I still don’t believe it’s really true. Truth is, I’m still adjusting to the Red Sox having won a championship. If the Cubs win next year, my fragile brain will not be able to handle it. I’m going to have to relocate to rural England and blog Liverpool football.
Congratulations to Kenny Williams, to Scott Reifert, to Jerry Reinsdorf. Forget everything bad I ever said about you, Jerry. Congratulations to Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye and Scott Podsednik and Tadahito Iguchi. Congrats to Carl Everett, reluctantly. Congratulations to the real playoff MVPs, the unflappable Sox rotation of Contreras, Buehrle, Garland, and Garcia. Congratulations to remarkable glove men Joe Crede, Aaron Rowand, and Juan Uribe. Congrats to role players Willie Harris, Geoff Blum, Timo Perez, and Chris Widger. Congrats to the bullpen: Bobby Jenks, Damaso Marte, Dustin Hermanson, Cliff Politte, Luis Vizcaino, and Neal Cotts (who my friends in Chicago Andra and Hannah think is very cute). Let’s not forget the ageless Orlando Hernandez, now. Or the guys who contributed during the regular season but couldn’t be fit on the playoff roster: Ross Gload, Brandon McCarthy, Joe Borchard, Jon Adkins. Special mention to Frank Thomas, who takes the Drew Bledsoe role of the superstar who watches from the bench as his team finally breaks through. (And I’d like to send a special shoutout to Shingo Takatsu, released at midseason but whom I’ve always really just liked.)
Congratulations to Ozzie Guillen. Rob Neyer might not like all the bunting, but how did the run that won the World Series score? Willie Harris got a pinch hit. Podsednik bunted him to second (on a tough pitch to bunt). Carl Everett hit behind the runner, moving Harris to third. Everett got him over, and Jermaine Dye got him in. Let’s not get carried away crediting Chicago’s "smart ball" prowess — the White Sox hit 18 home runs in the postseason to their opponents’ 9. But the fact is that the team found ways to win every kind of game there was (as they did in their interleague series against Colorado this year). Since Wednesday, September 28th Chicago is 16-1, including 11-1 in the playoffs. They might much resemble them, but the only other team to finish that strong is the 1999 Yankees.
Hey, here’s some trivia for you. Boston (1918) and Chicago AL (1917) are off the schneid as far as championships are concerned. Everybody and their mother (hi, Mom) knows the Cubs lead the world as far as World Series droughts go. Among teams who have won at least once before, who’s now second, third, and fourth? The answer to the last one is kind of surprising, I think. I’ll get to it in a bit.
So what about the Astros? Obviously, they were the inferior team in this year’s Series. Their "offense" during the last two games was so ugly that it kind of ruined the drama involved in four pretty close games. If not for injuries to the snakebitten Cardinals, this could have been a much more interesting Fall Classic. Of course, St. Louis got the last laugh. Albert Pujols’ home run, in a losing cause the most exciting moment of the 2005 postseason, extracted the last great start Roy Oswalt had in him and insured that Houston would have nothing left for the World Series. Will Houston be back in the mix next year? I don’t see where their offense is going to come from, and besides Oswalt there’s not much chance of their starting pitching being again as dominant. Chicago too will face stiff competition from Cleveland and the always competitive Twins. Anybody want to lay odds the Red Sox and Yankees won’t be back? Anaheim has talent aplenty and money to burn. Oakland’s rotation will be scalding next year. And there will be teams in both leagues — Milwaukee? Toronto? the Mets? Texas? Washington? — that will come out of nowhere.
What do the Rockies have to learn from Chicago? Well, you can build around a star first baseman (check), solid but not ludicrously expensive starters (in progress), a versatile bullpen (ditto), and stout defense (um…we’ll get back to you). Having a manager who emphasizes grinding skills is good, but hitting a ton of home runs is better. An offense-friendly home park is not a death sentence any more than a severe pitchers’ park guarantees success (hello, San Diego). Nothing but good things can come of trading your second-best RBI guy for a spray-hitting speedster and a middle reliever. Well, that last one might be more of an isolated coincidence than a recipe for success. Et tu, Carlos Lee?
So begins the offseason. I’m still coasting on the wave of playoff excitement now, but in a few days it’s going to hit like a bad hangover: no baseball that counts until April. Oh, man. On the other hand, the Rockies’ record as of now is 0-0. They’re on the same footing as everybody else. As of right now, anything is possible, and this should continue for at least six months and (say) three weeks. As much as I love October baseball, I might love March games even more. October is about how 29 teams aren’t quite good enough. Spring training is about 30 teams looking for reasons to believe. I’ll see you in Tucson. (Jeromy Burnitz, you need to sign with a Cactus League franchise, because I want to get your John Hancock on my home run ball.)
