Sunday, October 23, 2005

Game 1

This is why I don't trust Roger Clemens. As good as he was early in the year, the 43 year old in him started to emerge in the second half of the season. He hasn't looked comfortable at all in the playoffs, and pitching in the cold weather tonight exacerbated the hamstring he tweaked earlier. Though he was unreliable in this game, he's certainly a better option than Wandy Rodriguez. Rodriguez pitched admirably in a tough situation, but he got into enough jams that showed he's nothing more than an average pitcher at this point in his career.

Chicago should have scored more than the one off of Rodriguez. Tadahito Iguchi continued his playoff slump, going 0 for 5 and leaving 4 men on base. Pierzynski also left on 4; Rowand and Everett each left on 3. Fortunately for Chicago, the bottom of the order picked them up, as it has done all year with Crede, Uribe, and Podsednik all getting key extra-base hits.

Contreras pitched an average game; he only gave up 6 hits and no walks, but 3 hit batsmen count as walks in my book. The interesting stat for me was that he only had 82 pitches in his 7 innings. This shows the Astros killed themselves with their impatience, particularly with runners in scoring position. When Willy Taveras hits two leadoff doubles, Houston must take advantage of it, simply because odds are Taveras won't hit that well for the rest of the series. Unfortunately for them, Morgan Ensberg came up small. Contreras wasn't exactly pounding the strike zone tonight, but the Astros made it easy work for him.

This game turned on the performances of three players: Joe Crede, Neal Cotts, and Bobby Jenks. Crede, as he has been wont to do in the postseason, hit a tie-breaking home run that galvanized the crowd. More importantly, he made three fine defensive plays at third base with runners in scoring position. I'm not sure if a lesser fielder would have made the plays or not, but if I'm Ozzie Guillen, I don't want to know. Crede's excellence in the field underscores the vital role defense plays on White Sox. Though Contreras has good stuff, he only struck out 2 batters tonight. Without guys like Crede, Uribe, Podsednik and Rowand, the White Sox starters would look a lot more pedestrian.

Cotts and Jenks put to rest the absurd notions of rust, as if none of the relief pitchers touched a baseball during their hiatus in game action. Yes, there's nothing like a real game, but in terms of the sheer physicality of it, throwing a baseball on the mound or in bullpen side sessions is the same. I thought that Guillen could have started the 8th with Cotts, but bringing him in to turn around Berkman was the right move, even if Berkman got a single. Frankly, I'd call that a wash, given that Berkman is the one man on the Astros who must be feared. As mentioned before, Ensberg was a dud. He smoked lefties this year, and while Cotts is no ordinary lefty, Ensberg must do better if the Astros are to compete.

Then there's Bobby Jenks. Brad Ausmus should get a gold medal for putting the ball in play, given the way Jenks humbled Jeff Bagwell. Perhaps in years past, a healthy Bags might have been able to launch one of those Jenks missiles onto the Dan Ryan, but not tonight. The kid is unhittable right now, and if I'm Brad Lidge, I study the tape. Jenks showed how to go about things. If you're able to throw 100 MPH on every pitch, then frickin do it. Don't waste time early in the count with breaking balls; wait until it's 0-2 before dropping the hammer. And oh, what a hammer. I was waiting for Jenks to prove himself to me, and he certainly did so tonight.

Still, Phil Garner could have at least given his team a better chance in the game had he brought in someone other than Russ Springer in the 8th. That move made no sense to me. Springer is 4th best in the pen, and with Jenks on the mound, an insurance run spells doom. Why not throw out your best reliever, or at least Dan Wheeler? In past series, both in this playoffs and 2004, Garner showed a propensity for unorthodox (ie, good) bullpen use. For whatever reason, he played it by "the book" tonight, and he lost. Though it seems silly to argue about since Jenks was so dominant, Houston would have at least had a better chance of victory had Garner sent out Wheeler.

In a way, Chicago should be glad they didn't blow the game open in the middle innings against Rodriguez, because the bullpen was able to test its mettle, and send a psychological message to the Astros--you ain't gonna hit us, and even if you do, we've got the leather to back it up.

Quick overview for tomorrow--Buehrle pitching means that Lamb's bat comes out of the lineup, putting Berkman at 1st base and Orlando Palmeiro in left field. Berkman also gets flipped around to the right side, where had significantly less power. The White Sox, on the other hand, generally benefit from facing Pettitte, a left hander. Though Pettitte's performance will be paramount, the Astros must find a way to score 4 or 5 runs in the game. Morgan Ensberg is going to feel the burden. He must be patient and not swing at Buehrle's nibbles. If he waits for the right pitch, he should be able to take care of it, as Buehrle is anything but overpowering. I think Chicago's key player has to be Iguchi. You can't count on Podsesnik to get on every night, and it's critical to have men on base for Dye and Konerko.

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