- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 23, 2005

CHICAGO — It had been five long months since Phil Garner had been able to write down the name “Bagwell” on his lineup card. So when the opportunity finally arose yesterday, in Game1 of the World Series, the Astros manager didn’t hesitate to go with the All-Star first baseman who has spent the last 15 seasons in Houston.

Playing in an American League park against the Chicago White Sox, Garner made veteran Jeff Bagwell as his designated hitter. It’s the first time Bagwell was in the Astros’ starting lineup since May3, when shoulder surgery nearly ended his season.

Garner couldn’t have been happier to pencil in the 37-year-old slugger in the No.6 hole.

“There’s no question there’s some sentimentality in here,” he said. “You guys heard me say all along that this organization is what it is because of what Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio have been. The reason our fan base is so big is because of what they brought to the organization.”

When Bagwell underwent his surgery earlier this summer, the prevailing belief was that he would be out for the season. He convinced Garner and others, though, that he could work his way back and contribute down the stretch of a pennant run. He was right.

Bagwell came off the disabled list in September and made 15 pinch-hit appearances. Unable to play the field, he still worked his way onto Houston’s postseason roster because of his value coming off the bench — and in the World Series as a DH.

His determination to return left quite an impression on his manager.

“There’s a phrase that we use around our clubhouse a lot: Never underestimate the heart of a champion,” Garner said. “So I wanted to make sure I didn’t underestimate Jeff’s heart, because he’s a tough guy. If anybody can do it, he can do it. Today is a tribute for his ability to persevere through pain and come back.”

Bagwell went 0-for-2.

Venezuelan connection

Ozzie Guillen couldn’t think of a better man to throw out the first pitch of the White Sox’s first World Series game since 1959 than the starting shortstop of that club: Luis Aparicio.

The 71-year-old Venezuelan native got a huge ovation from the crowd when he took the mound before last night’s game to toss out the ceremonial first ball. Behind the plate was fellow countryman Guillen.

Asked earlier in the day how special the moment would be, Guillen offered his trademark humor.

“Wow, I hope it makes it to the plate,” he said. “I hope it don’t bounce and hit me somewhere, I don’t have a cup.”

Guillen was presented yesterday with the Luis Aparicio Award, presented by the people of Venezuela for his accomplishments as a major-league manager.

Castilla on the air

Washington Nationals third baseman Vinny Castilla is at the World Series doing color commentary for Mexican television, but don’t take it as a sign he’s ready to retire.

Castilla, 38, who struggled through much of the season with tendinitis in his right knee, said he has been undergoing rehab and is feeling good.

“I’m ready to go,” he said.

It remains to be seen whether the Nationals have a place for Castilla on their 2006 roster. He’s due to make $3.2million in the final year of his contract, but with many club officials convinced 21-year-old Ryan Zimmerman is ready to play every day, he’s likely to be trade bait this winter.

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