Sox, Astros up in arms

Rotations are likely to play huge role

World Series Preview


CHICAGO -- There's no real mystery here, no secret ingredient or clandestine trick up the sleeves of managers Ozzie Guillen and Phil Garner.

The Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros both have base stealers atop the order, a couple of bashers in the middle, solid bullpens and highly-rated defenses.

But this is the World Series, with nightly nail-biters and no room for error.

What your father told you and his father said before him stands to ring true starting tonight at U.S. Cellular Field.

Pitching wins championships.

"That's the way this matches up. That's the way it looks," said the White Sox's Jon Garland, who is scheduled to pitch Game 3 in Houston on Tuesday night. "To me as a pitcher, I know you can't take anything for granted. If you don't make quality pitches, you can get hit around the park."

The White Sox staff had the fourth-lowest ERA (3.61) and opponents batting average (.249) in baseball this season. The Astros had the second-lowest ERA (3.51) and opponents average (.246). Both offenses are pedestrian, which makes the pitching that much more crucial here.

The Astros feature one of the best trios to ever start a World Series in likely Hall of Famer Roger Clemens, star lefty Andy Pettitte and 20-game winner Roy Oswalt.

"They have an unbelievable rotation over there," Garland said. "You can't relax one bit. Leading off with Roger Clemens, that's a statement in itself."

The White Sox starters aren't nearly as lauded. But they have been even more impressive this postseason. Four different pitchers, tonight's starter Jose Contreras, Mark Buehrle, Garland and Freddy Garcia all pitched complete games in the American League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Angels.

"Going into the playoffs, you look at the staff and you're like, `OK, they have a good staff, they've got a decent staff,'" Pettitte said. "Then you see what they did in that last series. I mean that's special ... That's just mind-boggling. These guys are just throwing the ball great."

Contreras and Clemens, former teammates with the New York Yankees, are expected to set the tone tonight. Because much of his career was spent in the American League, Clemens has faced most of Chicago's starting lineup.

All told, nine White Sox have hit a combined .294 with six homers against Clemens in 109 at-bats. First baseman Paul Konerko has two homers and five doubles against him, and third baseman Joe Crede has homered twice in five at-bats.

Conversely, only Astros reliever Dan Wheeler has faced Contreras in the past. He was hitless in that lone at-bat. Whether familiarity or lack thereof will have a bearing on tonight's outcome is anyone's guess.

"I'm not really sure, that's a great question," said Astros shortstop Adam Everett. "I think it just boils down to whoever is throwing the best that night."

What may be most amazing about this World Series matchup is that these two teams made it this far. The White Sox nearly had the biggest collapse in baseball history when they allowed a 15-game lead on Aug. 1 to dwindle to 1 1/2 before winning eight of their final 10 to clinch a playoff berth. They then swept the Boston Red Sox in three games and beat the Angels in four of five in the ALCS for their first World Series appearance since 1959.

"There will definitely be butterflies," said Chicago third baseman Joe Crede. "But as the game goes on, the more and more relaxed we'll get because you realize you have a job to do."

The Astros had an even rougher road to get to this point. They started the season 15-30 and were counted out of all postseason discussion - even by their own players.

"You are 15-30. You are two weeks out of .500. Your season is over," said Astros third baseman Morgan Ensberg. "No, you weren't thinking like, `Hey, we can pull this out guys.' No, You are 15-30 in the big leagues facing big league pitchers. Are you kidding me?"

Instead, they played .632 ball (74-43) the rest of the way and captured the NL wild card on the season's final day.

Now they are in the World Series for the first time in the franchise's 44-season history. It's the first for many players, such as veteran Craig Biggio, who started with the Astros in 1988.

"Just the opportunity to be here, it's kind of hard to explain," Biggio, 39, said. "I just think it's something as you get older you really appreciate every second of it."

In the next week, there will be goats and heroes, indelible memories and opportunities that slipped away. One team will finally win a World Series title.

In the end, the difference likely will come down to who gets the key hit in crunch time. And who pitches the best.

"I don't know what's going to happen in the next week," Garner said. "But I am excited to be here and looking forward to seeing how it plays out."

World Series Game 1: Astros@White Sox, 8 tonight, Chs. 45, 5


(Best of seven; *-if necessary)

Houston vs. Chicago White Sox

Today -- Houston (Clemens 13-8) @Chicago (Contreras 15-7), 8 p.m.

Tomorrow -- Houston (Pettitte 17-9) @Chicago (Buehrle 16-8), 8:00 p.m.

Tuesday -- Chicago (Garland 18-10) @Houston (Oswalt 20-12), 8:38 p.m.

Wednesday -- Chicago (Garcia 14-8) @Houston (Backe 10-8), 8:33 p.m.

*Thursday -- Chicago@Houston, 8:28 p.m.

*Next Saturday -- Houston@Chicago, 7:58 p.m.

*Oct. 30 -- Houston@Chicago, 8:13 p.m.

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