The Windy City's Year
Forgive us if we keep bringing it up. We're not used to it.
The Bulls might have dominated the 1990s, and the Bears 1985 season may have been one of the best ever, but this was something different. This was something unanticipated, something that no one saw coming. For lifelong Chicagoans, this topped it all.
Cubs fans will look back at 2005 and remember a season in which they endured a lot of trash talk, and a championship that was as painful to watch as any in their lifetime. White Sox fans will remember it as payback, when their team finally was noticed, when their own curse was lifted. Unfortunately, at this point, I don't fit in either category.
I am a Cubs fan. I have lived and died by the team for years, and I can honestly say (like all Cub fans) that they have provided me with true pain. However, I will never say that 2005 did, unlike many others. For me, watching the White Sox win the championship was not difficult, at all. It was a joy.
When the Cubs had their run in 2003, I became a bigger baseball fan. I will never forget sitting in the stands on October 3, during the Division Series against the Atlanta Braves. I won't forget the atmosphere around Wrigley Field, and moreso, the environment within. Mocking the Braves tomahawk chop is etched in my brain, as is standing and screaming for what seemed like an entire game. Most, I remember watching near perfection in the form of Mark Prior, as he out-pitched the legend of Greg Maddux, and gave the Cubs a 2-1 lead.
As close as that game brought me to baseball, it cannot match what 2005 provided. 2005, like 2004 before it, began with the highest of hopes, as many predicted the Cubs to make the playoffs, and some thought the World Series was not out of reach. Like always, the White Sox were merely a blip on the radar in the eyes of the Chicago newspapers. And then something started to happen: the South Siders started to win.
It started, fittingly, with a 1-0 win over my AL Central pick, the Cleveland Indians. Mark Buerhle would pitch eight scoreless innings, and a seventh inning sacrifice fly would be enough. A little less than three weeks later, the team was 16-4, and their pitching staff made the Cubs group of arms look like a AAA squad. Even then, we didn't believe in this team.
No one could seem to get behind a team with such little offense, as their only true threat was Paul Konerko. We laughed at the fact that Kenny Williams dealt their other power hitter -- Carlos Lee -- to the Brewers, bringing back only Scott Podsednik and Luis Vizcaino. No one thought Ozzie Guillen, with his big mouth and bunt-first philosophy, could manage a playoff team. Or that Don Cooper could keep a staff going at such a pace, pitching head and shoulders above the league.
We didn't see that beneath Konerko, there was just enough balance for a decent offense to form. Or that the Lee trade allowed Williams to bring in players like A.J. Pierzynski, Tadahito Iguchi and Dustin Hermanson. Ozzie Guillen's faults overshadowed the fact that he was a great motivator, and with Cooper, handled a pitching staff (oddly enough) as well as any manager in the game. For months, this team was a sparkplug for pessimism. They seemed the opposite of the Moneyball philosophy, completely different than the lovable 2004 Red Sox.
Instead, the 2005 White Sox were a throwback team. They won games their way. Four pitchers started at least 32 games, pitching over 200 innings. These four would all win at least 14 games, and prove to be the backbone to their playoff run. They also played defense, as well as the city of Chicago had ever seen. Aaron Rowand ran into walls, Joe Crede made diving backhand stops, and Juan Uribe went as deep into the hole as anyone. This was the team that defied the modern era, that made shutouts sexier than home runs.
In the end, this really was a team built for the playoffs. Their red-hot start allowed for a slow (and scary) finish, but once this team entered October, they went to business. Fittingly, their first opponent was the Boston Red Sox, 2004's team of destiny. It began uncharacteristically with a 14-2 win, in which Jose Contreras' quality start was masked by five home runs. They closed out the series in Game Three, a sweep, beating the former World Champs at home. From this game, we will always remember Ozzie Guillen bringing in the decriped Orlando Hernandez with the bases loaded and a one run lead. And how can we forget what followed, when El Duque caused two pop outs before striking out Johnny Damon to end the inning, and effectively, the series.
The White Sox run then moved on to the Los Angeles Angels, in which the series will forever be remembered more for controversy than dominance. After losing Game One in close fashion, the team got on the backs of Buerhle, Contreras, Jon Garland and Freddy Garcia. From Game 2 to Game 5, this foursome would pitch all 36 innings and gave up just eight runs. The play of these four, along with the likes of Joe Crede, A.J. Pierzynski and Paul Konerko was disappointingly overshadowed by the likes of Doug Eddings. But at the end of the day, the city of Chicago had their first World Series in a long time.
This is what brought me back home. I came back to Chicago on October 22, 2005 to see the first game of my first Chicago World Series. And, I apologize for this Cub fans, it blew the Wrigley Field Division Series out of the water. Comiskey Park (its name will never change), which had been empty for so many games, was suddenly so full, so loud, so energetic. Sitting in my seat, an hour before the game began, it seemed as if each moment brought a new set of goosebumps.
When the game began, the stadium was truly brought to life. We stood on our feet in the top of the first inning, as Jose Contreras blew away the Astros' biggest threat, Lance Berkman. Then again in the bottom half of the inning, when Jermaine Dye's solo home run ignited the 41,206 fans. Much of the game is now a blur, lost in the simple memories of sitting in the seats. This team had sucked me in.
I can definitively say that for the rest of my life, no memory will top the eighth inning of that Game One. Bobby Jenks, who had become my favorite White Sox player, was brought in with two outs. Wily Taveras was on third, Chris Burke was at first, and would soon move to second. At the plate was Jeff Bagwell, one of the 1990s greatest players. Every White Sox fan, and hopefully every Chicagoan, was on their feet. And for five pitches, Jenks challenged Bagwell with triple-digit heat. On the fifth pitch, he won.
Ultimately, the same fate would be handed to Adam Everett in the ninth inning to win the game. And just four days later, the White Sox won the World Series in the way their season started: a 1-0 win. The conversation I had with my father -- a lifelong White Sox fan -- on the phone, seconds after the game ended, is my baseball memory of 2005. The man who taught me the game of baseball, who I had always thought had seen everything the game had to offer, was floored. And so was I. I fell in love with that team.
Forgive me if I change the Carlos Lee jersey I bought four years ago to read "Jenks." Forgive me if I find tickets to Opening Day, and join -- loudly and proudly -- in the standing ovation. And forgive me if I continue to root for this team to win 163 games per season (while losing 10).
Call me a fairweather fan. I call myself a Chicagoan.