Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Game 3 - The Battle of the Bulge

In the late fall of 1944, the Germans pulled their best resources and troops away from the Eastern Front and attacked American forces through the Ardennes forest in a desperate attempt to halt the Allied advance. The Germans had initial success against some of the American forces, creating a deep pocket in the American lines. What followed was the Battle of the Bulge, the last German offensive in World War II. The Germans lost the battle, which essentially ended the German resistance in the West. By March, 1945, it was all over.

Game 3 reminded me of the Battle of the Bulge. [Note, I'm not equating the Astros with the Germans on any moral level. I think the Astros are some of the most honorable guys in the major leagues. In fact, I've rooted for the Astros in nearly every playoff series they have been in]. The Astros threw the best they had against the White Sox, Roy Oswalt in a must-win, desperate effort.

And the Astros did have great initial success as the Sox played extremely poorly early. Putting aside the 1st inning, in which Biggio and Berkman did some very nice hitting, the Astro runs in the bottom of the 3rd were gift wrapped by Juan Uribe. Not only did Uribe screw up by throwing the ball right into Adam Everett's gut when Everett was picked off, but he misplayed Everett's grounder in the first place. Had Everett been retired, that inning would have ended without any Astro runs.

In the third, like the Germans taking advantage of the poor weather in December 1944, the Astros were handed another run by virtue of the second base umpire ruling that Jason Lane's smash off the wall was a home run. There are a couple of things that bother me about this. First, the second base umpire did not get out deep enough in the outfield to make the call. With six umpires on the field, there is more than enough coverage at second base. Second, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, who had tried to blow up every controversy they could find this series, spent about two minutes talking about the blown home run call and then moved on. Where was the outrage, Joe? That not-a-home-run home run was the difference in the game in the 9th inning. Without it, the Sox go home 5-4 winners in 9 innings. I didn't dwell on the blown call during the game - I can accept it was a difficult call and move on - but Buck and McCarver's inconsistency in treating mistakes that help the White Sox and hurt the White Sox is aggravating.

On the other side, the top of the third inning was the most frustrating frame for me. The Sox made three outs on nine pitches. I wrote an e-mail to the White Sox e-mail list complaining about the quick outs, and noting that Oswalt could be had.

There is no question that Roy Oswalt was not Roy Oswalt last night. He did not throw his fastball very often or very well. He actually looked afraid of AJ Pierzynski (who was already 5 for 8 against him) when he faced AJ. Oswalt looked like he was out of gas. That said, the 5th inning was a terrific sequence of hitting by the Sox. Even with the short porch in left field, Joe Crede stayed on and went with an outside pitch and drove it for an opposite field home run. Uribe and Iguchi did some nice woodwork as well, each singling to center field (my comment after each, "that'll work"). Jermaine Dye battled Oswalt and dunked an RBI single himself. Disappointingly, Konerko just missed a cookie and flied out to left. Then AJ Pierzynski came through in the clutch, absolutely pummeling a ball into center field - a ball that would have been out of about 28 of the other MLB parks. Stunningly, like Game 2 of the ALCS, the Sox had a 5 run 5th inning to put them ahead 5-4.

You cannot say enough about how Jon Garland sucked it up after Lane's non-home run. He retired 9 in a row before his lead off walk to Ausmus in the 7th. Even then, Garland dug deep, getting Bagwell to pop out and then striking out Biggio on an absolutely perfect 94 mph fastball on the outside corner. I said out loud that it was the biggest pitch of Garland's career.

From that point on, the Sox played extremely poorly. They couldn't get Willie Harris home from second in the 8th inning with one out, as both Podsednik and Iguchi made weak outs. After Politte did a great job in getting Taveras and Berkman out, he walked Ensberg. I can forgive him for walking Ensberg, given that short porch in left.

However, Neil Cotts' walk to Mike Lamb was terrible. After Phil Garner gave the Sox a gift by leaving Lamb into face Cotts, Cotts simply couldn't throw a strike to an overmatched Lamb. Hermanson did his job, although he allowed Lane's double on a pretty good pitch. That run, to me, was on Cotts.

I've said it before, but El Duque does not seem comfortable on the mound until he has a couple of guys on base. He pitched poorly to allow Burke to get to third with nobody out. [This was the first point in the game that I knew the Sox were going to lose.] But he was a magician in striking out Taveras and Ensberg. That curveball is so tantalizing it is amazing. Hitters just cannot stop themselves from swinging at it.

The second time I thought the Sox were going to lose the game was when they went out 1-2-3 in the 10th inning. It was such a pathetic effort against Lidge that I was convinced it would be one of those games where the home team would lead off the 10th inning with a homerun. I was totally convinced that the Sox would lose when Luis Vizcaino came in, and even more convinced when Chris Burke came up with two out. He was the same guy who ended the 18 inning game against the Braves. But God bless Viz, he got out of the 10th inning.

The Sox failed again in the 11th after Podsednik got to second with nobody out. Iguchi failed, Dye failed, and Timo Perez failed to plate him against Chad Qualls. And they didn't look good doing it. Dye was clueless in striking out and Timo Perez - despite his clutch hitting history - looked like the .220 hitter that he is. Now I was really convinced that the Sox would lose.

