I don’t think rust was an issue for the White Sox bullpen.
Brought into the game to protect a one-run lead a runner on first and no one out, Neal Cotts allowed a single to Lance Berkman, then got two overpowering strikeouts before giving way to Bobby Jenks, who ended the inning with a strikeout and added two more in a 1-2-3 ninth to lock up the win for the White Sox.
The game started like the two teams were going to replay last year’s Game One, a 10-9 Red Sox win, with a 3-3 tie through 2 ½ innings. Roger Clemens didn’t return for the bottom of the third, forced out of the game with a strained left hamstring that was certainly not helped by the cool evening. Phil Garner made the peculiar choice of bringing Wandy Rodriguez, almost certainly his worst pitcher, into a tied World Series game. Rodriguez is not only ineffective, but a terrible matchup against the heavily right-handed White Sox lineup. Why it wasn’t Ezequiel Astacio, or better still, a fully rested Brandon Backe, is hard to understand. Rodriguez is a mop-up man, and at 3-3 in the third, there was no spill. Remember, it’s the AL: you’re not going to get caught short of pitchers because you had to pinch-hit for some of them.
Rodriguez Wandyed (sorry) in and out of trouble for 3 1/3 innings, allowing four hits and five walks but just one run, on a Joe Crede solo shot in the fourth. That home run would end up as the difference in the game, though, as the Astros fell into NLCS mode at the plate. Following Berkman’s two-out, two-run double in the third, they were shut out the rest of the way, thanks in part to some terrible impatience at the plate. A leadoff double in the sixth was followed by three straight outs, none leaving the infield, on eight pitches.
The seventh inning was the pinnacle of the Astros’ incompetence at the plate. Jose Contreras–who was fantastic last night, a completely different pitcher from his Yankee days-hit Jeff Bagwell with an 0-2 pitch leading off the frame. Jason Lane then hit a weak pop-up on the first pitch for an out. On the very next pitch, Contreras hit Brad Ausmus, putting runners on first and second with one out.
If you’re Adam Everett, and you’re coming up against a pitcher who’s hit batters on two of the last three pitches, and you’re not that good a hitter to begin with, don’t you have to give Contreras a chance to dig himself a little deeper? Apparently not: Everett got himself out on two pitches, swinging at both. Craig Biggio then came to the plate and grounded out on the first pitch, thanks in part to the second of two nice plays by Crede.
The Astros’ performance at the plate in the seventh and eighth innings was reminiscent of the Angels’ work in the ALCS. We know how well that turned out.
The way Jenks was pitching, it might not have mattered, but Garner made another peculiar decision in the eighth, electing to use Russ Springer to protect a one-run deficit in the eighth inning.
The Astros’ hitters have to take a big share of the blame for how Game One turned out, but Garner can have a chunk for himself. He allowed the ninth and 10th men on his staff to turn a 3-3 game into 4-3, and never got his two best relievers into the game, despite each having two days’ rest.
The White Sox, for their part, played the same game they’ve been playing all year long. They hit a couple of home runs, played excellent defense, got a terrific start, and went to the bullpen to close it out. They can, at times, look a bit like the 1999-2000 Yankees, who used a similar formula in winning the last two of three championships. These White Sox lack the offense those Yankee teams had, and are always at risk–as we saw during the late summer–of scoring six runs in a week. Everything else about them, though, is solid.
- I’m not done with Garner yet. He let Lamb face Cotts in the eighth inning, a highly questionable decision. Lamb hit .179/.217/.339 against southpaws this year, striking out in nearly 30% of his 56 at-bats against them. His performance prior to ’05 wasn’t much better, .248/.300/.436 in 101 ABs from 2002-04. Cotts didn’t have a significant platoon split–I’ve taken to comparing him to Arthur Rhodes at his peak, myself–so that may have played into Garner’s thinking, but I can’t imagine there’s any reason to have Lamb hitting in that situation. He’s horrible against lefties.
Even if you assume that sending up Chris Burke will mean Guillen will counter with Jenks, you have the option of going back to Orlando Palmeiro or Jose Vizcaino. The publicity Jenks is getting notwithstanding, you’d rather face him with a platoon advantage than Cotts without it, and Jenks’ big curve provides some chance of a wild pitch that would score the tying run from third.
Allowing Lamb to bat was the least viable of all the available options, even if it meant burning through multiple players. As with the decision to use Rodriguez, it seems to me that Garner may not have made the right adjustments to playing under AL rules. That at-bat is so high-leverage that you have to maximize your chance to score. Using Burke as a pinch-runner for Berkman, rather than as a pinch-hitter for Lamb, was perhaps Garner’s biggest mistake of the night.
- Lamb also was at the heart of the play on which the Sox get their second run. With first and third and no one out in the first, he ranged to his right to snag a grounder by A.J. Pierzynski. In that situation, you have to either hold the runner or get the double play; Lamb did neither, checking Carl Everett at third and throwing to second base, but too slowly to allow for two. Everett broke for home on Lamb’s throw and scored easily.
Everett was so far off the bag that running at him would have created a rundown and likely an out without a run scoring. Lamb got an out, just not the one he needed. Credit Everett for an aggressive baserunning decision after Lamb threw to second, turning what could have been a gaffe into a run.
- The Astros screwed up a second play in the seventh, when Chad Qualls had Jermaine Dye caught between first and second, but threw too quickly to Biggio covering and allowed Dye–who made a beautiful evasive dive at the first-base bag–to get back safely.
Not to pick on Lamb again, but if he keeps his glove down and actually tags Dye, he might have gotten an out when Dye slid off the base.
Dye’s slide, Everett’s run, Crede’s good defense…on this night, the White Sox did those proverbial “little things” much better than the Astros, and they did them in a manner that caused them to show up in the boxscore.
- Morgan Ensberg would like to have his World Series debut to do over again. He batted with a runner in scoring position in the third, sixth and eighth, and didn’t get a ball out of the infield in any AB.
- Scott Podsednik tripled in the last run of the game in the ninth by absolutely crushing a ball into the right-center gap. If he hit a ball harder all year, I’d be shocked. For one at-bat, he looked like Jim Edmonds.
- Something to think about tonight: the White Sox hit lefties much better than they did righties this year, to the tune of 50 points of OPS. If there’s going to be a blowout in this World Series, it’s likely going to come with Buehrle pitching and the Sox facing a southpaw.
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