Hey, and your trivia answer: Cleveland (1948), San Francisco/New York (1954), Pittsburgh (1979). The rest: Philadelphia (80), St. Louis (82), Baltimore (83), Detroit (84), Kansas City (85), New York Mets (86), Los Angeles (88), Oakland (89), Cincinnati (90), Minnesota (91), Toronto (93), Bud Selig (94), Atlanta (95), New York Yankees (00), Arizona (01), Anaheim (02), Florida (03), Boston (04). And your 2005 World Champions are the Chicago White Sox. Yeah, saw that coming.
OK, I realize this is hardly the biggest story from last night, but is anyone going to tell the Fox broadcasters that the first "D" in "Podsednik" is silent? No? I guess it’s not the worst thing about this series ending in a sweep (and doesn’t everyone think it will, now, with Freddy Garcia facing Brandon Backe in Game 4?) that McCarver and Buck won’t get a chance to correct their mistake. Also, Buck has Paul Konerko’s name wrong as well. It’s called a media guide, Joe. Embrace it.
The Astros’ offensive totals, from the ninth inning through the fourteenth: eight walks, one hit batsman, one reached on error, zero hits. That’s just really, really bad. Orlando Hernandez, Damaso Marte, Bobby Jenks, and Luis Vizcaino were hardly dominant for the White Sox. The Houston batters were just wildly flailing, clearly feeling the pressure. By all means the story should have been Jason Lane bailing out Roy Oswalt, Brad Lidge earning redemption, and Chad Qualls being simply dominant. But instead, Geoff Blum — a former Astro, natch — is the hero and Ezequiel Astacio, who probably shouldn’t have even been on the roster, the goat. Not that the vast majority of Americans were still watching or for that matter had even tuned in in the first place.
Not that it will be of much consolation to Fox (who frankly, deserve worse, not only for Buck and McCarver but also for moving "Arrested Development" to Mondays and inexplicably continuing to air "American Dad"), but this will probably go down as the most dramatic four-game World Series of all time. I understand that’s kind of like being the world’s tallest midget, but for those few of you who have been hanging on every pitch, are you not entertained? The two team’s rather poor offenses and two differently entertaining managers have provided for close games with lots of twists and turns and weird decisions. How about Ozzie bringing in Mark Buehrle, ace closer? How about Garner’s vigorous chair toss? Geoff Blum, with all of one at-bat under his belt in the postseason until last night, was articulate and funny in his postgame press conference, admitting he was trying to be glib because he couldn’t think of a way to honestly express the things he was feeling after hitting a home run in extra innings in a World Series. Even the least-watched World Series of all time.
In Houston’s newspaper, Richard Justice and John Lopez concede defeat. ‘Round Chicago way, Jay Mariotti delicately congratulates Blum, noting how sharply Chicago GM Ken Williams was criticized for making him the team’s only trade deadline addition while avoiding mentioning the fact that it was he, Mariotti, who was the loudest critic. The Tribune is already concerned with returning the lineup for a title defense. And ESPN’s Chicago-based columnist Gene Wojciehowksi rips America a new one for tuning out the excellent drama of the series so far. I agree, Gene, but did you have to rip "Gilmore Girls?" I for one am very concerned about Rory and Lorelai’s estrangement.
Plenty of intrigue and plot twists in the World Series so far. Scott Podsednik? Only in America! Boy, did Konerko crush that grand slam. First pitch swinging, it was out before I even had a chance to pick something clever to scream at it. Unfortunately, I think to qualify as truly great a World Series has to go six or seven games. With Roger Clemens in all likelihood being done for the season, this one may not make it so far.
Ultimately the difference in the series hasn’t been starting pitching (Houston’s has been slightly better, assuming you count Clemens’ Game One replacement Wandy Rodriguez as a starter), It’s been the bullpens. While Bobby Jenks blew a save opportunity in Game Two, the unheralded Cliff Politte and Neal Cotts retired every guy they faced. For the Astros, Dan Wheeler’s control has been off, and Chad Qualls and Brad Lidge are trying to blow away guys and giving up colossal home runs. Although the scores have been slightly higher than expected, the series has thus far been the Strat-O-Matic fan’s paradise many of us expected. Phil Garner scored a coup with his decision to pinch-hit Jose Vizcaino in the top of the ninth. Ozzie Guillen had guys moving all game. His gambits didn’t always work. Carl Everett got caught stealing after he singled immediately following Konerko’s four-run home run. Tadahito Iguchi was picked off first once, and Jermaine Dye would have been if not for a bad throw. Sometimes the White Sox’s bunting and running and scrambling seems a little bit like sound and fury signifying nothing — I mean, this is a team that lives and dies by the home run. But it does rattle a pitcher a little. Was Lidge so worried about what might happen if Podsednik singled that he let Scotty homer?