You had to feel for Bobby Jenks as he came out to pitch in the 11th. He blew the lead in Game 2 and his psyche was at risk. He stupidly threw a curve ball on an 0-2 pitch to hit Taveras - even though the curve ball simply was not working for him during the series. But Jenks finally found himself - and his breaking ball - and popped out Ensberg and Palmeiro.

I was again convinced that the Sox would lose in the bottom of the 12th inning. They went meekly in the top of the 12th inning, and Brad Ausmus was set to hit in the bottom of the 12th. The only thing that I could think of was Carlton Fisk's home run in the 12th inning of Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. I mean, Ausmus is a catcher, isn't he? [Yes, this really is a trip through and microcosm of my neurotic, doomsaying life as a Sox fan.]

There was nothing more disheartening than the top of the 13th inning. After Widger does a great job working a walk off of Qualls, Podsednik miserably failed to execute a bunt, getting himself into a double play. Granted, it was an alert play by Ausmus, but Podsednik had 19 bunt hits this year - he has to get the bunt down. After Iguchi looked pathetic in striking out, I was so convinced the game was over that I told Mrs. SuperNoVa that she should go to bed - the White Sox were going to lose.

My feeling that the Sox would lose was confirmed when Marte entered the game and promptly walked Luis Vizcaino. But then, something marvelous happened - Marte started pitching like Damaso Marte of 2003. I think I slowly gained hope as Marte struck out Biggio and then Taveras.

What can you say about the 14th inning? It started out so poorly after slow-as-molasses Paul Konerko hit into a double play that, truth be told, he was the only person in the major leagues that such a double play could be turned against. Then Geoff Blum so unexpectedly drove one out of the ballpark. Blum's home run was shocking, strange and beautiful. I would have given Podsednik a better chance against Lidge than Blum against Astacio. Blum's liner improbably raced over the fence - it happened so fast I could hardly react. Then I started to think, the Sox might just win this game.

The Sox wouldn't let me go to bed so easy, though. Ausmus scared me in the bottom of the 14th inning because he was the same guy who tied the 18 inning game in the NLDS with a dramatic, two-out, two-strike home run against Kyle Farnsworth. [I was even more anxious after two strikes, if you can believe it]. Then Uribe, who played very poorly all night, booted Ausmus's grounder to bring the winning run to the plate.

I'm not sure how Mark Buehrle did it, but he did. After throwing about 100 pitches two days ago, he found enough to be able to come in and retire Adam Everett. Buehrle even had a 89-mph fastball, to boot. And once the ball fell into Uribe's glove for the final out, there it was, a three games to none lead in the World Series!

I disagree with the Cheat and the others who think that Game 3 was a great game. It was a sloppy game played poorly by teams that do not usually play poorly. There were managerial mistakes - having Lamb hit against Cotts, taking out Luis Vizcaino after just one inning [ed: The Cheat points out that Timo pinch hit for Viz in a good spot in the 11th]- and poor execution. By all rights, the game should have ended in 9 innings with a final score of 5-1 White Sox. Sox pitchers, who had only walked 13 hitters in 10 postseason games thus far, walked 12 hitters in 14 innings, including 10 walks in the 8th inning or later. But it was a White Sox winner, and I'll take it.

I'm not someone who usually gets overconfident, especially when it comes to the White Sox. But I think the Astros are cooked. Like the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge, the Astros put their best resources into Game 3 and the Sox beat them back. Sure, the Astros could just as easily be up 3-0 in this series themselves, but they are not. They have suffered 3 tough losses in which their starting pitchers, bullpen, and hitters have failed them. It is hard to see them coming back at this point, even if the Red Sox's comeback in the 2004 ALCS still puts fear in my heart.


* Geoff Blum was hitting in A.J. Pierzynski's spot in the lineup.

* Those four fingers held up by Sox players after Blum's home run were classic. I think it referred to the fact that Blum hits in Group 4 during batting practice. For the record, Group 4 (Blum, Widger, Harris and Ozuna) is now 2-4, with a home run, three RBI, two walks and two stolen bases in the playoffs.

* Is Geoff Blum Houston's Tito Landrum? It kind of feels like it.

* Teams up 3-0 in the World Series are an outstanding 18-3 in Game 4's.

Game 4 preview a bit later.

Comments-[ comments.]
I think it was a great game in that it was incredibly exciting and dramatic. Sloppy games can be the most fun and memorable sometimes.
taking out Luis Vizcaino after just one inning

Vizcaino's spot was due up with 2 outs and men on 1st and second in the top of the 11th. Timo Perez batted for him.
Good point, the Cheat. I was trying to figure out a point in which Ozzie screwed up to be even handed in bashing the managers. Looking at the box score, that's all I came up with. Oz was clearly right to pinch hit for Viz with Timo. I guess Ozzie might have screwed up by bunting with Podsednik in the 13th, given that he's probably the hottest hitter on the team right now.
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