Sox, Astros: Been there ...

Houston well-versed in rebounding from adversity, but Chicago expert in seizing momentum

World Series

October 25, 2005|By DAN CONNOLLY | DAN CONNOLLY,SUN REPORTER

HOUSTON -- For all the unexpected magic of Sunday night's second game of the World Series, from a botched umpire call to an uplifting grand slam to a ninth-inning blown save to a dramatic, game-ending homer, one thing shouldn't be lost.

The Houston Astros and the Chicago White Sox have been in these how-will-we-respond situations previously this postseason.

It's not a case of textbook deja vu, but the Astros already have had to regroup from a crushing ninth-inning homer served up by normally reliable closer Brad Lidge this postseason. And the White Sox already have had a favorable blown call help trigger an inspirational victory.

In both situations - like now - the drama was immediately followed by a day off to let it all sink in, to ponder what's next.

After Lidge's collapse in the ninth inning of the National League Championship Series' fifth game, the Astros responded by bouncing back and beating the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 to advance to the World Series.

After the phantom dropped third strike in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series that gave Chicago new life, the White Sox seized the momentum and swept the next three road games from the Los Angeles Angels to earn their World Series berth.

Two opposite scenarios that produced the same result: quality teams proving their resilience at crunch time.

Now, as the White Sox and Astros ready for Game 3 tonight, something must give.

"We're not in the best of situations, obviously," said Houston manager Phil Garner. "But we feel pretty good."

The obvious guess is that the Astros, down 2-0, will finally fold up this season of comebacks. After all, their best pitcher, Roger Clemens, is nursing a hamstring strain and may not be able to start Game 5 if necessary. And Lidge, who blew just four saves all season, has to be shaken after allowing game-winning clouts in consecutive outings.

But these Astros are seemingly most comfortable with their backs pressed firmly against the wall of impossibility. They started 2005 losing 30 of their first 45 games. Astros third baseman Morgan Ensberg said the entire club was positive its playoff chances were history. And yet they played .632 baseball (74-43) for the remainder of the year and captured the wild-card berth on the season's last day.

Then they were counted out again after Game 5 of the NLCS, when Albert Pujols hit a two-out, three-run homer against Lidge that allowed the Cardinals to return the series to St. Louis.

"We've got a history of being able to do it. We're coming back to our ballpark, where we played pretty well," Garner said. "But bottom line is we need to step up and do it. Talking doesn't do a whole lot for it. We need to step up and play better."

On the flip side, the White Sox look to be bubble-wrapped in good fortune as the franchise attempts to win a World Series for the first time since 1917. They won Game 2 of the ALCS in part because A.J. Pierzynski safely made it to first base after striking out in the bottom of the ninth. Plate umpire Doug Eddings ruled Angels catcher Josh Paul trapped the ball, though TV replays appeared to show otherwise.

In Game 4 of the ALCS, Angels outfielder Steve Finley's bat hit Pierzynski's glove in an obvious case of catcher's interference. But the umpires again missed the call and Finley grounded into a rally-killing double play.

The trend continued Sunday night, when Chicago's Jermaine Dye appeared to foul off a full-count pitch in the bottom of the seventh. Home plate umpire Jeff Nelson, however, thought the ball hit Dye, and he was awarded first to load the bases. Paul Konerko hit a grand slam on the next pitch, giving the White Sox the lead in a game they eventually won on a ninth-inning homer by slap hitter Scott Podsednik.

They've been lucky and good.

"The things happened for us, it worked for us, we take advantage of that," said Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen. "But it [happens] so short and so quick, it's really tough for the umpire to make the calls."

Destiny's apparent darlings shouldn't be worry-free, however.

Sunday's ninth-inning collapse exposed Chicago's biggest weakness. Rookie closer Bobby Jenks is an imposing figure and possesses a 100-mph fastball. But he was rushed from Double-A to major league closer in a matter of months, and the inconsistency that haunts most young pitchers has been on display in this World Series.

Jenks delivered a perfect four-out save in Game 1 and then gave up a two-run single to blow the save Sunday night.

Although Podsednik's heroics saved Jenks from the indignity of a World Series loss, questions about how a rookie closer will perform in baseball's most intense spotlight linger. Guillen said he wouldn't lose faith in the 24-year-old.

"This morning when I went to the clubhouse, the first thing I did [was] put my uniform on and talked to him," Guillen said of Jenks. "And he was playing cards and I said, `Hey, we believe in you, be ready for the game, because you're going to be back to do it.'"

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