Podsednik's homer can't be explained

Scott Podsednik hitting a walkoff homer off Brad Lidge defied all reason -- until it actually happened in Game 2, writes Jayson Stark.

Originally Published: October 23, 2005
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

CHICAGO -- The magic of October lies in the moments that can't be explained. Not five minutes later. Not five decades later.

So try to explain this moment. This game-winning moment. This game-winning home run hit by a man who hit no home runs all year.


Game 4

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This game-winning home run hit off a pitcher who already seemed to have served up the most painful homer of his lifetime -- and was just as likely not to serve up another one until the 4th of July.

Try to explain it. Go ahead. Take all the time you need.

White Sox leadoff dirtball Scott Podsednik crashed a walk-off home run off Astros bullpen monster Brad Lidge on Sunday night. On a night when Lake Michigan turned upside-down and fell on U.S. Cellular Field. In Game 2 of the World Series, with a million lives riding on it.

How'd that happen?

How could it possibly happen?

No logic could explain it. No numbers could explain it. No scout could explain it. The man who threw the pitch and the man who hit the pitch couldn't explain it.

So go ahead. Tell us. How'd that happen?

"I don't know," said White Sox quote factory A.J. Pierzynski. "But I'd like to take those odds to Vegas. I'd like to put 100 bucks on that and see what happens."

And Vegas would gladly take his 100 bucks, too. Even knowing it had already happened once. Because as soon as Podsednik's home run disappeared into a sea of White Sox delirium, as soon as the numbers on the scoreboard had changed to "White Sox 7, Astros 6," it still seemed as impossible as ever.

"I don't think anybody in the ballpark was thinking about me hitting the ball out of the ballpark," Podsednik said, astutely.

"You don't expect him to do that," said Lidge, just as astutely. "He's not a home run guy."

But in October, what you expect and what unfolds before your eyes can be very different things. And that's why we watch. That's why they play. That's why authors start typing and documentarians start rolling their videotape.

It's a special time of year. And special things happen. No matter how implausible they may seem before reality takes over.

Brad Lidge
Exhibit A: Scott Podsednik connects with a Brad Lidge offering for what seemed to be impossible -- a game-winning home run.
So if you're ready, we'll try to sum up just how implausible this was:

• Podsednik came to the plate 568 times this year and hit zero home runs. Zero. But that didn't stop him from hitting a walk-off homer in the World Series. Think a zero-homer guy had ever hit a World Series walk-off stunner before? Think again. Never happened.

• It was just six days earlier that Lidge had given up a shocking game-winning home run to Albert Pujols in Game 5 of the NLCS. But before that, Lidge had allowed one homer to the previous 159 hitters he'd faced, dating all the way back to July 21. He'd allowed five home runs all year. He hadn't given up homers in back-to-back games in his previous 181 consecutive appearances, covering the previous 2½ years.

So we find ourselves asking again: How'd that happen? If seeing is supposed to be believing, how come we still find it hard to believe we saw what we saw?

We saw Pujols, perhaps the greatest hitter alive, hit a game-winning home run off this same man, and we had trouble making sense of that. So when Podsednik comes along and does the same thing, does it somehow make more sense? Or less? Is it more shocking? Or less?

"The thing about the Pujols home run is: The difference was the disappointment," said Houston catcher Brad Ausmus. "At one point in that inning, we were one strike away from clinching the NLCS. And then Albert hit a home run to beat us. But Scott Podsednik is not a guy who you think can hit a home run to beat you. In that sense, it's shocking. But any major-league player has the possibility to do that. And tonight, he did."

But it wasn't even so much what Podsednik did as when he did it. Because this was a game that had spent the previous three innings weaving in all directions, like a runaway bus.

One minute, the Astros held a 4-2 lead with two outs in the seventh inning. The next, a pitch that clearly hit the bat of White Sox 3-hole hitter Jermaine Dye was mysteriously ruled a hit-by-pitch.

That loaded the bases and extended the inning. So of course, just four pitches later, that had to lead to a Paul Konerko grand slam. Off an Astros reliever (Chad Qualls) who, naturally, was working on a string of 7 1/3 consecutive hitless postseason innings before that.

And that meant none of Podsednik's heroics was even going to be necessary. Except that, with two outs in the ninth, the Astros had to tie this game. On a two-run single by Jose Vizcaino, a guy who hadn't even gotten a hit in one day shy of a whole month.

And of course, Vizcaino got this hit off the heretofore-untouchable Bobby Jenks -- a pitcher who had given up one hit to the 16 hitters he'd faced this postseason before Sunday.

Which brought us to this: A 6-6 game. Bottom of the ninth. Raindrops exploding all over the South Side of Chicago. Jaws dropping all over America.

It began with Lidge jogging out of the Houston bullpen, ready to expunge the Pujols nightmare lingering from his previous journey to the mound.

"Obviously, I wanted to get back in there," Lidge would say later, amazingly composed. "I was happy to get the opportunity to get in the game tonight. Anyone would want to get back in as fast as they can after a bad game."

But for all those who thought that Lidge was still seeing Pujols hallucinations every time he stared at home plate, Lidge has a message for you: His brain doesn't operate that way.

