Good Pitching, Well-Crafted Outs, and Grit: A Fall Classic Outlook ; Chicago's White Sox and Houston's Astros, Teams That Evoke Another Baseball Era, Take the Field Saturday
Mark Sappenfield and Kris Axtman writers of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
After treating generations of its most long-suffering fans to heartbreak and bad hops, baseball, it seems, is trying to make up for lost time. As if the Boston Red Sox had not done enough to cleanse the sport of angst and woe last year - winning their first World Series since Babe Ruth was on the team - now this.
In bringing together the Chicago White Sox and the Houston Astros, the World Series is set for a fortnight of Dr. Phil moments. The White Sox have not been baseball champions since 1917, and two years later, eight players conspired to throw the World Series for gambling money. The Sox haven't been back to the Fall Classic since the days of the Ford Edsel; the Astros have never made it in their 44 years.
Yet for all the history, it will be the play on the field that harks back to bygone days. In a year when baseball finally faced its chemically enhanced past, this Series, beginning Saturday, is perhaps the ideal endnote to the steroid-aided Home Run Era: two clubs that try to win not with a stream of titanic clouts, but with guile and grit.
If this World Series goes according to form, it could be seven nights of soccer scores, as two of the best pitching staffs in the major leagues turn opponents' bats into conductor's batons, waving at air. Well-crafted outs will be offensive weapons, with runs wrung from every tool at the disposal of manager and player alike - steals and chicanery, bunts and fly balls.
"It's an interesting matchup," says Rany Jazayerli of the Baseball Prospectus, a yearly guide. "Both teams have very similar strengths and weaknesses."
No matter who wins, it won't take long for baseball's cognoscente to tease from this World Series the new formula for winning. In truth, it's the same one that it has always been: good pitching. But these clubs have pushed the formula to its limits, attempting to win the World Series with all-star pitching staffs and a decidedly blue- collar batting lineup.
Houston's best hitter, Lance Berkman, is lovingly called "Fat Elvis" by fans and teammates. Last season, he was bookended by Carlos Beltran, Jeff Bagwell, and Jeff Kent, who combined for 73 home runs and 249 runs batted in. But Beltran and Kent departed, and Bagwell has been injured - leaving the Astros offense in need of an international charity drive.
Even fans thought the Astros had missed their shot of getting to the World Series. "Last year, yes, with Carlos Beltran and Jeff Kent," said Joni Peterson, a season-ticket holder celebrating Wednesday night at the B.U.S., a sports bar across the street from Houston's Minute Maid Park. "But not this year."
Astros pitcher Roger Clemens led the major leagues this season by allowing only 1.87 runs every nine innings - yet he finished with a record of 13-8 because of a lack of run support. …