CHICAGO – For a team that hadn’t played in a World Series game in 46 years, the Chicago White Sox certainly navigated themselves pretty well around baseball’s biggest stage on Saturday night.

The American League champions did a little bit of everything in beating the Houston Astros, 5-3, in Game 1 of the first World Series played in the country’s third largest city since 1959.

They got big hits from Jermaine Dye, Juan Uribe, Joe Crede and Scott Podsednik.

They got a pair of defensive gems from Crede at third base.

They got another strong postseason start from Jose Contreras.

And they got stellar relief pitching. Whoa, boy, did they ever get stellar relief pitching.

Lefty Neal Cotts struck out a pair of dangerous hitters, Morgan Ensberg and Mike Lamb, with two runners on base in the top of the eighth inning and his team up by a run.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen then walked to the mound and held his arms out wide as if to say, “I want the big guy.” The big guy, burly closer Bobby Jenks, came on to face Hall of Fame-bound slugger Jeff Bagwell with two outs and the potential tying and go-ahead runs on base.

Jenks threw nothing but fastballs – six of them – in striking out Bagwell on a heater that registered 100 mph on the stadium radar gun.

Jenks then closed it out in the ninth, striking out two of three batters.

Guillen was concerned about his bullpen entering the game. His starters had closed out the AL championship series with four straight complete games, which is always a good thing. The flipside, however, is the rust that can settle into a bullpen from lack of work.

Jenks, in particular, had not worked in 15 days, since Game 2 of the division series.

There was no rust on his right arm Saturday night.

The game’s marquee talent, Houston pitcher Roger Clemens, checked out after two innings with a hamstring injury.

His replacement, lefty Wandy Rodriguez, entered a 3-3 game in the bottom of the bottom of the third.

An inning later, Rodriguez gave up a solo homer to Crede. That proved to be the decisive run. Crede made sure it remained the decisive run with a pair of sparkling defensive plays with runners on third base in the sixth and seventh innings.

Dye homered off Clemens in the first. Uribe keyed a two-run second with an RBI double and Podsednik tripled home an insurance run in the eighth.

Contreras worked seven innings for the win.

The White Sox, who ended the regular season with five straight wins, have are now 8-1 in the postseason. They have come away with victories in 13 of their last 14 games.

The starting pitching matchup featured a couple of old teammates. Clemens and Contreras were both New York Yankees in 2003.

That was Clemens’ last year with the Yanks, and Contreras’ first with the club. He had defected from Cuba before the season.

Though not teammates for long, Clemens and Contreras bonded during their time with the Yanks. Clemens taught Contreras to throw a four-seam fastball, the pitch of choice for power pitchers.

Clemens and Contreras did not share the mound for long Saturday night.

Clemens was tagged for a home run by Jermaine Dye in the first inning and allowed two more runs in a laborious second inning.

He needed 54 pitches to get through the first two innings and did not come out for the third due to a strained left hamstring.

It is possible that the 43-year-old Clemens has thrown his last pitch in the majors. He would not be scheduled to pitch again until Game 5, if necessary. No one knows if the series will go that long, or if Clemens will be physically ready to pitch if it does.

Of course, it’s always difficult to get a read on Clemens’ future. The baseball world thought he had thrown his last pitch in Miami during the 2003 World Series. He even seemed to say farewell when he doffed his cap as the fans gave him a huge send-off that night. A couple of months later, Clemens postponed his retirement to join his hometown Astros.

Clemens had been bothered by a sore hamstring over the final weeks of the season, but he didn’t believe it would be a problem Saturday night.

“I’m getting the ball to get something done, to get this thing started, to get it started in a positive way for my ball club, and I plan on doing it,” he said on Friday. “That’s the bottom line. I don’t care how my body feels this time of year. If you need more aspirin, if you need more heat, if you need more ice, this is the time you get it, and you don’t ask questions.”

After falling behind by 1-0 in the first, the Astros tied the game at 1-1 on Mike Lamb’s solo homer in the second. Clemens gave up two in the second, but his mates got him off the hook in the top of the third, tying the game at 3-3 on Lance Berkman’s two-out, two-run double.

The White Sox grabbed the lead back on Joe Crede’s solo homer off Wandy Rodriguez in the fourth.



(c) 2005, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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