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Unmatched Pair of Socks

Konerko's slam puts White Sox ahead, and after Astros rally to tie, Podsednik wins it with unlikely homer in ninth

October 24, 2005|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO — They sat, they stood, they fidgeted. They were soaked by rain and chilled by cold. They were human sacrifices at the altar of television, enduring conditions unfit for any baseball game, let alone a championship one.

They were the Chicago White Sox, and the fans who cheered them on. They will remember this night forever, as one of the greatest nights in their lives.

The White Sox are halfway to their first World Series championship since 1917, thanks to the unlikeliest of endings. Scott Podsednik, who batted more than 500 times this season without hitting a home run, hit the walk-off home run that lifted the White Sox to a 7-6 victory over the Houston Astros on Sunday.

Call it thrilling, stunning, improbable. Podsednik described it as "pretty indescribable."

The White Sox lead the World Series, two games to none. The series resumes Tuesday in Houston, after a game that will be nearly impossible to top -- comically bad fielding, the now-traditional bad call, a grand slam from Paul Konerko, both closers imploding, and an ending so unexpected the White Sox were left breathless.

Literally so, given the lack of oxygen in the mob of teammates that surrounded Podsednik as he touched home plate.

"I was out of breath," center fielder Aaron Rowand said. "You can't explain this. There was something special going on tonight."

The White Sox had no business winning this game. The Astros led, 4-2, through six innings, with Houston donating the two runs to Chicago on four consecutive goofy plays -- a bad-hop single, a single that landed when left fielder Chris Burke jumped in the wrong spot, a flare of a single over first base, and a dropped pop fly by second baseman Craig Biggio.

After six innings and 98 pitches, Andy Pettitte handed the lead to his bullpen. With two on and two out in the seventh, plate umpire Jeff Nelson incorrectly ruled that Dan Wheeler had hit Jermaine Dye.

"It hit my bat," Dye said. "I turned around and the umpire said it hit me. I'm not going to tell him I fouled it off."

So the Sox had the bases loaded, and the Astros summoned Chad Qualls to relieve Wheeler. First pitch, grand slam, Sox lead, 6-4.

The hit was a laser. Konerko dropped his bat, raised both hands, then pumped his right fist as he rounded first base. And a curtain call? But of course.

"It's the second-best feeling I've had all week," Konerko said.

No kidding. On Tuesday, he became a father for the first time.

So, on to the ninth inning. Bobby Jenks, the rookie closer who flirted with invincibility as he pumped fastballs at 100 mph on Saturday, failed to protect this lead. With two on and two out, pinch-hitter Jose Vizcaino delivered his first hit since Sept. 24, a single that tied the score, 6-6.

"The overall kind of theme in the dugout was, everybody loves Bobby, we're not going to let him go home feeling bad about this," Konerko said. "We thought, we're going to get this win, but I didn't think it would be that quick."

And then he gestured toward Podsednik.

"Or by a home run by him," Konerko said.

"I agree," Podsednik said.

But Houston closer Brad Lidge, so dominant from April to September, is turning into the second coming of Byung-Hyun Kim this October. Lidge gave up a walk-off home run to Albert Pujols in Game 5 of the National League championship series and, in his next appearance, gave up the walk-off shot to Podsednik with one out in the ninth Sunday.

Lidge denied any residual effect from the Pujols home run.

"Not at all," Lidge said. "That was I don't know how many days ago now."

Said Houston Manager Phil Garner: "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."

In the Chicago clubhouse, no one pronounced the Astros dead, or even badly wounded. The talk focused on Podsednik, and whether he called his shot.

He did, sort of, although his prophecy skills apparently are not too good. In batting practice, he told catcher A.J. Pierzynski he would hit a homer in the game.

"I laughed at him," Pierzynski said.

"If he hit a home run every time he called one," Konerko said, "he would lead the league in home runs."

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