Garner's late-inning faith in Bagwell goes unrewarded
CHICAGO -- You just knew the moment would find Jeff Bagwell. It had to, especially after Houston Astros manager Phil Garner wrote Bagwell's name on the lineup card of Saturday's Game 1 of the World Series, and then, hours before the first pitch, told anyone within microphone distance, "And if the game is on the line, I'd just as soon have Jeff Bagwell up there tonight as anybody. And that's why he's in there."
So, of course, it was Bagwell who stepped into the batter's box in the top of the eighth, the Astros trailing by a single run, men on second and third, two outs, and rookie reliever Bobby Jenks on the mound.
Jenks is 6 feet 3, 270 pounds. If he were any larger he could rent office space. When Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen emerged from the dugout and motioned for a right-hander to face Bagwell, he extended his arms outward, as if he were calling for a full timeout, and then extended them up and down. He wanted the big guy. He wanted Jenks.
Six pitches later Bagwell -- and the would-be Astros rally -- was gone, a victim of the kind of heat that lava aspires to. Jenks would return in the ninth to put the finishing touches on a 5-3 White Sox victory, their 13th in their last 14 games, their eighth in their last nine during this magical postseason run.
Bagwell's strikeout isn't the reason Chicago is up, 1-0, in this Series, but it helped. So did Garner's loyalty and admitted sentimentality toward the much-admired Bagwell, a 15-year veteran who had shoulder surgery in May, kicked his rehab into hyper-drive just in case the Astros reached the postseason, but hasn't had an extra-base hit since April.
I would have started Bagwell at DH, too. The man has given bits and pieces of his right shoulder to this franchise, so the least the Astros could do was give him his first-ever World Series start -- even if it meant one less power option for a lineup already low on offense.
Guillen might not have been as understanding. He had to love the matchup of Jenks throwing 100-mile-per-hour contrails to a guy with a surgically repaired shoulder who entered the game with exactly three at-bats this postseason.
"I don't know if I'd say that was the game, but it was a big situation," said Bagwell, wearing a postgame wrap on his shoulder. "I relish that opportunity. I've been doing that for the last three weeks, getting in big situations and trying to produce."
Bagwell didn't mention that with men on second and third, Morgan Ensberg and Mike Lamb whiffed in the same inning against Sox left-hander Neal Cotts. And he was nice enough not to remind everyone that Lamb hit .179 against lefties this regular season, and that maybe Garner should have used a pinch-hitter.
But Garner managed with his instincts and his heart. All he has to show for it is a two-run loss and a Sunday appointment in the frozen food section of Chicago, otherwise known as The Cell.
Garner should have known better. After all, the White Sox are difficult to beat under normal circumstances, and nearly invincible when you throw them a bone.
As usual, they played crisp, South Side Mitt Men defense. Third baseman Joe Crede was so good that someone should have spray-painted his glove with gold paint after the stops he made in the sixth and seventh innings.
As usual, they relied on quality starting pitching. Jose Contreras, whose jersey number (52) might match his age lines, lasted seven innings and gave up only six hits and those three runs.
As usual, the White Sox bullpen threw a manhole cover over the opposing lineup. The tag team of Cotts and Jenks combined for two innings, zero runs and five strikeouts.
And as usual, Guillen pressed enough of the right buttons to make a difference. A hit-and-run in the second inning ... knowing when Contreras had had enough ... summoning Jenks in the eighth.
There is little or no margin of error when you play the White Sox. Not when catcher A.J. Pierzynski is stealing his second base of the postseason when he had zero in the regular season. Not when Crede is hitting dingers and catching anything hit near him. Not when the Sox do the small-ball/long-ball thing.
Most of all, you can't do what the Astros did on a Saturday evening so cold that Sterno cans were going for more than box seats: you can't provide gifts.
Bagwell in the starting lineup wasn't exactly a gift, but it was an advantage.
Roger Clemens, who led the majors in ERA, leaving after just two innings was helpful.
In the end, this was another typical night at U.S. Cellular Field and Concert Hall, where the World Series-starved Sox crowd serenaded the Astros with a stirring rendition of, "Na-Na-Na-Na-Na-Na-Na-Na-Hey-Hey-Goodbye?" Keep this up, and the Astros could be waving goodbye much sooner than they expect.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.
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