- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 27, 2005

HOUSTON — They waited through decades of mediocrity, overshadowed by the more glamorous club on the swankier side of town, just to see their beloved team make it to late October.

They waited through the night Tuesday to watch their heroes win the longest game many of them ever had seen.

And then they waited last night through a tense pitchers’ duel that looked as if it, too, might go on until sunrise.

But when Bobby Jenks got Orlando Palmeiro to ground out to short at precisely 11:01 p.m. Central time, the words millions of baseball fans on the shores of Lake Michigan had longed to hear for 88 years finally were uttered.

Chicago has won the World Series.

The White Sox, a franchise seemingly doomed since the day eight players were convicted of throwing the 1919 series, are champions at long last, capping a four-game sweep last night with a sparkling 1-0 victory over the Houston Astros.

Jermaine Dye was the hero, bouncing a two-out single off closer Brad Lidge in the eighth inning to score Willie Harris. It was the only run the crowd of 42,936 at Minute Maid Park saw all evening.

And that was all the White Sox needed because their pitching staff was practically unhittable. No. 4 starter Freddy Garcia dazzled for seven innings, and Cliff Politte and Neil Cotts worked out of a jam in the eighth. Jenks did likewise in the ninth with some help from shortstop Juan Uribe, who went sprawling into the stands to snare Chris Burke’s pop foul for the second out and then narrowly gunned down Palmeiro on a slow roller up the middle to end the game.

Just like that, Chicago finds itself basking in the glow of the city’s first World Series title since 1917. The crosstown Cubs may have the larger fan base, the better ballpark and the more-storied history, but the White Sox now have the trophy.

They earned it with surprising ease, cruising through the postseason by winning 11 of 12 games, including their last eight. All four games in this series were tight, none more so than the 14-inning Game 3 thriller, but there’s little question Chicago was the superior club.

The Astros simply could not produce hits when they needed them most. They were 9-for-50 with runners in scoring position during the World Series, including 0-for-10 in Game 4.

It didn’t matter last night that Houston’s No. 4 starter, Brandon Backe, matched Garcia’s seven scoreless innings. It wasn’t good enough, and neither was Lidge, the formerly lights-out closer who suffered his third loss in his last four appearances.

The White Sox got to Lidge again last night in the eighth inning. Harris, pinch-hitting for Garcia, led off with a single to left, moved to second on Scott Podsednik’s sacrifice and to third on Carl Everett’s groundout. Dye, the series MVP, then got just enough wood on Lidge’s 1-1 slider, sending it up the middle to bring Harris home, eliciting cheers from the small gathering of Chicago faithful among the crowd.

The Astros and their fans knew coming in how difficult their task was. No team had ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win the World Series, and only three of the previous 21 teams in their position managed to avoid a sweep.

But, as they say in the insurance commercial, there was some good news: Only a year ago, the Boston Red Sox stunned the New York Yankees by winning four straight in the American League Championship Series to cap the greatest comeback in postseason history.

Astros players acknowledged that crossed their minds before they took the field last night.

“You know it can be done,” veteran Craig Biggio said. “And the attitude I think that the Red Sox had is similar to what we have in the clubhouse. We’re loose and upbeat, and even though we’re in a tough spot, we’re going to continue to go and play hard and give all we have.”

Easier said than done. Runs came at a premium throughout this postseason for Houston, and the trend continued in Game 4. Despite putting their leadoff man on in four of the first five innings, the Astros could not push a run across against Garcia.

Their best chance came in the sixth, when Garcia intentionally walked Mike Lamb to load the bases with two outs for Jason Lane. The Houston right fielder battled through a tense at-bat, fouling four pitches with two strikes, but swung mightily and missed at Garcia’s high 1-2 fastball to end the inning.

Backe was just as effective, if not more so. The 27-year-old right-hander gets overlooked because three of his teammates are named Clemens, Oswalt and Pettitte, but he pitched better than any of them have in this series last night.

With a devastating slider that consistently left the White Sox looking foolish, Backe matched Garcia zero-for-zero and at one point struck out five straight hitters.

His big escape act came in the seventh, when Aaron Rowand rapped a two-out single up the middle and Joe Crede followed with a drive off the wall in left. Rowand might have scored on the stand-up double, but he was deked by Houston’s Lance Berkman (even though there were two outs) and wound up only making it to third.

That left it to Uribe to drive in the game’s first run, and Chicago’s No. 8 hitter was no match for Backe, who fired one last slider to record his seventh strikeout of the night, add one more zero to the scoreboard and leave the Astros’ season in the hands of their bullpen.

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