- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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CHICAGO -- Once again Paul Konerko stepped into the batter's box, and once again White Sox fans rocked the stadium with "Paulie! Paulie!" chants, and once again the opposing pitcher fired a fastball within his reach, and once again the first baseman responded by launching another home run toward Lake Michigan.
Only this time, had any fans at U.S. Cellular Field been able to think clearly enough while dancing in the rain and slapping hands and spilling their beers as Konerko circled the bases, they might have also had a sobering thought. That dramatic seventh-inning grand slam might have been the final time all of them did this.
That's because if the White Sox win two games in Houston to clinch the World Series and if Konerko signs with another team this winter, it means the Chicago first baseman swung the bat for the final time in a White Sox home uniform.
Granted, no one on the South Side is going to complain about a World Series championship, but still. No more Konerko at-bats? No more "Paulie! Paulie!" chants? Say it ain't so.
"I'm sure that ran though his mind," White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said after Chicago's dramatic 7-6 victory in Game 2 of the World Series. "Hopefully Jerry [Reinsdorf] and Kenny [Williams] will figure out a way to keep him. He deserves to be here. He's the heart and soul of this team, and he's put in a lot of years for this team and he deserves to stay here for a lot longer."
Well, it shouldn't take Reinsdorf or Williams long to figure out a way to keep Konerko. All they have to do is give him a lot of money. The question is whether the White Sox will be willing to do so given how much Konerko has increased his value this postseason. The Game 2 homer was his fifth of the postseason and gave him the cycle -- he's hit a solo home run, a two-run homer, a three-run homer and a grand slam. He has 19 RBI in Chicago's 10 games.
And he's suddenly gone from one of the less-appreciated players in the league to the marquee free agent on the market this winter.
But if Sunday marked his final home game with the White Sox, Konerko certainly went out in a great way by guaranteeing that the only way he doesn't play another game here this season is if Chicago wins the World Series for the first time in 88 years.
"Without a doubt," Konerko said when asked whether it was the biggest home run of his career. "The last time I hit a grand slam in the World Series was never."
Of course, Konerko might never have hit that grand slam had home plate umpire Jeff Nelson not messed up a call moments earlier. He mistakenly ruled that reliever Dan Wheeler's two-out, 3-2 pitch hit Jermaine Dye when it actually hit Dye's bat. What should have been nothing more than a foul ball became a hit batsman who loaded the bases for Konerko.
The umpires have had such a bad postseason this year that it's as if Vladimir Guerrero is working blue.
"I'm actually surprised it didn't happen to me," Pierzynski said. "That's the first thing I said, 'Thank God it wasn't me.' Now he can answer all the questions I've been getting."
"It's unfortunate. Everyone is human. Everyone makes mistakes," Dye said. "And it was close. It barely nicked my bat. So maybe it hit me, too. I took a step out of the box and I thought that I fouled it off but he said go to first base.
"When the ump tells you to go to first, you go to first. I'm not going to tell him I fouled it off," he said.
Houston manager Phil Garner argued the call and said that catcher Brad Ausmus asked Nelson to ask for help but the umpire declined, apparently preferring to be wrong on his own rather than have someone else get it right.
There's no guarantee that Dye wouldn't have eventually reached first base anyway. We just know what happened afterward. Garner brought in Chad Qualls to replace Wheeler and Konerko hit his first pitch into the bleachers.
What's it feel like to hit a grand slam in that situation and circle the bases with more than 40,000 fans shouting your name? We'll have to ask someone else because Konerko says he can't remember.
"You don't even know what you're thinking out there," Konerko said. "It doesn't hit you until you're in the dugout about five minutes later. The only thing you're thinking is that you still have to get five more outs."
It appeared that Konerko told a teammate in the dugout, "I knew what was coming," but he told reporters that it was "more like I hoped" that a first-pitch fastball was coming in that location.
"He threw the ball right where I was looking," he said. "I wasn't good all night. I don't think I got in position to hit one pitch all night. [Qualls] has got nasty stuff, that guy, and he threw it exactly where I was looking, and I think that's what it might have taken to do it."
Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," was published by Plume. It can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com.
4hJohn Fisher, ESPN Stats & Information