Before Paul Konerko hit the grand slam, Jermaine Dye was awarded first base on a pitch that clearly hit his bat and not his hand or wrist. Some commentators are making a much bigger deal of this than I think is warranted. It was a three-ball count anyway, and it was a terrible pitch. Wheeler could just as well have walked him on the next pitch. Or maybe Dye might have grounded out to short, you never know. But can you imagine stopping the action dead in the middle of an at-bat for the umpires to go check the instant replay? That wouldn’t be fair to the pitcher or the batter. I do think that umpires need to be encouraged to consult with their colleagues more often, and that MLB should be forthright about when a mistake has clearly been made. But instant replay? Not in my baseball.
In the end, I decided to root for the White Sox. (I didn’t decide after they won the first game. I was wearing my old school black hat with “SOX” written in red-outlined letters for the pregame, I assure you.) I like the National League better, and I love Brad Lidge and Roy Oswalt, and I have nothing but respect for Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, but I just didn’t grow up going to Astros games the way I did White Sox games. Granted, more often than not I was rooting for the visiting team at all of those Sox games, but I guess I grew at least a small affection for the franchise. And my favorite player on the current team, Joe Crede, should have won the ALCS MVP and very well could be the World Series MVP if he keep playing like he did tonight.
The story going in was whether the Chicago bullpen would be functional having basically been given the Championship Series off; going out, the big question is Roger Clemens’ health. Andy Pettitte hasn’t looked invincible in the postseason so far like he used to be for the Yankees. Oswalt has been lights-out, but thanks to Albert Pujols he can only pitch twice in the World Series. Generally it’s better to have three dominant guys like Houston than four solid guys like Chicago has, but it doesn’t work if one or more of them isn’t healthy. Even though I’m pulling for the White Sox to win (which I think they will), I want to see Clemens pitch well in at least one more game – this could be his last World Series, and you always want your team to win against their opponents’ best guys.
As for the bullpen thing: well, I thought that was a bit overblown. It’s the nature of relief pitching that sometimes you’re going in every night and sometimes the phone just doesn’t ring. Ozzie and Don Cooper weren’t going to let their guys’ arms go dead. It doesn’t make any difference to your muscles whether you’re throwing in the bullpen or on the mound in a game. The best thing about Chicago not trying to go for four straight complete games in the World Series is Ozzie’s “send in the big guy” Bobby Jenks signal being showcased on the national stage. (Is it just me, or does Bobby Jenks look a great deal like a grown-up Bobby Hill?)
When I was little, I used to watch the World Series every year and dream about what it would be like for the Cubs to play in one. During college, I as much as assumed it inevitable that the A’s would be there sooner or later. This year, I am daydreaming about a World Series at Coors Field. It’s very beautiful in Colorado this time of year (as best I can tell, it’s more or less always beautiful in Colorado) and seeing the nearly always half-empty Comiskey Park full of Sox fans makes me wistful about what postseason Coors would be like. How many people there will remember the Aaron Miles/Danny Ardoin/Jamey Wright/Dustan Mohr era?
It’s funny how many smart baseball people were as good as convinced that the Astros were done for after Albert Pujols’ big homer in Game 5. Even with St. Louis having the final two games in their place, the Astros still only had to win one game while the Cards had to win two. Those are not good odds. Well, enter Roy Oswalt. He made Game 6 as anticlimactic as could be. Hardly any balls even made it out of the infield as the Astros manufactured all the runs they needed and the St. Louis offense again disappeared on the big stage. What’s with La Russa and the postseason, anyway?
No matter who wins the World Series between Houston and Chicago, history of some kind will be made. That’s a good situation. It’s also a meeting of the third and fourth largest cities in the United States. While these teams may not have the national appeal of the Yankees and Red Sox, Fox should have nothing complain about. Roger Clemens will face Jose Contreras in Game One on Saturday. How about that matchup? Will Ozzie Guillen attempt to play two series in a row almost entirely without using his bullpen? Will Jeff Bagwell be healthy enough to DH? Will either team be able to score any runs? Here it comes, folks. This is what they play the whole season for.
I had already posted my first musings on the possibility of a Houston-Chicago World Series when Albert Pujols simply obliterated a poor Brad Lidge slider to ruin the half-finished stories of baseball writers around the country. For all the drama, my friend Ali points out, we’re now in exactly the same place as we were at this time last year. Houston leads 3-2 with the series returning to Busch Stadium. What next? I felt certain the White Sox were going to win their series in five after going up 3-1. I was less sure in this case but I felt Andy Pettitte would get it done.Well, you know what happened? Pujols. Dude wasn’t about to let the postseason end without putting his stamp on things. And now, if you’ll pardon the expression, we have a whole new ballgame.
