- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2005

If the 101st World Series has taught us anything, it’s that anyone who leaves his seat or turns off the television prematurely most assuredly will be in for a rude awakening the following morning.

A series that was supposed to be all about great pitching instead has become a forum for late offensive heroics on both sides. You may wake up bleary-eyed from sleep deprivation, but you will be glad you stayed up for the hottest late-night show around.

And again, it was the Chicago White Sox providing the final bit of excitement and congregating in the middle of the diamond to celebrate another thrilling victory. Geoff Blum’s solo homer in the 14th inning spurred the White Sox to a 7-5 win over the Houston Astros and left a sellout throng of 42,848 at Minute Maid Park in stunned silence.

Blum, a former Astro who had entered the game the inning before, lined a 2-0 pitch from rookie Ezequiel Astacio over the fence down the right-field line to snap five tense innings of scoreless baseball. Astacio then surrendered two infield singles and two walks, the last of which pushed an insurance run across for Chicago.

White Sox left-hander Damaso Marte earned the victory with 12/3 scoreless inning of relief, with Game 2 starter Mark Buehrle of all people coming on to earn the save by retiring Adam Everett with the potential tying run on first.

There was no joy deep in the heart of Texas last night, only the harsh realization that the home team was beaten yet again by a tenacious White Sox club that has put itself on the precipice of history.

With last night’s victory, Chicago has taken a commanding 3-0 lead in this series and tonight will attempt to close out the franchise’s first championship in 88 years.

And there doesn’t appear to be anything the Astros can do about it.

Back home on the South Side, they will be holding their breaths all day in anticipation of tonight’s possible Game 4 clincher. The moment fans of this cursed ballclub have waited three generations to experience is all but guaranteed to happen now, barring a Boston Red Sox-like resurrection from the wounded Astros.

Here in Houston, they will be muttering to themselves about missed opportunities and a World Series that has slipped from their grasp.

They will be kicking themselves for last night’s game, one in which they blew an early 4-0 lead, then rallied to tie it in the eighth before ultimately losing it in extra innings.

Chicago’s bullpen gave the Astros a chance. Relievers Cliff Politte and Neil Cotts each issued two-out walks in the eighth, and Jason Lane raked a run-scoring double off Cotts just inside the third-base line to tie the game at 5-5 and reinvigorate what had become a downtrodden ballpark.

Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen handed the ball to veteran Orlando Hernandez for the ninth inning, and “El Duque” nearly became unglued. He walked Chris Burke to open the inning, then misfired a pickoff throw to allow him to reach second. On Hernandez’s next pitch, Burke took off and wound up swiping third without even drawing a throw.

Walks to both Craig Biggio and Lance Berkman (the latter one intentional after Willy Taveras had struck out) brought Morgan Ensberg to the plate with the bases loaded and a chance to win the game. But Hernandez rallied and struck out the Houston cleanup hitter on a wicked breaking ball to send the game into extra innings.

Both teams had chances to win it in the extra frames. The Astros put two men on in both the 10th and 11th but stranded them each time. The White Sox had two on in the 11th themselves only to fail to complete the rally.

So deeper into the night they went, with most of the sellout crowd sticking around until the end. The game wound up ending at 1:20 a.m. local time, some five hours and 41 minutes after it started, making it the longest game in World Series history by time.

It tied the longest game in innings played, matched only by the 14-inning Game 2 of the 1916 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and Brooklyn Dodgers.

The 17 combined pitchers used by the two managers were the most in Series history.

All of this, of course, was nothing new to the Astros and their fans, who less than three weeks ago were a part of the longest game in postseason history — an 18-inning thriller over the Atlanta Braves to clinch the National League Division Series.

By the time this one finally ended, it was hard to recall exactly how it got to this point.

The Astros entered the game down 2-0 in the series, but if ever a team still had to like its chances, this was it. Not only were they returning home to their quirky ballpark, where they went 53-26 this season, they also had their best pitcher on the mound.

Make no mistake, Roy Oswalt has been the ace of the Houston staff this month. In three previous postseason starts, he was a perfect 3-0 with a 2.11 ERA and a stopper’s mentality.

So imagine the shock around the park when the Astros’ sure thing departed one batter into the seventh, having squandered a four-run lead while leaving his teammates in a perilous situation.

Houston, though, wasn’t about to let Oswalt’s disastrous outing be its undoing.

From the moment the Astros took the field to a thunderous ovation, even with the stadium roof open against their wishes, they seemed committed to dictating this ballgame. Biggio led off the first with a double to the left-center gap and scored two batters later on Lance Berkman’s single to left, and the Astros were off and running.

They added two more runs in the third, then took a commanding 4-0 lead when Lane launched Jon Garland’s second pitch of the fourth inning just to the right of the yellow stripe in deep left-center for a homer.

Or was it? Replays showed the ball actually striking to the left of the line, or in play, the latest in a string of umpiring gaffes during this postseason.

Correct call or not, the Astros were cruising. With the dynamic Oswalt on the hill with a four-run lead at his disposal, what could possibly go wrong?

Just about everything.

With a stunning swiftness, Oswalt turned from dominant to pedestrian, and the White Sox turned from lifeless to unstoppable, batting around in a five-run fifth to take the lead.

Joe Crede led off with an opposite-field homer to right, his second of the series and fourth of the postseason. Just like that, Chicago was now off and running.

Juan Uribe singled, then Scott Podsednik. Tadahito Iguchi sent a ball back through the box to drive one run in, duplicated moments later by Jermaine Dye. Then the big blast: a drive to the hill in center field by A.J. Pierzynski to bring two more runs across and amazingly put the White Sox ahead, 5-4.

Clearly unnerved by the sudden change of events, Oswalt nearly lost it. He walked Aaron Rowand, then hit Crede in the ribs on a 1-2 pitch. The Chicago third baseman, believing the plunking was intentional, jawed at Oswalt as he trotted down to first, ratcheting up everyone’s emotions to new heights.

From the White Sox dugout, Carl Everett jumped up and started screaming something across the field. Astros manager Phil Garner took exception and started hollering back in that direction.

No warnings were issued, but the game — and this series — had taken on a whole new tone, a fact that only became more obvious as a long and dramatic evening played out at the park.

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