- The Washington Times - Monday, October 24, 2005

CHICAGO — The emotions ran the complete spectrum, from glee to devastation to absolute jubilation by night’s end.

Welcome to the South Side of Chicago, where the local ballclub’s roller coaster of a season continues right down to the wire and where a long-awaited World Series crown is now closer than these frozen, exhausted fans could ever have imagined.

With a dramatic 7-6 victory last night in Game 2, courtesy of Scott Podsednik’s ninth-inning home run off Houston Astros closer Brad Lidge, the White Sox put themselves within two wins of their first title in 88 years.

“That’s the way we’ve played all year,” manager Ozzie Guillen said. “We keep fighting. When somebody fails, someone picks them up.”

That statement only begins to adequately describe the events that transpired before 41,432 fans on a frigid, wet night at U.S. Cellular Field.

About an hour before Podsednik’s game-winning blast landed in the right-center field bleachers, Chicago looked content to let the Astros walk away with an easy victory. Houston led 4-2 in the seventh, and manager Phil Garner had handed the game over to his unflappable bullpen.

But the White Sox rallied to load the bases against Dan Wheeler, and with cleanup hitter Paul Konerko coming to the plate, Garner called upon right-hander Chad Qualls — who retired all 14 batters he faced in the National League Championship Series.

Qualls threw his very first pitch — a fastball — over the plate, and Konerko crushed it into the left-field stands for a game-changing grand slam. Their team now up 6-4, the Chicago fans rose to their feet and gave Konerko not one but two curtain calls.

“It’s hard to explain,” Konerko said of the feeling of circling the bases under such a situation. “It’s kind of an out-of-body experience.”

But hold the phone and call off the premature celebration. Here came the Astros in the ninth inning, down to their final out against White Sox closer Bobby Jenks but certainly not out. With runners on second and third, pinch-hitter Jose Vizcaino slapped a base hit to left. Jeff Bagwell scored easily, and Chris Burke’s left hand touched the plate a split second before catcher A.J. Pierzynski’s tag.

The game was now tied 6-6, and the air in the ballpark had been sucked out as everyone hunkered down for what they assumed would be extra innings.

And then, just like that, back to jubilation. With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Podsednik (a speedy leadoff man who did not hit a home run during the regular season) connected on Lidge’s 2-1 fastball and sent it flying into history.

“I recall standing out in left field after Paul did what he did and thinking, ‘What does that man feel like right now?’” said Podsednik, who hit the 14th walk-off homer in World Series history. “To go out and hit one out for a game-winning home run is pretty indescribable.”

It was the second crushing home run surrendered by Lidge in as many appearances, coming on the heels of Albert Pujols’ game-winning blast in Game 5 of the NLCS, and it raised questions about the mental state of a man widely considered baseball’s best closer all season.

“He’s my closer,” Garner said. “He’s our go-to guy. He’s going to be fine.”

But how will the Astros’ collective psyche be after this horrific loss? Garner’s shell-shocked club heads home to Texas down 0-2 in this series and desperately needing a win from NLCS MVP Roy Oswalt in Game 3 tomorrow to keep this series competitive.

“We’re certainly not in a good spot,” Garner said. “As badly as we played, we had a chance to win this ballgame. This is not the best situation, but it’s the one we’re in. We’ll bounce back. We’ll make a series out of this.”

Houston has gone 79-30 at Minute Maid Park since late last season. But none of those games came against this Chicago club, which seems to be growing more confident with each October victory.

The White Sox are now 9-1 in this postseason, thanks in large part to the kind of magic that once again spurred them to last night’s win.

On a night when the thermometer topped out at 45 degrees and the rain never stopped falling, the two teams busted out of the gates slugging. Houston’s Morgan Ensberg led off the second inning with a home run to left before Fox television had even come back from commercial.

The White Sox, though, pushed two runs of their own across in the bottom of the inning, thanks to a pair of bloopers that fell in short right field. With two on and one out, Game 1 hero Joe Crede cued a ball just down the right-field, bringing Aaron Rowand home and advancing Pierzynski to third.

Moments later, veteran Astros second baseman Craig Biggio dropped Juan Uribe’s pop-up. He managed to force Crede out at second, but Pierzynski easily scored on the botched play to put Chicago up 2-1.

The lead was short-lived. Speedy Astros rookie Willy Taveras tripled down the right-field line in the top of the third and trotted home on Lance Berkman’s subsequent sacrifice fly.

And when Berkman doubled in two more runs in the fifth to put the Astros ahead 4-2, starter Andy Pettitte dug in, went to work and tried to make sure that lead held up.

Pettitte did his part. If only Houston’s relievers did theirs.

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