Sox get sweet relief

Rookie closer Jenks looms large with four-out save to stop Astros

White Sox 5 Astros 3

World Series

Game 1

October 23, 2005|By DAN CONNOLLY | DAN CONNOLLY,SUN REPORTER

CHICAGO -- When Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen approached the mound in the top of the eighth inning last night, he didn't just tap his right arm to signal for a reliever.

He pointed above his head and then spread his arms wide - a little theatrics on a night of pageantry - to make his message clear. He wanted Bobby Jenks, his enormous rookie closer, to enter from the bullpen and seize the biggest baseball moment here in 46 years.

"That's the trademark now," Guillen said of his mound charades. "I don't want to embarrass the kid, but I want the big boy."

The move - with or without the flashy gestures - worked perfectly.

Jenks pitched out of a two-runner, two-out jam in the eighth and threw a perfect ninth to give the White Sox a 5-3 win over the Houston Astros in Game 1 of the World Series.

In half a season, Jenks, a hard-throwing, 6-foot-3, 270-pound right-hander, went from pitching in Double-A to facing potential Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell with the game on the line in the World Series.

"It's a completely different mind-set," said Jenks, 24. "You need a lot more control, especially over your emotions, in a situation like this."

Trailing 4-3 in the eighth, Houston's Willy Taveras smacked a leadoff double to chase starter (and eventual winner) Jose Contreras.

Left-handed reliever Neal Cotts immediately allowed a single to Lance Berkman to put the go-ahead run on base, but Cotts remained in the game and struck out righty Morgan Ensberg and lefty Mike Lamb.

"It meant a lot," said Cotts, 25, who was the only Chicago reliever to pitch in the American League Championship Series, which featured four complete games by White Sox starters.

"I faced righties and lefties, I think, probably equally as well this year. And so [Guillen] stuck with me and I was fortunate enough to get the strikeout."

That set up the Jenks-Bagwell matchup. Jenks hadn't pitched in 15 days, last appearing in Game 3 of the AL Division Series against the Boston Red Sox.

Bagwell, the 37-year-old former Most Valuable Player, came back from early-season shoulder surgery and hadn't had a multiple at-bat game since May 3.

They had never faced each other, so Jenks was trusting the scouting report that said Bagwell chases high fastballs when he is behind in the count. That was fortunate for Jenks, since he couldn't get anything else over the plate during his warm-ups. So he threw only fastballs - three hitting 100 mph - and struck out Bagwell.

The White Sox added an insurance run in the bottom of the inning on Scott Podsednik's RBI triple and then Jenks retired all three batters in the ninth for a four-out save.

"Nobody hit Jenks," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "It wasn't on Jeff's shoulders. I thought he swung the bat pretty well."

This game was advertised as a pitchers' duel between likely Hall of Famer Roger Clemens and Chicago's second-half ace, Contreras.

Instead, the two barely faced each other - and when they did, the results weren't pretty.

Clemens labored for two innings before leaving with a left hamstring strain, something that has bothered him since he tweaked it in a start Sept. 3. Clemens was listed as day-to-day, so it is unknown whether the 43-year-old star will pitch Game 5 if necessary.

Leading up to last night's game, Garner and Clemens both said that he wasn't pitching with pain. That changed in the cool Chicago air.

"They gave me some medication and I'm going to treat it," Clemens said. "That's all I can tell you from there."

Clemens had to throw 54 pitches to record six outs - his shortest start since he lasted one inning June 14, 2000. It was his shortest postseason start since plate umpire Terry Cooney ejected him for arguing in the second inning of Game 4 of the ALCS on Oct. 10, 1990, when he was with the Red Sox.

Clemens allowed three runs on four hits, including Jermaine Dye's homer in the first that gave Chicago a 1-0 lead. The Astros bounced back in the second when Lamb crushed a Contreras pitch 405 feet for a 1-1 tie.

The teams traded two-run innings before third baseman Joe Crede hit a bases-empty homer against eventual losing pitcher Wandy Rodriguez in the fourth.

Crede also made two great diving stabs in the field to help preserve the lead for Contreras, who allowed three runs and six hits in seven-plus innings.

Eventually, it was time to turn to Jenks, the huge kid with the baby face and lightning arm. Guillen said in the past that he has made mistakes calling in the wrong reliever, and didn't want to take a chance - especially in a big game.

So he made sure the bullpen - and all 41,206 fans in chilly U.S. Cellular Field - know the "big boy" was coming in with his hand gestures.

"I think it's pretty funny calling the big guy in," Jenks said. "I know he does a lot of things out of humor, so I know he doesn't mean anything by it. I'm taking the smile with it."

AT A GLANCE

Roger Clemens (below) is forced to leave after two innings because of a hamstring injury. He gave up three runs.

PITCHING

Winner: Jose Contreras

Loser: Wandy Rodriguez

Save: Bobby Jenks

GAME 2

Astros (AndyPettitte) @White Sox (Mark Buehrle), 8:09 tonight, chs. 45, 5, 1090 AM

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