Jermaine Dye slapped a single up the middle in the eighth inning and clapped his hands as he trotted to first. He knew he’d given the Chicago White Sox an insurmountable lead and the World Series championship by driving in Willie Harris from third base.
The run made it 1-0.
The Sox put the Houston Astros out of what had become their misery by completing a four-game sweep Wednesday night in Houston. Dye was the Most Valuable Player. Joe Crede, who hit almost as well as Dye and played a stellar third base, would also have been a good choice.
So here we go again. The White Sox one-upped those other Sox, who last year won their first championship in 86 years, by winning their first in 88. And they did it without benefit of a library of literature about curses and the tragic beauty of endless defeat, without playing in a “lyric little bandbox of a ballpark.”
They did it without becoming regulars in the pages of the New Yorker, without anyone on the South Side ever bidding anyone “adieu.”
They just did it. As owner Jerry Reinsdorf said earlier this week, “We don’t have a curse. We just have a lot of failure.”
But it’s not quite “here we go again,” is it?
Reinsdorf, a venal little rat of a man whose leadership of a group of hard-line owners led to the strike that wiped out the 1994 postseason, actually managed to look like a sympathetic figure for a moment as he tearfully accepted the championship trophy in the clubhouse after the game.
That may have just been because he was standing next to commissioner Bud Selig, though representing all those White Sox fans who have waited so long probably had something to do with it.
But this Sox championship in Chicago isn’t quite the civilization-altering event last year’s Sox championship in Boston was. It pays to have people telling your story down through the generations. Or maybe it just pays to have your own town, your own whole region, instead of playing in another team’s shadow.
A team with its own portfolio of beautiful losing. But we’re not going to talk about them because White Sox fans get all upset when everything’s about the — the you know whos up on the North Side, with their lyric little bandbox of a ballpark.
The Astros — another team with a championship-free history that’s just kind of nondescript, not lyrical — had made a specialty of losing 1-0 during the regular season, doing it five times, a big-league high. But three of those losses happened in April, when they’d been a lousy team. Houston also made a specialty of rebounding from that lousiness, turning themselves into the best team in baseball from mid-May on.
That theme petered out against the White Sox. Boy, did it. In the last 15 innings of their season, starting with the ninth inning of the marathon Game 3 loss, the Astros put 20 men on base and got nary a one of ‘em home.
Their cleanup hitter, Morgan Ensberg, had a hole in his bat for the whole series. Their closer, Brad Lidge, turned into a walking gas can, losing twice.
Their manager, Phil Garner, a festival of sunny optimism and dead-on hunches for the last five months, turned into a lump of coal, passively watching his team circle the drain, stirring only long enough to throw a chair, spit a stream of profanity at the opposing dugout or explain to reporters how embarrassed he was at the failure of his players.
Nothing went right.
Sweeps are usually dismal affairs. There are two varieties, it seems to me. One is when a team is simply overmatched. The New York Yankees over Pittsburgh in 1927, Philadelphia in 1950, San Diego in 1998. The other is when one team, sometimes the favorite, just goes into a slump at the horribly wrong time.
Sometimes these two overlap. Were the 1976 Yankees, who scored eight runs while being swept by the Cincinnati Reds, so overmatched because they were that overmatched against the Big Red Machine, or did they also just happen to hit an offensive slump against a good but not great pitching staff? We’ll never know.
Either way, it’s not a lot of fun. You’ve got an underdog bunch getting steamrolled, or you’ve got a good team that can’t seem to do the things that got it to the World Series in the first place. It looks bad but salvageable after two games. It looks like a bedside vigil after three. It seems anticlimactic when it ends.
This sweep was better than most because all of the games were close. The Astros were up against a terrific pitching staff, but they absolutely slumped at the bat in the last game and a half, when they blew a four-run lead in Game 3 and then went quietly in Game 4.
But four tight, interesting ballgames added up to a dismal whole, except for White Sox fans, who I’m sure will take it, thank you very much. That’s because this World Series held such promise, with two similar teams, both built on pitching and relying on an entertainingly scrappy, if sometimes misguided, offensive style.
Who thought going in that this Series wouldn’t come close to going back to Chicago for a sixth and seventh games? The public thought it was a coin-flip Series, both teams having a great chance to win it. Who knew Lidge would blow up, Ensberg would disappear, Roger Clemens would come up lame after two innings or Roy Oswalt would get cuffed around like a fifth starter? Not me. Not you.
Sweeps are funny that way. Sometimes the underdog gets blown away, but then sometimes the heavy favorite does, like the 1954 Cleveland Indians or the 1914 Philadelphia or 1990 Oakland A’s. Sometimes, as in these last two, a seemingly even Series goes kablooey.
It’s a bad way for a baseball season to end, a whimper instead of a bang.
Except on the South Side of Chicago, where, finally, a season ended perfectly.
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