Monday, October 24, 2005

Leaving Something Behind in Chicago

It struck me on the plane coming back from Chicago tonight that there's one thing you can lose, and know exactly where you left it. Your voice. I lost mine in the upper deck at U.S. Cellular Field on Sunday night.

I was truly blessed to have been able to get tickets to Games 1 and 2 of the World Series (my lack of access to the Internet during my time in Chicago is why I haven't posted). It was a hopefully-not-once-in-a-lifetime-but-just-in-case-I-better-go type of experience. After going to both the games, I have a lifetime of World Series memories.

I've gone to the World Series before. It is unquestionably an exciting event - a baseball game played on the world's biggest stage. But there is nothing like seeing a World Series game in which your team is playing. It is a different level, an uber-experience. It is difficult to believe that you are in a stadium you have been many times before, watching a team you have watched so many times before, yet it means more than it ever has before. It is like an out-of-body experience.

I bought a program and kept score both games, taking notes when I felt like it, but mostly trying to drink in as much as I could.

Game 1

We arrived at the park very early - about 4:00 p.m. - and spent some time walking around the outside of the stadium. I bought one of the $40 World Series Sox hats, which struck me as an outrageous price. Of course, the next day I saw the same hat at Dick's Sporting Goods in Geneva for $33, so I do not feel too ripped off. We also walked around the tailgates, and man did some of that stuff smell good. I think I counted about 30-40 of those beanbag-and-board games, which clearly are the official tailgating pastime of White Sox tailgaters. We entered the park at about 5:15 or so, and watched the Sox take a little BP before wandering around the upper deck for a while. I had a beer and took in some of that wonderful corn-off-the-cob they sell. [Note to all ballpark food managers: corn off the cob is cheap and fast to make, you can sell it for $3 easy, and it tastes fantastic. Get it in your park next season. This means you.]

We took our seats again near game time. I thought there were a number of classy things about the opening ceremonies. It was great to see Luis Aparicio throw out the first pitch, and it was very nice that he was accompanied by some of the Sox's great players of the 50's and 60's. That was a nice touch. An even nicer touch was that, after the Sox brought out their reserves to stand along the first base line, they introduced Frank Thomas on his own. Big Frank got a huge ovation. Classy, all the way. [I hasten to add that there was no fly-over, which surprised me. It's always cool to see and hear F-15's or F-18's screaming over the stadium as the National Anthem ends. I guess the weather wasn't good enough.]

The first inning went off very much like how I had hoped. Contreras set down the Astros in order, and the Sox got on the board with Jermaine Dye's first inning solo home run. Dye's home run looked a little funny to me from my perch in the first-base-line upper deck. Having been spoiled to watch a lot of games from very close to the field, I've become relatively adept at discerning home run from fly ball. Dye's home run looked like a fly out off the bat, and thus surprised me when it easily cleared the fence and landed about halfway back in the bullpen. An excellent start.

But the Astros answered back, and kept answering back when the Sox scored. Lamb hit his bomb in the second, which looked gone the whole way but really just climbed over the wall. Thankfully, the Sox plated two in the second, highlighted by Aaron Rowand's absolutely beautiful hit-and-run play. Television does not do justic to hit-and-run plays. You need to see the second baseman break for second base only to stop in his tracks and try to go into emergency reverse ("I said all back full!"). My notes then ask the question, "what happened on Pierzynski's grounder in the second?" Carl Everett scored from third on a play where he stopped in his tracks. I was shocked to see him break for home - someone screwed up somewhere on that play, and I was shaking my head the rest of the inning. 3-1 Sox.

The Astro third was extremely frustrating. First, it was frustrating because Contreras could not start the double play on Everett's come-backer. I thought Uribe might be able to fire a laser beam over to first, but Everett beat it easily. That turned out to be a big play, as Biggio got a hit, Taveras (thankfully) sacrificed the runners over, and Berkman came up with two out. With a base open and the tying runners already on, I thought the Sox were nuts to pitch to Berkman. I assumed that when Ozzie went out to talk to Contreras before he hit, Ozzie was telling him not to throw him anything near the plate. Well, one pitch later, Berkman was standing on second after roping one off the right field wall. Damn. If there's any one person the Sox do not want to have beat them, it's Lance Berkman. Yet they let him beat them yesterday in the 3rd.

