Game 4 of the World Series featured a pitchers' duel, manufactured runs and bullpen performances that would define the game.
But no one expected the best pitching matchup would be Brandon Backe against Freddy Garcia, that Jermaine Dye would be Series MVP and Brad Lidge would falter yet again. And surely no one expected the White Sox to sweep the Astros. All are now truths, and the White Sox are World Series champions.
Joe Cowley, of the Daily Southtown, writes:
"When pinch-hitter Orlando Palmeiro grounded out to short, the odyssey was over.
"'I don't care what anyone says, this is for the city of Chicago,' pitcher Mark Buehrle said. 'This is for the people that doubted us and Jerry [Reinsdorf], but most of all it's for the city. It's for the South Side.'"
John Donovan, of SI.com, adds:
"Jermaine Dye chugged in from the outfield, not exactly at a sprint, pumping his fists and jumping onto the dogpile of celebrants in the middle of Minute Maid Park, doing it as quietly as a 6-foot-5 man can do such a thing.
"That, in a snapshot, is Dye for you. And that's Dye's White Sox, too. They sneak up on you, out of right field, and by the time you notice this group of largely ego-free guys, they've gone and done something fantastic. Something almost unbelievable. They've gone and won the World Series.
"Bet you didn't see that one coming, did you?
"'Chalk one up,' the team's way-too-nice first baseman, Paul Konerko, said, 'for the good guys.'"
Those good guys deserve to be discussed as one of the greatest teams ever, writes Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN.com:
"How good are Guillen's White Sox? Good enough that you feel sheepish about using such a less-muscled word as 'good.' This team -- there are no straws that stir the Sox drink -- left good behind months ago. Since then, especially once October began, they've not only flirted with greatness, they've dated it, romanced it, married it, and Wednesday evening, gave birth to a bouncing, 30-pound, sterling silver World Series championship trophy.
"Isn't it adorable?
"Instead, here's how great the White Sox are: No playoff series lasted long enough for them to celebrate in their own clubhouse. They've popped corks at Fenway Park, Angel Stadium, and now Minute Maid Park, where they sprayed bottles of -- and I'm not making this up -- Barefoot Bubbly."
Jayson Stark, also of ESPN.com, adds:
"This was a team whose claim to fame all year was its ability to win those 2-1 games that supposedly went out of style about 1968. This was a team that, amazingly, won 15 games in which it scored one run or two -- the most by any team since the '69 Mets.
"And this was a team that, including the postseason, went an insane 68-35 in games decided by one run or two -- the best record in baseball.
"So how fitting was the final chapter to this team's story? How fitting was it that the White Sox wound up sweeping a World Series in which they never led by more than two runs at any point in any game?
"How fitting was it that they outscored the Astros by only six runs over the entire World Series and still managed to sweep it -- tied with the 1950 Yankees for the smallest margin by any sweepers in history. And how fitting was it that the grand finale was one last 1-0 game?
"'Our first game of the year was 1-0,' Pierzynski said. 'Our first game of the second half was 1-0. And our last game of the year was 1-0. You couldn't ask for a better script.'"
Provided you were a fan of the Sox, writes Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today:
"Not one thing went Houston's way, and everything seemed to go Chicago's way. The games might have been close. The series was not.
"This was Chicago's year to win the World Series, and that became apparent as the playoffs dug deep into October."
Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle elaborates:
"The Astros had learned to believe they could overcome tremendous odds in this season of improbable comebacks, but they couldn't rally while going 0-for-11 and striking out five times with runners in scoring position Wednesday night. They left nine men on base.
"'I don't enjoy it,' Jeff Bagwell said. 'I wanted to be the last team standing, but these things happen. It's a tough game. It's tough to win. It's obviously tough to get to the World Series, and it's tough to win a World Series.'
"In time, the Astros will appreciate the astonishing feat they accomplished by reaching the World Series in a season many experts thought would be a rebuilding effort after the team lost sluggers Jeff Kent and Carlos Beltran from the 2004 squad that went to the National League Championship Series."
"'The improbable came true,' Astros first baseman Mike Lamb said. 'We started the season with a [young] outfield, rookie pitchers, Bagwell getting hurt, losing Beltran, starting 15-30. I didn't think we had a chance, to be honest.'"
