"We're the perfect example of why you don't need to put together an All-Star team to win a championship. You just have to peak at the right time. I'm not naive enough to think we're some unbeatable team. We could start the playoffs tomorrow and get knocked out in three games. But it happened that things went right for us for one month. We did everything well."
On the day before the World Series began, the Astros conducted a meeting with their pitchers, catchers, coaches and advance scouts to review information they had gathered about the White Sox. The consensus was that the matchup favored Houston's pitchers. The Sox' hitters, according to the scouts and a season's worth of statistics, were a free-swinging bunch. Only three AL clubs had walked fewer times, and Konerko, with 81 bases on balls, was the lone hitter to draw more than 50. The Astros' staff, meanwhile, had struck out more batters than any other National League team's except the Cubs' and the Brewers'.
The Astros, however, never saw that free-swinging team. Chicago drew 15 walks in the four Series games (it averaged 2.7 per game in the regular season), refusing to bite at pitches that skirted the strike zone. The White Sox and the 2004 Red Sox are the only teams to win eight straight postseason games, and both did so with a slew of long, tough at bats.
"It started in Anaheim," says Konerko, referring to Game 3 of the ALCS. "We walked in there like we owned the place. I don't know why. Nothing was said. There wasn't one thing that happened. We just developed this attitude, a mean streak that came out at the right time."
Dye, for instance, saw 4.78 pitches per plate appearance during the World Series, a 20% increase from his regular-season number. He had key, lengthy at bats in each of the first three games before his game-winner in the clincher: a nine-pitch at bat in the first inning of Game 1 that culminated with a home run off Roger Clemens; a seven-pitch at bat in Game 2 that ended with his phantom hit by pitch, setting up a Konerko grand slam; and an eight-pitch at bat in the fifth inning of Game 3 that took the starch out of Houston righthander Roy Oswalt. Dye capped the last of those by flicking a slider for a run-scoring single, one of a career-high 46 pitches Oswalt threw in the inning as Chicago turned a 4--0 deficit into a 5--4 lead.
"They played with a whole lot of confidence," Houston lefthander Andy Pettitte says. "They were much more disciplined at the plate than we expected. It was amazing. They played like they just knew it was their year."
Houston did rally to tie Game 3 on a two-out, two-strike double by Jason Lane in the eighth. But the Astros failed to score any of their 20 runners the rest of the Series, going 0 for 31 with men on base--a cumulative no-hitter, and then some.
Game 3 finally ended at 1:20 a.m. Central time after 482 pitches, 341 minutes, 43 players, 17 pitchers, 14 innings and one serendipitous change of mind by White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. When second baseman Tadahito Iguchi made the last out in the top of the 13th, Guillen double-switched lefthander Damaso Marte into Iguchi's number 2 spot. In what had been the pitcher's spot on his blue lineup card, Guillen wrote oz in black fine-point marker, to indicate that he would insert second baseman Pablo Ozuna there. As Guillen walked up the dugout steps to give the changes to umpire Jerry Layne, he spotted Blum standing in a corner of the dugout. Guillen recalled bench coach Harold Baines's suggestion a few innings earlier that Blum, a switch-hitter more adept from the left side, would be a good fit late in the game because Houston had only one lefty remaining in its bullpen, Wandy Rodriguez.
Guillen stopped and wheeled around. " Blum," he said, "you're in."
In the 14th, Blum, a former Astro, found himself looking for an inside fastball from righthander Ezequiel Astacio on a 2-and-0 count. Astacio obliged. Blum drilled it on a line over the rightfield wall. It was his first RBI in 55 days.