2005 World Series
2005 will always be remembered as "The year of redemption in the Windy City." That was the season in which the Chicago White Sox shocked the baseball world after winning the American League pennant en route to their first World Series since 1959. The forty-six year gap between appearances was the longest in American League history and offered a rare opportunity for the long-overdue emancipation of "Shoeless Joe" Jackson and his infamous "Black Sox" — who were accused of throwing the Fall Classic in 1919. The "South Siders" had advanced to the postseason on three other occasions; in 1983 when they lost three of four games to the Baltimore Orioles, in 1993 when the Toronto Blue Jays beat them in six, and in 2000 when the Seattle Mariners dumped them in three. But their last World Championship title had come eighty-eight years earlier when they defeated the New York Giants in 1917.
Over the last few years, as baseball marched into the 21st Century, both parity and unpredictability became the norm, as many teams who were perennial no-shows in the postseason were now in the hunt for vindication. As a result, Chicago's milestone seemed even more fitting following another "Cinderella-story," known as the Boston Red Sox, who had broken their own eighty-plus year drought in the previous Fall Classic. Ending the regular season with an impressive 99-63 record, Chicago finished first in the American League Central, beat the defending World Champion Red Sox in the American League Divisional Series three-games-to-none, then moved on to defeat the Los Angeles Angels 4-1 in the American League Championship.
Surprisingly, Chicago's '05 roster consisted of a relatively "unknown team" that began the season with a revamped and unproven lineup. However, those who doubted the "new and improved" version of their team quickly turned confident, as at one point the Sox held an epic fifteen-game lead in the American League Central. Although a dry spell in August and September watched their advantage drop to a 1½ game lead over the Cleveland Indians, Chicago rose to the occasion down the stretch and finished the race with the best starting pitching in the American League, and a solid bullpen that came close to matching that success.
One of the key components in the rebirth of the Chicago White Sox was the passionate, yet humble managing style of skipper Ozzie Guillen. With a down-to-earth approach and total team (not individual) focus, Guillen was able to form a well-balanced group, as opposed to a band of egotistical, free agent superstars. Both a fan and media favorite, Ozzie was applauded for his simplicity and blue-collar approach to baseball. With an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude, the former White Sox legend let his players performance on the field do the talking for him.
After falling short of the postseason in their first forty-two years of existence, the Houston Astros finally weathered the storm, beating the perennial National League East division winners, the Atlanta Braves, as well as the National League's defending champion St. Louis Cardinals for a ticket to the World Series. Along the way, Houston and Atlanta set a Major League postseason record with a five hour and fifty minute marathon (sixty seconds longer than a Boston Red Sox versus New York Yankees playoff game from the previous season). It ended with a 7-6 game-winning (and Series ending) home run in the eighteenth inning courtesy of Houston's Chris Burke. Aces from both teams combined to throw a whopping five-hundred fifty-three pitches, (Astros: three-hundred, Braves: two-hundred fifty-three) as a forty-three year-old Roger Clemens came unexpectedly "out of the bullpen" for his first relief appearance since 1984. Usually a starter, "The Rocket" was forced into a closer's role and allowed one hit in three scoreless innings to earn the win.
Unlike their American League opponents, Houston boasted a roster of proven veterans and future Hall of Famers, who finished their season with an 89-73 record. Slugger Lance Berkman led the team at the plate with a .293 batting average, while teammate Morgan Ensberg posted thirty-six home runs and one-hundred ones runs batted in. On the mound, Roy Oswalt tallied twenty wins, and Clemens led the rotation with a 1.87 ERA and one-hundred eighty-five strikeouts. Things did not always appear promising though, as Houston began the season with a nightmarish list of problems, as nearly one third of their roster was hit with everything from knee surgery, to the flu, to pneumonia, to upper respiratory infections, that swept through the Astros' clubhouse. Amazingly, Houston somehow managed to recover from an abysmal start to go 74-43 for the rest of the year (a .632 winning percentage over four months). Repeating their performance from the 2004 season, they held on to win the National League Wild Card on the final day of the regular season.
Game 1 opened the Series in Chicago, thanks to the dominant performance of the American League in the All-Star Game. However, despite having the home field advantage, most analysts and so-called experts heavily favored the visiting Astros (in the opener) who started their perennial postseason ace, Roger Clemens. Much like the regular season though, futurists everywhere were proven wrong as the age defying and indestructible "Rocket" was forced to depart after a mere two innings, with a strained left hamstring. Taking advantage of the struggling legend, the White Sox had tagged him for three runs on four hits, including Jermaine Dye's first-inning opposite-field home run. It was the first White Sox home run in World Series competition since Ted Kluszewski's three-run shot in the fourth inning on Oct. 8, 1959. The historic blast was a sign of things to come. And although Houston's lineup was able to get some wood on the ball, Chicago's newest ace Jose Contreras and relievers Neal Cotts and Bobby Jenks remained strong from start to finish and were obviously not affected by the two-week layoff since their last postseason appearances.
The Astros did their own part to help the cause by stranding six base runners, at the worst possible times. Only Lance Berkman was able to take advantage of an open opportunity, when Contreras opted to pitch to him with runners on second and third and two outs in the third inning. Berkman doubled to right, tying the game at 3 all. With the game still tied in the fourth, Joe Crede delivered a one-out home run to left-center field off reliever Wandy Rodriguez. It was his third postseason home run and landed just out of the reach of Willy Taveras, providing the margin of victory. When it was over, the vindicated Contreras picked up his third postseason victory and his first career World Series win, allowing three runs on six hits over seven-plus innings. The 5-3 victory was sweetened, as statistically the winner of the first game of the World Series had gone on to win the Fall Classic sixty percent of the time. That was the case in seven of the last eight World Series beginning in 1997, with 2002 (Anaheim rebounding against San Francisco) being the lone exception.