Brandon Backe tried his hardest to give the Astros even the slimmest chance with a sterling seven-inning performance in Game 4, shutting out the White Sox and allowing only five hits. Steve Campbell of the Houston Chronicle writes:
"The Houston Astros couldn't win playing a hand with three aces. They dealt themselves a wild card, and they still couldn't change their run of luck or Chicago White Sox pluck.
"Brandon Backe was the wild card who wouldn't allow the Astros to fold their hand in the 101st World Series. Backe outpitched the aces who preceded him in the Astros' World Series pitching rotation. The only pitcher in the entire Series who doesn't have to take a back seat to Backe is former Astros farmhand Freddy Garcia, who just happened to be on the mound for the White Sox on Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park.
"Garcia matched Backe inning for inning, zero for zero, until the Astros could resist no longer."
And his Chronicle colleague Neil Hohlfield points out this isn't the first time Backe has come up big during the playoffs:
"A year ago, Backe pitched his final game against St. Louis in the NL Championship Series, allowing one hit and no runs in eight innings. In that game, Jeff Kent hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to give the Astros a 3-0 win in Game 5.
"There was no Kent-like blast this time. The Astros were limited to five hits and couldn't reward Backe.
"He understood why manager Phil Garner lifted him in the seventh, but he felt like he could pitch much longer into the night.
"'With the high I had going out there, I could have stayed out there forever. I probably could have thrown ... I don't know, there's no telling how long I could have gone,' Backe said. 'I told myself earlier in the day that I should go out and pitch like it was my last time this year, I didn't know if I'd pitch again in this Series. I was going to go out with everything I had, and that's where it got me.'"
Meanwhile, Backe's teammate, Brad Lidge, had to deal with the aftermath of a third loss in four appearances, writes Brian McTaggart, also of the Chronicle:
"Brad Lidge knew the routine.
"He knew there would be an army of reporters around his locker, and there was. He knew there would be difficult questions concerning his state of mind being asked over and over, and they were.
"But unlike after Lidge's previous postseason struggles, there would be no opportunities for the Astros' closer to come back and try again the following day.
"Lidge will have to wait until next spring for redemption after the Chicago White Sox polished off a four-game World Series sweep of the Astros with a 1-0 victory Wednesday, leaving Lidge and his teammates the winter to ponder what went wrong."
But the Astros put the bad out of their minds for a brief period after the game, making an effort to reach out to the fans of a city that supported them all season, writes the Chronicle's Richard Justice:
"First it was [Mike] Lamb, then others, one by one, trudging back down the hallway outside the home clubhouse. They stepped onto the field, and as the White Sox celebrated behind them, they turned and began to greet and thank the fans behind their dugout.
"Years from now, this may be one of the moments they remember. They'll remember how they captivated a city for a few weeks. They'll remember how they gathered themselves from a 15-30 start, how they became close and how they made themselves into a team.
"They believed when almost no one else did.
"'This is the best team I've ever played on,' shortstop Adam Everett said. 'I can't say enough about the resilience of this group. I'm disappointed, but I'm proud.'"
David Haugh, Chicago Tribune:
"[White Sox general manager Ken Williams] had spent the day ignoring phone messages and e-mails from well-wishers all over the country who wanted to congratulate Williams on a job well done. Only one caller, former NBA star Charles Barkley, received a return call.
"'[Barkley] wasn't talking about the games, he was [saying] make sure you enjoy the time,' Williams said. 'That's a different conversation. The other conversations, I didn't want to have.'
"While Williams stayed mum, praise had begun to pile up around baseball's hottest general manager who at 41 already has achieved what many executives in his sport never accomplish in a lifetime.
"'You cannot say enough about the job Ken Williams did building this team,' Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said.
"Indeed, the Fall Classic turned into a showcase for players Williams acquired in the last year as he revamped a stodgy Sox team into a sleek World Series champion."
Cashing like Carlos
Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune, on Paul Konerko:
"While he has opted not to discuss his pending free agency during the postseason to avoid losing focus, there's little doubt he has significantly increased his value with five playoff home runs and 15 RBIs going into Game 4.
"In baseball circles, this is known as pulling a 'Beltran,' a nod to outfielder Carlos Beltran, who signed a seven-year, $119 million deal with the New York Mets last winter after a sensational playoff performance for Houston.
"Konerko is expected to seek a five-year deal in the neighborhood of $65 million, which is what former Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Adrian Beltre received from Seattle last year."
Ben Couch is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.