Baseball: White Sox take second step to glory

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The Independent Online

"We've thrown a Series more recently than we've won one," the weary joke has long run around those parts, referring to the infamous "Black Sox" of 1919 - the last time that the second team in the Second City made an impact on the national consciousness.

This year, however, there are no fixes, no bribes, just honest thrilling baseball. The White Sox will take the field in Houston tonight with a 2-0 lead against the injury-plagued Astros, with the chance of wrapping up the best-of-seven contest before its scheduled return to Chicago at the weekend.

The Sox, moreover, are doing it in fairy-tale fashion. If game one, which the Sox won 5-3, was a grind, Sunday night's 7-6 victory - played in a chilly drizzle before 41,000 fans - was one for the ages.

After taking a 4-2 lead in the fifth inning the Astros looked set to tie the series, behind a solid pitching performance from Andy Pettitte. But then Chicago slugger Paul Konerko turned the game on its head in the bottom of the seventh with a grand slam off the Astros' virtually unhittable reliever Chad Qualls.

When Bobby Jenks, Chicago's own fireballing closer, took the mound at the top of the ninth, the Astros looked done. But with two on, and two out, pinch hitter Jose Vizcaino lashed a 97 mph fastball into left field for a single that scored both runners.

Butthe Sox found an answer, this time in the improbable form of lead-off man Scott Podsednik. In 507 regular season games, he had not homered once, and when he came to the plate this time no one was holding their breath.

But with a flat short swing, Podsednik sent the first pitch he saw from closer Brad Lidge soaring into the black night sky.

At first, it looked like a harmless deep fly ball, but then the gods of the Windy City took over, and the ball carried miraculously over the centre-field fence. A soaked crowd stayed on its feet cheering for minutes.

"I didn't think it would be that quick, or on a homer by him," Konerko said afterwards, laughing in the direction of Podsednik whose normal lack of power is a running joke among his team-mates.

For Houston, in their first series appearance in the franchise's 43-year history, it is now do or die. Tonight ace Roy Oswalt, who twice dominated the St Louis Cardinals line-up in the National League Championship series, has to deliver if the Astros are to have a realistic chance.

An even bigger worry for Houston, however, is Roger Clemens, who limped out of game one after just two innings with a strained hamstring.

"We're not counting him out, but this is a day-to-day situation," said the Astros manager Phil Garner.