They were at the end of the bench. They were at the end of the bullpen. They were way beyond the end of the evening and headed toward dawn. They seemed to be out of manpower and out of chances. But all of the negative expectations that might have dogged this team in previous seasons are gone now, to be replaced by the ever-present possibility of victory. Anytime, anywhere, anyone. Here come the White Sox.
At the end, in the 14th inning, it was Geoff Blum with a home run and Chris Widger with a bases-loaded walk who gave the Sox the winning 7-5 edge. Not exactly household names, even in some Chicago households. Blum had not been at bat since the Division Series.
"The first couple pitches I was taking because I hadn't been up in three weeks," Blum said. "I wanted to see if I was seeing one ball or three."
And out on the mound -- this was even more surprising -- it was Damaso Marte and Mark Buehrle.
Yes, Damaso Marte, the same fellow who had pitched his way out of a prominent role and into semi-unemployment. Marte's last appearance had been in the clincher of the Division Series against Boston. He faced three men. All three reached. This did set the table for the relief heroics of Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, but it also relegated Marte to postseason oblivion.
But early Wednesday morning, the Sox had no choice. And Damaso Marte got five outs for them, not to mention the victory.
"He threw the ball the best that he did in two months," manager Ozzie Guillen said of Marte.
But when two men reached in the 14th, one on an error, Guillen summoned a starter, in fact his Game 2 starter, Mark Buehrle, to finish the job. The last time Buehrle had pitched in relief was 2000, his rookie season, before he established himself as one of the top left-handers in the game. But here, it was like he had spent a professional lifetime in the bullpen. He got Adam Everett to pop to short. He became the only pitcher in World Series history to start and earn a save in consecutive games.
"He told us, if you need somebody, I'll be ready," Guillen said of Buehrle.
That's like the team motto for this group. If they need somebody, there's always somebody who is ready.
And so, this improbable marathon ended with yet another White Sox victory. They are 10-1 in this postseason. There have been some bizarre victories, some improbable victories and some precedent-shattering, history-making victories. But the point is, they were all White Sox victories.
The big deal here was that this was the first time that the World Series had come to Texas. Terrific. But the victory stayed where it has been practically all month -- on the South Side of Chicago. The White Sox are now one game away from winning the 2005 World Series.
And look where the White Sox were Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park. Look how bad their situation seemed to be. Then look at who won the game. If they're going to win this game, which game is it exactly that they're going to lose?
It had looked bleak much earlier, way back when it was merely Tuesday night. They were down, 4-0, and they were facing the man who has been Houston's best pitcher in this postseason, Roy Oswalt. In the home of Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, saying this kind of thing is heresy. But it is also appears true.
"With all due respect to Andy and Roger, to me he is the best pitcher on that staff," said Guillen of Oswalt. "I don't say best pitcher. I better say he's got the best stuff."
OK, so Ozzie reached out for a little slice of political correctness right there at the end. Roy Oswalt was the MVP of the National League Championship Series, the guy who led the charge in beating the mighty St. Louis Cardinals. Enough said.
So it's the fifth inning and Oswalt has this four-run lead and you're pretty much penciling this one in, because Oswalt doesn't cough up four-run leads and because the Astros have a track record as a pretty gutsy, resilient group of people and you figure they're not leaving this Series empty-handed. You are taking nothing away from the Sox thinking this way. You are simply giving the other guys some well-deserved credit.
But the White Sox concede nothing. This is why they are 10-1 in this postseason. There are reasons for this. There are 25 reasons for this. Twenty-six counting Ozzie. Twenty-seven counting Ken Williams. This could go on for quite some time, but the point is, there are a lot of reasons why the Sox cannot be counted out. And you got to see some of them in the top of the fifth.
Joe Crede homers. When the White Sox need a run this October, Joe Crede always gets a home run, doesn't he? Two singles and one out later, the White Sox have another run, courtesy of an RBI single from Tadahito Iguchi. And then another run on a Jermaine Dye single. At this point you figure Paul Konerko for a three-run homer, but nobody's perfect. He just misses, flying to center. But A.J. Pierzynski picks him up with a two-run double. From a four-run lead that appeared larger, suddenly, the White Sox are where they have been almost all of this postseason; ahead.
And then, of course, there is the other side of the Sox coin. Jon Garland has been getting knocked around a bit, giving up those four Houston runs in the first four innings. But now, buoyed by the work of his colleagues, he settles in, settles down, and gives the Astros nothing over the next three innings. Given this 5-4 lead, Jon Garland once again becomes the pitcher the White Sox hoped he would be.
It is true that the Astros tied this game in the eighth with a hit off Dustin Hermanson, another White Sox reliever who had been in semi-retirement. But that merely prolonged the event. The Sox would not let it change the outcome.
"It's the stuff dreams are made of," Blum said of his game-winning homer.
That would also stand for what this postseason has been so far for the Chicago White Sox and their fans. They are one victory away from the championship now. It is still officially a matter of if, but it is turning toward a matter of when.