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Sox-Astros Series good for baseball

Sox-Astros Series good for baseball

CHICAGO -- This is new, this is fresh, this is different, but this is still about great pitching. This is good for baseball.

The Chicago White Sox have not been in a World Series for 46 years. The Houston Astros have never been in a World Series in their 43-year history. There is novelty value in the 2005 Fall Classic, but there is so much more than that.

Oh, I know, the "aura" will not be the same without the Yankees or the Red Sox. Too bad. We will have to get some new aura. Baseball can be played west of the Hudson River. This Series might be proof. Neither the Yankees nor the Red Sox will be here, and yet, there is an excellent chance that the Astros and the White Sox will play until one of them wins four games.

Neither one of these teams is here by accident. These teams are here because, when it counted most, they pitched better than any of the other 28 clubs.

Moreover, the White Sox won 99 games in the regular season, more than anybody else in the American League. They were indisputably the best team in the league. And then, in the postseason, their starters pitched as though the clock had been turned back to an era when the players were smaller and the parks were bigger. They completed four games in a row in the AL Championship Series as they defeated the Angels, the first time that feat had been accomplished in 49 years in the postseason. (The last club to do that was the Yankees, but, once again, it appears that they are not here.)

The Astros were the National League Wild Card team, but you have a hard time putting down somebody in that category, since the last three World Series were won by Wild Card teams.

The Astros have their own terrific story. They were 15-30 to begin the season. How bad was this? The Astros were buried, even though they were not actually dead. The Houston Chronicle placed an obituary on the Astros on the front page of its sports section. This just proves that you should never bury something in the spring when its natural life expectancy runs at least through September.

But the Astros resurrected themselves. No surprise there, they had reached the postseason with a tremendous second-half surge in 2004, as well.

What might have surprised some people was that the Astros beat the St. Louis Cardinals in six games in the NL Championship Series. The Cardinals were, for the second straight year, the best regular season team in the Senior Circuit.

But the Astros were stronger on the mound, particularly when Roy Oswalt was pitching. This is a Houston team, with its three elite starters and its top-shelf closer, that is probably better off in the postseason than it was in the regular season. With this pitching, nobody in the NL wanted to match up against the Astros in the postseason. The question with them was whether they could get into October. Once in the postseason, they did what their pitching said they could do.

So what we have here, far from being some aura-less matchup of mere newcomers, is a World Series drawn up along classic lines. These are two teams whose real strength is pitching. They have other assets, no question, but pitching is primarily what brought them to this point.

What will make this meeting even more fascinating is the fact that this Series will be played in two parks that have typically been hitter-friendly. The Crawford Boxes in left make Minute Maid Park a haven for right-handed hitters. U.S. Cellular Field is truly a hitter's park in the summer, but now, when the wind tends to shift and blow in off Lake Michigan, the equation might change to favor the pitchers. Not that the pitchers on either of these clubs require any external assistance.

So what do we know about the people who are saying that it's a weird World Series because neither of these teams make it often? We know that they're not from Chicago or Houston. In fact, they are probably from somewhere outside the Central time zone entirely.

It is a good sign for competitive balance in baseball that teams other than the usual soaring-payroll suspects reached the World Series. But beyond that, the White Sox and the Astros are not flukes, they are not aberrations. They are the two teams that, by the historical definition of what succeeds in the postseason, were supposed to be here. Good for them, good for baseball.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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