Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Best Postseason Win: Chicago White Sox

As I've mentioned in this space before, there is a lot of talk in baseball about tortured franchises. In that discussion, most of the publicity has gone to three places - Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago.

That's accurate to an extent - but part of the problem with it is that the Chicago attention is focused exclusively on one team. The second city's second team has a dreadful history in its own right, with a nearly nine-decade title drought that ended this century and included the only thrown World Series in baseball history (as far as we know, anyway).

In fact, the White Sox have only 29 postseason victories in their history. Not only is that the fewest of any original franchise, but there are also two expansion teams who've exceeded that total, with a few others coming up in the rearview mirror.

The total is low enough that it's not much of a shock to find only one White Sox victory among the top 99 playoff games of all time. Fortunately for South Side fans, it's a really good one.

2005 World Series Game 3: White Sox 7, Astros 5 (14). The Sox started Jon Garland, who was good for 200 respectable innings if you put a solid defense behind him. The Astros opposed him with Roy Oswalt, who was usually quite a bit better, for more innings, without nearly as much dependence on his fielders.

Oswalt worked around a Tadahito Iguchi single in the top of the first, and Houston grabbed the early lead on a Craig Biggio double and a Lance Berkman single in the bottom of the inning. The Sox had three baserunners in the top of the second, but not at the same time; Paul Konerko led off with a double, and AJ Pierzynski walked behind him, but Aaron Rowand lined into a double play before Joe Crede's walk, and Juan Uribe then fouled out to end the threat.

The next two half-innings passed quietly, and Houston struck again in the home third. Adam Everett led off with a single, and then... I'm not entirely sure what happened; the play by play records him as being caught stealing second, but a Uribe error allowing him to reach safely, except that he returned to first. So... pickoff, break for second, rundown, throwing error on the return throw to first? Something like that. Anyway, Oswalt sacrificed Everett to second and Biggio singled him home; one out later, singles by Berkman and Morgan Ensberg brought Biggio around for a 3-0 lead, and one inning later, Jason Lane would push it to 4-0 with a solo homer.

Just when it looked like the Astros would run away with the game, Chicago rallied hard in the top of the fifth. Crede led off with a homer to put them on the board, and Uribe followed with a single. One out later, Scott Podsednik, Iguchi, and Jermaine Dye all singled, with the latter two hits scoring a run apiece. After the second out, Pierzynski doubled to push across both the tying and go-ahead runs. A walk and a hit batter would load the bases before Oswalt finally retired Uribe to end the disaster of an inning.

Garland set Houston down in order in both the fifth and sixth; Oswalt worked around an error in the sixth, then was pulled after allowing a leadoff walk in the seventh and saw Russ Springer retire the next three White Sox. Garland walked Brad Ausmus to start the bottom of the inning, and Everett bunted him to second, but the next two Astros went down to leave Chicago still ahead by a run.

Dan Wheeler worked around a pinch single from Carl Everett and a pinch steal from Willie Harris in the top of the eighth, and Cliff Politte took the mound in the bottom of the inning. With two outs, Ensberg walked; Neal Cotts relieved and walked Mike Lamb, and the Sox turned to closer Dustin Hermanson. On a 1-2 pitch, Hermanson allowed a double to Lane, scoring Ensberg with the tying run and putting the go-ahead run at third. Ausmus then struck out to leave it there.

Wheeler plunked Konerko with one out in the ninth, and Mike Gallo and Brad Lidge recorded the second and third outs, respectively. With one out in the bottom of the inning, Chris Burke drew a walk from Orlando Hernandez, took second on an errant pickoff throw, and stole third. Biggio walked, and after the second out, Berkman was intentionally walked to load the bases. Ensberg then struck out, sending the game to extras.

Lidge threw a flawless tenth, and the Sox worked around a pair of walks (one by Hernandez, one by Luis Vizcaino). Podsednik led off the eleventh with a single against Chad Qualls and stole second, but Qualls retired three of the next four hitters, with a Konerko intentional walk the only exception. Bobby Jenks plunked Willy Taveras and walked Berkman in the bottom of the inning before stranding them both. The twelfth inning passed without a baserunner; in the thirteenth, both Qualls and Damaso Marte walked the leadoff man, but Qualls recovered with a double play, and Marte retired three Astros in a row to keep the game going.

Ezuquiel Astacio took over pitching duties in the top of the fourteenth; he allowed a single to Dye, but then coaxed a double play from Konerko. Up next was Geoff Blum, who had entered the game in a double switch an inning earlier, and who over the last two seasons had put up a batting line of .222/.281/.347 with a homer about every 50 plate appearances.

Naturally, Blum homered to break the tie. The Sox added another run on singles by Rowand and Crede, followed by walks to Uribe and Chris Widger. Marte remained in the game for the bottom of the inning and put runners on the corners before escaping to seal the victory.

This is quite a ballgame. The Astros held a large early lead, blew it, and then rallied to tie - and after tying the score, they went on to leave the potential winning run in scoring position in four consecutive innings before the White Sox sealed the game on a ridiculously unlikely home run. With the length of the game, the lead changes, and the blown chances on both sides, WPL (unadjusted for either length or series situation) rates it as the second-best postseason game ever played, and the best World Series game of all time.

There is very little honor in the honorable mention section here; the second-best playoff win for the White Sox grades out at #100 all time, and it came in the 1919 World Series, which they were in the process of losing on purpose, so I won't dignify it with a link. Numbers 3 and 4 were the first and second games of the '05 Series, which is very clearly the most exciting postseason sweep of all time; both games were excellent, but neither was anywhere close to this one, and it's hard for context to make an argument in their favor when their contexts were essentially identical.

Here's another part of the unpleasant history of the White Sox - did you know they almost moved to Tampa in the late '80s? In tribute to that bit of oddity, our next entry will cover the team that Tampa actually got.

No comments:

Post a Comment