Monday, October 24, 2005

Why they play the games

Let's say it's last Friday, and I'm on a World Series quiz show...

Host: For 500 points, which batter on the Houston bench would you least likely want hitting in a clutch situation?
Me: Jose Vizcaino!
Host: Ooooh, I'm sorry, turns out you're DEAD WRONG about that one; Vizcaino handled the bat like Tony Gwynn and drove in the tying runs in the top of the ninth against Bobby Jenks! That's okay though, you still have control of the board.
Me: Okay, I'll take "Sluggers" for 300.
Host: Which batter on the White Sox would you say is least likely to hit a home run to win the game when facing Brad Lidge?
Me: Oh, that's easy! Scott "No Homers" Podsednik!
Host: Wrong again, Podzilla jacked no doubter against Brad "Byung-Hyun" Lidge in the bottom of the ninth to win the game!
Me: What in the hell is going on out here!

God, I love baseball. Though I'm pulling for the White Sox, I couldn't help but have a glow about me when Vizcaino, whom I absolutely pilloried as he was walking up to the plate, served me a hot plate of crow, or foot, or whatever. Gotta love the masterful slide by Chris Burke as well. When he rounded third, I figured he would be out by a mile, and while the ball beat him, he made sure Pierzynski had nothing to tag.

Then came mighty Podzilla. Thing about him is that he hit 12 homers last year, so his 0 tally in this year's regular season was definitely odd. This may be a case of regression (or in this case progression) back to the mean. Still, what a clutch hit. He tattooed that triple last night, and tonight he hit the biggest homer of his life. The reaction of the White Sox dugout was priceless. "Podsednik???"

Is Houston's pitching staff in full-out crisis mode yet? Clemens is hurt and not likely to pitch again, their setup men keep letting guys get on base, and Brad Lidge is close to being a basket case. It happened in the worst possible way as well. Pujols jacked the slider, so Lidge smartly came back with the fastball tonight, only to run into Pods. "What have I got now?" Lidge must be wondering. I'm not sure what he's got. Certainly an extremely damaged psyche, especially since Houston had come back to tie it in the previous inning (very similar to NLCS Game 5). That's got to be the ultimate let down.

The irony of Podsednik's homer is that he was trumpeted as the arrival of "small ball" or "smart ball" or "Ozzie ball" in the offseason. But in this game, just like for most of the season, the White Sox relied on the basics--getting a few guys on base, and hitting home runs. Konerko is inching steadily closer to "scary monster" status; previously I thought he qualified only as "scary". Chicago will be nuts to let him go in the offseason. Unfortunately for Houston, they couldn't get guys on ahead of Ensberg's first contribution in the series. Berkman showed again that he's truly the man to be feared. Though he's not quite as good from the right side, he is still an excellent hitter who has turned into a doubles robot. Back in the cozy confines of Minute Maid, some of those doubles should turn into homers.

Second guessing this game would taint it a little bit for me, especially in light of the fact that one of my immediate second guesses (Vizcaino) ended up so well for Houston. These first two games encompassed everything I thought this series could be. Game 2 was much sloppier than Game 1, but exceeded it in drama. Not a bad way to open the series. Given Houston's penchant for drama at home, we could have a real classic on our hands.

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