"I know a lot of people want to think I was remembering that, but I wasn't," he said. "The next hitter I faced in that game was Reggie Sanders, and I was able to strike him out. ... And then it was over. You move on. It was definitely in the rear-view mirror. It's nothing I was thinking too much about.

"Unfortunately," Lidge went on, "because I happened to give up home runs in back-to-back games, it may look like I was. But the fact is, I threw a fastball to Podsednik that I wanted to throw. He may have hit it out. But that had nothing to do with Albert Pujols."

We're playing upside-down baseball. But that's been our story. There's always somebody doing something he's not accustomed to doing.
Aaron Rowand

What it had to do with was this: There was one out in the ninth, and Lidge had fallen behind 2-1. And the thing he wanted to avoid most was walking a havoc-wreaker like Podsednik.

"I just didn't want to fall behind, 3-and-1," Lidge said, "and take a chance of him getting on base. So I just wanted to throw a strike."

But 60 feet away, Podsednik knew exactly what was churning through the brain of the man on the mound. He'd seen it before. A million times.

"I was thinking that he was probably going to challenge me with a fastball," Podsednik said. "And I said, 'Hey, let's put a good swing on this fastball.'"

So Lidge rocked and whooshed it in there, exactly the way he'd planned it out. Just about.

"I haven't seen the replay," Lidge said. "Obviously, it got a lot of the plate. But that's what I was trying to do. I was trying to throw a fastball over the plate because I know he isn't a home run hitter in the regular season. He hit zero, right?"

Right. But he now has hit two in this postseason. Somehow. One against the Red Sox. And now one in the World Series. It's a sign of just what a crazy roll these White Sox are on.

They're the first team in history to have a guy steal two bases in the postseason after stealing none in the regular season (Pierzynski) and a guy who hit two October homers after hitting none in the regular season (Podsednik). Anybody care to explain that?

"We're all goofed up," Pierzynski said. "We've got it all backwards. He's supposed to steal bases, and I'm supposed to hit the home runs."

"We're playing upside-down baseball," said center fielder Aaron Rowand. "But that's been our story. There's always somebody doing something he's not accustomed to doing."

This Podsednik home run, though, tops them all. And we're sticking to that even if we believe the words of Pierzynski and Konerko, that Podsednik had allegedly predicted before the game he was going to take somebody deep.

"Aw, he's said it hundreds of times," Konerko laughed. "And if he did it every time he said he would, we would have led the league in home runs."

We'll never know for sure what Podsednik said he was going to do. But does it matter? Words are just words. But it was his (ahem) "trot" that told you what he really thought.

He was in full sprint mode turning first, so obviously, he didn't think he'd just done what he'd done. But then when an amazing thing happened:

This baseball he'd just hit had somehow traveled over the fence -- and into a place where only the everlasting October homers of all-time get to land.

Home runs like this one never stop traveling. And Podsednik sounded afterward like a guy who was having a difficult time grasping that.

It is what it is. You say you're sorry. But it's OK, and you move on. There's not a whole lot that needs to be said. We need to go home now and take care of business -- because we're in a hole right now.
Brad Lidge

"I recall standing out in left field after Paul did what he did [i.e., hit that grand slam], and thinking about, 'Man, what does that man feel like right now?'" Podsednik said. "And so, to go out and hit one out of the ballpark for a game-winner is pretty indescribable."

But one man's October ecstasy is another man's October agony. And as tall as Lidge stood in that other locker room, you knew this wasn't how he'd scripted his October.

Asked if his teammates had streamed to his portion of the clubhouse to offer much solace, Lidge replied: "Oh, a couple. But I told them, 'You can give me a pat on the back if you want. But I don't want anybody to feel sorry for me.' It is what it is. You say you're sorry. But it's OK, and you move on. There's not a whole lot that needs to be said. We need to go home now and take care of business -- because we're in a hole right now."

They're in a 2-0 hole, to be exact. And the last 10 teams to lose the first two games of a World Series on the road all went on to lose it.

In fact -- according to the fascinating Web site whowins.com -- if you look back on the finals of the baseball, basketball and hockey postseasons, teams in the White Sox's position have won their last 27 titles in a row. (Last to lose: The 1981 Yankees -- to the Dodgers.)

But what's even more powerful than those numbers is the stuff that's been happening to these White Sox along the way. Think about the magic tricks they've performed.

They won one game after one of their hitters struck out but somehow wound up on first base on a phantom wild pitch. They won another game Sunday after one of their hitters appeared to hit a foul ball but somehow was sent to first base on a phantom HBP.

It's almost spooky, the weird events that keep spinning this team's way.

"But you know what?" said Rowand. "I'll take any of that spooky stuff -- or whatever you want to call it -- every night if it can help us get to the ultimate goal. ... I don't know. It's destiny maybe. I don't want to say that, because it's not over yet. But if it happens, get back to me -- because maybe it was."

Oh, we'll get back to him, all right. Because there's no better word than "destiny" to explain the unexplainable. And what happened Sunday night at U.S. Cellular Field was about as unexplainable as a sunset.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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