy Oswalt. Still, this was The Rocket, a living legend, coming off in incredible statistical season.
And there was all this concern going around about the White Sox relievers. Oh, the starters had been world class in the ALCS, but didn't that mean that the bullpen guys would be suffering from a terminal case of rust?
But at the end, there was just the one postseason constant: The White Sox were winners, this time by a 5-3 score.
Clemens, rather than being immortal, was a 43-year-old man. He left after two innings with a strained left hamstring, the same injury that forced him to miss his last start of the regular season. The Rocket was obviously not The Rocket, giving up three runs and needing 54 pitches to get even this far.
Jose Contreras was not as overpowering as he had been earlier in the postseason, but, just as in Game 5 of the ALCS, he settled in after early difficulties and hung tough. He was aided immeasurably by some very nice defense.
A word must be said about third baseman Joe Crede, whose contributions have been overshadowed to some extent by the stalwart work of the starting pitchers and the slugging of Paul Konerko.
Crede has had huge hits in the postseason and he homered in the fourth inning of this game. But here his glove saved the game for Contreras and the White Sox. In a 4-3 game, in both the sixth and seventh innings, brilliant diving stabs by Crede kept the Astros off the board.
Joe Crede is clutch. Based on what you have seen the last two autumns, if you wanted a clutch third baseman in the postseason, who would you take, Joe Crede or Alex Rodriguez? It's not even remotely close. Crede is clutch, A-Rod is not. If Alex Rodriguez is worth $252 in today's inflated market, then Joe Crede is worth $253 million.
All right, nobody is worth $252 million. But Crede is like the consummate White Sox player. He is capable of being terrific. He is under-publicized. Under pressure this October, he has been a force. And outside the South Side of Chicago, he's a long way from being a household name. Maybe now, he'll pick up a few households.
"That's our game, we play defense every day, and this kid, Joe should be a Gold Glover," Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "We built this team around pitching and defense and Joe has been a big part of that."
Then we came to the "rusty" relievers. Let's be realistic. Can you imagine a postseason like this? You go through two rounds of the postseason, and your worst problem is that the relief pitchers have had too much rest? This is not a problem. This is a miracle.
Neal Cotts didn't look all that rusty Saturday night. He came on with a runner on second and nobody out. He gave up a single that advanced the tying run to third. But then he struck out Morgan Ensberg and Mike Lamb, the fourth and fifth hitters in the Houston lineup.
Cotts was the only Sox reliever who worked in the ALCS, but that was two-thirds of an inning way back in Game 1. Bobby Jenks, who hadn't pitched since the Division Series against the Red Sox, came in to face Jeff Bagwell. Apparently, the long layoff had not robbed Jenks of the ability to throw the three-digit fastball. Bagwell struck out, too.
By the time Jenks had disposed of the Astros in the ninth, the two allegedly "rusty" relievers had struck out five of the six batters they faced. Apparently, the rust was not quite fatal.
"I didn't consider it that way," said Astros manager Phil Garner, when asked about the rust. "They struck out Ensberg, who's a good hitter and they struck out Lamb, who's a good hitter, and that turns out to be the ballgame. ... Nobody hit Jenks."
Somebody asked the relievers if, after being off for so long, this was a "statement game" for them. What would the statement be? We still have a pulse? Gee, I hope they don't forget to pay us? You don't need a statement when those strikeouts are speaking so loudly on your behalf.
"I don't know if we made a 'statement,'" Cotts said. "We felt ready and we're prepared for whatever they need us for."
It is probably no more complex than that. The rust concern is going, going, gone.
The World Series started. The White Sox kept rolling. If you're still surprised in the least, you haven't been paying attention. It is way too early for celebrations, but the White Sox direction has been established for the last three weeks. They are moving toward history. They are moving toward making the 88-year drought history.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.