Game 1 was Clemens's start - it seems so long ago - and I recall being fired up that the Sox forced him to throw 25 pitches in the first inning and 27 pitches in the second. I thought to myself that, with 52 pitches through 2 innings, he'll never be able to last through 6 innings. Little did I know that Clemens had a bad hammy, and Wandy Rodriguez surprised me by starting the third. Rodriguez surprised me in two ways: (1) because he replaced Clemens so early; and (2) because I had no earthly idea who Wandy Rodriguez was.

Despite the fact that mighty Joe Crede homered to give the Sox the lead in the 4th, the 3rd through 8th innings were frustrating offensively. The Sox got Dye and Konerko on with one out in the 3rd and could do nothing. They got Uribe and Podsednik on in the 4th and could do nothing, as Iguchi hit into a double play. The same in the fifth, as the Sox loaded the bases with one out and Pierzynski hit into a double play. My notes say one thing - "major bummer on Pierzynski DP in the 5th." At that point, the game had all the earmarks of a game the Sox would lose because they weren't able to put the Astros away offensively.

Thankfully, the Sox rose to the task defensively. After Taveras doubled to start the 6th, Contreras really sucked it up to retire Berkman, Ensberg and Lamb and leave Taveras stranded at third. My notes say, "nice play by Crede - 6th" - a reference to his diving stop to rob Morgan Ensberg, and then "Big to get out of the 6th!"

The 8th inning really was Game 1. After my new enemy Willy Taveras doubled yet again to lead off the inning and Berkman made it 1st and 3rd with no-one out, the Sox bullpen did an outstanding job. After giving up the bullpen single, Cotts got two huge strikeouts on Ensberg and Lamb. [By the way, if you have a chance, check out the Nats Blog during the World Series for ERV Scoring. DM figures that Lamb's strikeout in the 8th inning was the biggest play for the Sox in the game (Berkman's double was the biggest for the Astros).]

Jenks came in with two out in the 8th. I have to say, I have not formed a definite opinion on Jenks. I saw his first few appearances for the Sox, but then got involved in my wedding and left for my honeymoon and missed the last month of the season or so. So I'd never seen him in person, and I was not sure whether to trust him.

Warming up, Jenks gave me no definitive reason to give him my trust. He could not, for the life of him, get a curve ball near the strike zone. My notes say "Jenks' curve looked terrible in warmups." Luckily, he did not need it. He blew away Bagwell - his first pitch flashed 99 on the scoreboard - and the last Astro threat was done.

The 8th inning insurance run provided by Pierzynski and Podsednik was terrific. That really shut the door on the Astros, and Jenks' two-strikeout 9th seemed like a formality more than anything.

The park was electric after the last out. There were constant chants of "Let's Go White Sox (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap)," and we nearly floated home from there. As a Game 1 of the World Series goes, it was terrific.

Note - the Crowd

During the game, I thought the crowd was as into the game as it could get in a Game 1. As I stated above, it was a little stunning to watch your team in the World Series, and you are not quite sure how to react; this is nothing surprising, I felt the same way at Game 1 last year as a mostly-neutral observer at Fenway Park. People stood up and cheered as early as the first inning when Contreras had two strikes on Berkman, and that's about as good as you can expect. As the Sox took and then lost leads, the energy predictably waxed and then waned. The 5th and 6th inning crap-outs sucked out a lot of energy, but Cotts and Jenks' 8th inning performance really juiced the crowd. There was high energy the rest of the way.

Game 2 in a follow up post.

Comments-[ comments.]
1) the Pierzynski/Everett play: Everett took a step toward the plate and the first baseman hesitated with the ball. As soon as the first baseman threw to second, Everett broke for home. The first baseman's delay allowed pierzynski to beat the throw for the 2nd out. Mental error.

2) You could tell Jenks' curve wasn't working from the upper deck along the firstbase line? Binoculars? Bionic eye?

3) Season ticket holder here who's seen Jenks throw a lot. Jenks is the real deal. The only questions I have is can he stay healthy and if he's _truly_ grown up.
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