The second game of the Series pitted another postseason veteran in an Astros uniform, named Andy Pettitte, against Chicago's Mark Buehrle. As with Game 1, a former Yankees' ace was favored, but this time he lived up to the hype. After posting six solid innings of work, Houston's younger "hometown hero" left the mound and his team in good position. The 4-2 advantage did not last long though, as the Astros bullpen stumbled, thanks to less-than-stellar performances by Dan Wheeler and Chad Qualls who combined to blow a two-run lead in the seventh inning due large in part to a Paul Konerko grand salami. Down but not out, Houston managed a comeback in the ninth inning, when Jeff Bagwell tagged Bobby Jenks for a single and Jose Vizcaino, pinch-hitting for Adam Everett, knocked a first-pitch single to left, scoring the infielder as well as Chris Burke (who had walked previously). With the game now tied 6-6, a euphoric enthusiasm spread across the "Astros-Nation," but with one out in the ninth inning, Scott Podsednik knocked a solo homer to center field off Brad Lidge to lift the Chicago White Sox to a 7-6 win.
Perhaps the most shocked of all was Lidge, who now had allowed two dramatic home runs in his last two outings, including a three-run blast courtesy of St. Louis' Albert Pujols (in Game 5 of the National League Championship), and this homer to Podsednik, who had tallied zero round-trippers during the regular season. The dramatic "movie-script" win put Chicago in a statistically superior position as thirty-eight out of the fifty teams to lead a Series 2-0 went on the win the title. Even more promising, eleven out of the last twelve (with the exception of the '96 Atlanta Braves) had also gone on to win the championship.
The biggest story leading up to Game 3 was not the predicted action that would take place on the field, but the controversy regarding the field itself. As the Series shifted to Houston, a heated debate arose over the Astros' newest stadium, Minute Maid Park, which featured one of the newly developed retractable roofs. Statistically, Houston had posted a better record while playing at home "indoors" and the question arose as to whether the Commissioner's Office would consider that an advantage. As the media fanned the flames of protest, the discussion focused on the Astros' 53-28 home record, which left them tied for the second-best in the Major Leagues. Eventually people remembered that a World Series was actually going on and their attention quickly returned to the game at hand. And what a game it was: a historic, record-setting, fourteen-inning (five hour and forty-one minute) marathon that tested the nerves of even the most casual of fans. Houston started off strong, posting a 4-0 lead, but the Sox came back even stronger with five runs of their own in the fifth inning. The Astros returned fire in the eighth to tie the game and both teams remained locked in a stalemate for the next six innings. As both franchises exhausted their lineup cards and their bullpens, an unlikely hero name Geoff Blum stepped up to the plate to face Houston's seventh pitcher, Ezequiel Astacio. With two outs Blum, who was batting for the first time in a World Series, sent a 2-0 pitch down the right field line and over the wall for a 7-5 triumph. It seemed only a matter of time, as the Astros had nothing left to offer. In fact, after Jason Lane's game-tying double with two out in the eighth inning, Houston never got another hit. From the ninth inning on, the Astros struck out eight times and walked eight times. The victory gave the White Sox an amazing 10-1 record in the postseason and left them just one more win away from a record that would match the 1999 Yankees' 11-1 run as the second-best playoff ledger in baseball history (first held by the 1976 Reds, who posted a perfect 7-0).
Game 4 literally belonged to the visitors, as the White Sox dominated the fledgling Astros from the first pitch to the last. No one in a Houston uniform could have possibly predicted that Jason Lane's RBI double in the eighth inning of Game 3 would be the last time they would score in 2005. Unbelievably, the Astros played the final fifteen innings of their magical season without plating a single run. Chicago on the other hand, clearly entered the contest confident of an impending sweep. Neither Houston starter Brandon Backe nor White Sox hurler Freddy Garcia allowed many scoring opportunities during their seven scoreless innings apiece. Backe gave up five hits and struck out seven, including five straight in the fourth and fifth innings. Garcia allowed four hits and walked three, one intentionally, while striking out seven. But the game's only run came in the eighth inning, with two outs, off Houston closer Brad Lidge. Pinch-hitter Willie Harris, who didn't even know if he would still be part of the organization at playoff time, opened the frame with a two-strike single to left and was sacrificed to second by Scott Podsednik. Pinch-hitter Carl Everett followed suit with a ground ball to second base that moved Harris to third. And a ground single up the middle from Jermaine Dye, the World Series Most Valuable Player, moved the White Sox one step closer to history. Relief men Cliff Politte and Neal Cotts combined to pitch out of a two-on, one-out jam in the eighth inning, by retiring Morgan Ensberg as well as pinch-hitter Jose Vizcaino and shortstop Juan Uribe nailed Vizcaino by one-half step with the tying run on third. Moments later, Uribe finished the job (and the season) by fielding pinch-hitter Orlando Palmeiro's broken-bat grounder up the middle for the final out.
Echoing the sentiments in Boston during the previous season's climax, generations of fans from all walks of life erupted in a jubilant celebration across the Windy City's south side. It was a win for the ages and the nineteenth four-game sweep in World Series history that gave the franchise its first World Championship title since 1917. In retrospect, Chicago's only regret of the 2005 season was that the clinching victories for the American League Central, the Division Series, the American League Championship Series and the World Series came while on the road in Detroit, Boston, Anaheim and Houston, respectively. Perhaps the proudest "White Sock" of them all was manager Ozzie Guillen who had played 1,743 games for the White Sox and never won a title. To date, only one man had appeared in more games for a team and then managed that team to a World Series title: Red Schoendienst for the Cardinals (1,795 games, World Series title in 1967).