Back-to-back-to-back complete games for the White Sox in Games 2, 3, and 4 of the ALCS? Sure, why not? Never mind that this hasn’t happened for 32 years. In the modern era of pitching specialization, several things have to go right for such a feat to be pulled off. What makes Chicago uniquely friendly to complete games in the postseason is a four-man starting rotation for which manager Ozzie Gullen has equal confidence in each arm, and a bullpen which hardly inspires the same feeling. Bobby Jenks is certainly no Brad Lidge; at least, not yet, anyway. If the White Sox score as easily in the game today as they did yesterday (perhaps Paul Konerko will hit his third consecutive first-inning homer), there’s no reason to imagine why Jose Contreras couldn’t complete the feat and go nine himself. Wouldn’t that be something else?
As the Angels stand on the brink of extinction, there’s many things for their fans to lament. The Padres may have gotten crunched in the first round, but it’s hard to construct an argument for how they could have done any better. Anaheim on the other hand is missing both Bartolo Colon and the real Vladimir Guerrero. Vlad won’t likely suffer as much abuse as Alex Rodriguez has taken because of his easygoing image and the fact he’s not a Yankee, but Guerrero’s numbers for the postseason so far are .233/.303/.233 with one RBI and no extra-base hits.
In fact the Angels as a team are at .239/.264/.402. They weren’t a great-hitting club during the regular season (.270/.325/.409), but they weren’t that bad. Chicago by contrast is hitting pretty much the same as they did during the year — .269/.324/.462 during the playoffs, .263/.323/.425 on the season. Chone Figgins isn’t hitting and nor are Garret Anderson or Adam Kennedy. The offensive stars such as they are have been unlikely — Orlando Cabrera, Robb Quinlan, the Molina brothers.
So how do you make the Angels better for next year considering they must continue to contend with a rapidly maturing A’s team and a Rangers squad that will also have some money to spend? Anderson, Darin Erstad, and Steve Finley are all still under contract, so the obvious solution of finding a first baseman or corner outfielder who can bang is probably out for the time being. Dallas McPherson’s injury this season kept the team from really knowing what they have at third. Kennedy, Cabrera, and at least one Molina will return. In the rotation John Lackey (first-year arbitration) and Erwin Santana are pleasantly inexpensive options for their production (plus Francisco Rodriguez in the pen has yet to enter arbitration). Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar are under contract. Jarrod Washburn will be a free agent; with the pitching market as thin as it is he may go for more than the Angels are willing to spend on a fourth starter.
Will the Angels be back in the postseason next year? They’ll still have Guerrero, and they’ll still have a pretty good pitching staff top to bottom. Here’s a question for you: regardless of how the playoffs resolve themselves, between Chicago and Anaheim whom do you think is more likely to return to the postseason in 2006? The Angels have the A’s to deal with, but Chicago shares a division with the Indians, who many people considered to be the best team in baseball in the second half. After several seasons with very little change, it seems to me as if the playoff picture could look very different as soon as next year.
I didn’t see any of the Astros’ win yesterday (band practice), but what more is there to say about Roger Clemens anyhow? I hope he plays long enough to pitch to his son in a major league game. He’s certainly not going to have to retire on account of diminished skills, that’s for sure.
Finally, a Rockies rumor: Peter Gammons writes (ESPN Insider) that the botched Shoppach/Bigbie deal from the trade deadline could be revisited and expanded. The Rockies would give up Larry Bigbie and Ryan Shealy and get Kelly Shoppach, Adam Stern, and pitcher Abe Alvarez. Alvarez is the pitcher, legally blind in one eye, who wears his hat at a crooked angle to correct light balance. He’s not a sinkerballer or a swing-and-miss guy, and Colorado already has its skinny finesse lefty starter in Jeff Francis. I’d like to see Dan O’Dowd shop Shealy around a little more. Having him try to move to the outfield is a noble experiment, but the guy is a first baseman, no ifs ands or buts. If we can get him so he can play just enough left so that teams get the impression we don’t have to trade him, he should have more value than a C/C- starting prospect. Shealy has proven he can hit in the majors. He’d be a great fit for Boston, in fact, who desperately need a first basemen but aren’t averse to playing young guys. They just need to give up a little more than Alvarez. Kelly Shoppach remains a better option at catcher than anyone Colorado currently has on the roster; O’Dowd has made it clear that he still wants him. Shealy for Shoppach straight up might not be a bad deal. Certainly makes sense as Shealy plays Todd Helton’s position and Shoppach plays Jason Varitek’s.