Monday, October 24, 2005

The Importance of Being Mazeroski

In baseball, it's often the last big event or play that people remember the most. The last game, the last run, the last out, the last guy. Everyone remembers Philip Ozersky and McGwire's 70th home run ball, but who remembers Kerry Woodson and the 69th?

So in addition to overdosing on the Japan Series this weekend, I also went to a friend's house to watch both World Series games. I really should get cable one of these years.

Game 1's most memorable moment had to be Ozzie Guillen motioning to the bullpen to bring in Bobby Jenks in the 8th. He spread his arms out wide and then high, indicating "The tall fat guy". Classic.

The 8th inning reminded me of the Twins-WhiteSox game I attended in September, only that time, the game was stacked against the Sox. Johan Santana had attempted to pitch a complete game shutout, but he went into the 9th on 102 pitches and the first three batters ended up loading the bases. So Joe Nathan came in and struck out Everett, Rowand, and Dye, in quick succession, saving the game and preserving the shutout. It was astounding.

Here in Game 1 of the Series, we had Contreras, trying to get another complete game for the "What bullpen?" Sox. But after Taveras's double, it was obvious he wasn't going to last that long.

What bullpen, indeed.

Cotts hadn't pitched in a game in almost two weeks, and when he gave up that single to Berkman, things didn't look so good. But then he pounded back and got Ensberg to strike out. And Lamb too. And then the big fat guy came in and also blew away Bagwell on a fastball. He also got a perfect 9th inning, striking out Lane and Everett. Whooosh.

I really want a "Joe Crede is my boyfriend" shirt, but something tells me Bat-Girl would never make such a thing. It is funny how both of the Serieses are having these amazing third basemen shine, both in the Sox's Crede and in Imae of the Chiba Lotte Marines.

On to game 2. My friend had spent the day overdosing on football. We're both from Philly, so he watched the Eagles game, and for good measure, also watched the Seahawks game. Both of those teams won their games, but with crazy wild comebacks in the last couple minutes of the game. So he told me, before the World Series game, "Don't believe this one's over until it's over, because every other game I've watched today has had a crazy score swing."

He wasn't kidding.

It's funny -- will this game be remembered more for Konerko's grand slam or for Podsednik's walk-off home run? It's hard to say. If I say to you, 1960 Series, Game 7, which name do you remember? Hal Smith (this Hal Smith, Pirates backup catcher, not to be confused with this Hal Smith, Cardinals all-star catcher), or Bill Mazeroski? Right. It's about the same situation. If Clemente hadn't beaten out the the pitcher covering first on his grounder in the bottom of the 8th with two outs, Hal Smith wouldn't have come up to hit that 3-run homer putting the Pirates ahead 9-7. And if Bob Friend and Harvey Haddix had just held onto that 2-run lead, the bottom of the 9th would have never happened, and who knows, would there be a Mazeroski Way down by PNC Park now, and a plaque on the sidewalk on the Pitt campus where the Forbes Field outfield wall used to stand (and now just a section of the right-center wall remains) saying "Here's where Bill Mazeroski hit the dramatic game-winning home run in the 1960 World Series"? Would it say "Here's where Hal Smith hit it" instead?

Anyway, this was only a game 2 last night, not a game 7, so chances are nobody will really remember it. But, with the Sox down 4-2 in the 7th, with two outs and two on, Jermaine Dye was up. And with a 3-2 count, Wheeler pitched him inside, way inside, and he backed out of the way -- and the ball hit his bat a little bit off the handle. That's obvious from the replays. But, much like Pierzynski's strikeout in ALCS game 2, the pitch was a ball. Dye should have walked anyway... if he had been able to get out of the way quickly enough, or had been fortunate enough to get hit on the hands instead of the bat. But, today, the Sox get a call in their favor from home plate umpire Jeff Nelson, and it was ruled that Dye was hit by the pitch. Garner came out to argue it, but to no avail.

Set the stage for Konerko and Qualls and BOOM, here's the 18th grand slam in World Series history. 6-4 Sox.

But, well, tonight the tall fat guy isn't invincible, and the unthinkable happens - the Astros manage to tie the score. My friend says, "See? I told you. Night of crazy comebacks. I hope this doesn't go 18 innings."

We go to the bottom of the 9th. Brad Lidge is up pitching for the first time since Pujols At The Bat. Uribe flies out to center. And then Scott Podsednik comes up. The guy didn't hit a single home run all year. Not one. And then he hit one in the ALDS and we had a good laugh over it.

So it's perfectly understandable that when he gets this hit, the entire Sox dugout is just watching it, and you can hear them via the Fox directional antenna: "Oh my god. No way. No. Way. NO freaking WAY... uhh... YESSSSSSSSSS!"

Poor Lidge. Letting up a home run to Pujols is understandable -- it happened 41 times this year, after all -- but letting one up to Podsednik? Ouch.

Anyway, the Sox win it with the fairy-tale improbable ending, for the ninetieth comeback of the day, and I'm sure this game will just get lost in the annals of postseason history, another footnote, another statistic. 18th WS grand slam, 14th WS walk-off homer. And Paul Konerko is a big slugging homering guy, not some journeyman catcher like Hal Smith was.

But for one day, Scott Podsednik can say that he understands the importance of being Mazeroski.

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