It was 88 years ago that the White Sox last won a postseason series. For all I know, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez read about it at the time. That’s how old he seems sometimes; the Satchel Paige of our age.
It was also El Duque who won the series-clincher last night. The same El Duque who was almost left off the postseason roster in favor of rookie Brandon McCarthy. He entered the game with the bases loaded, none out and the Pale Hose ahead by only one run in the bottom of the sixth inning. Fenway Park was rocking, as it should have been. The Red Sox’s Win Probability at that point was .662, even though they were trailing by one run.
The game had already qualified for a Tony Award, featuring back-to-back home runs by leading Red Sox players David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez and fine supporting roles by White Sox Juan Uribe, Scott Podsednik and Tadahito Iguchi. The three White Sox players belted three hits in a row in the third inning to give Chicago a 2-0 lead and a .718 Win Probability at the end of the inning.
But Ortiz and Ramirez, who seemingly couldn’t hit anything but the sweet part of the bat, smashed back-to-back homers in the fourth to even up the game. In the bottom of the fifth, Ortiz smashed a pitch to deep centerfield with two on, the ball falling just short of another home run and into Aaron Rowand’s glove. The score was tied 2-2 and each team had a .500 probability of winning.
If Ortiz’s blast had made it to the stands, the Red Sox’s WPA would have been .850.
But the real drama occurred in the sixth. Paul Konerko jerked a home run over the Green Monster after Tim Wakefield had walked Jermaine Dye, and the team from Chicago suddenly had a 4-2 lead. When one-batter pitchers Chad Bradford and Mike Myers gave up a single and walk, respectively, the White Sox had an .815 Win Probability. But rookie godsend Jon Papelbon retired the next two batters and the stage was set for true baseball histrionics in the bottom of the inning.
Guillen decided to leave Freddy Garcia in at the beginning of the inning even though he had shown signs of losing his stuff in the fifth. Right on cue, Ramirez led off with a home run, almost a given at this point, to raise Boston’s WPA to .410. Damaso Marte entered the game for the White Sox, a phrase that has given many a White Sox fan heart palpitations this year. True to form, Marte gave up a single and two walks, loading the bases and setting the stage for El Duque.
The WPA impact of those three plays, by the way, was .055, .088 and .108. Each runner on base made a Red Sox victory that much more probable.
El Duque went to work. The first batter, Jason Varitek, popped out to raise the White Sox’s WPA from .338 to .440. The next batter, Tony Graffanino also popped out; WPA up to .558. And Johnny Damon struck out swinging on a wicked breaking ball he couldn’t refuse. WPA up to .682. And just like that, Orlando Hernandez turned the game around, adding .341 points to Chicago’s WPA in just three batters.
Hernandez went on to retire six of the next seven batters, and Chicago’s own rookie phenom, Bobby Jenks closed out the game. The White Sox managed to add a run on a well-done squeeze play in the ninth, making their Win Probability .897 at the beginning of the Red Sox’s half and Jenks added the final tenth of a win. Last year’s story, the Boston Red Sox, were beaten by a team trying to become this year’s story. And the story’s protagonist, for one night at least, was Mr. Hernandez.
The play of the game was Konerko’s home run; a single-play WPA of .220. But the player of the game was Hernandez, who achieved a WPA (.521) rarely achieved by pitchers who only pitch three innings.
Here’s the full leaderboard:
Team Player Off Pitch Field WPA White Sox Hernandez 0.000 0.521 0.000 0.521 Konerko 0.131 0.000 0.066 0.197 Jenks 0.000 0.103 0.000 0.103 Dye 0.042 0.000 0.000 0.042 Iguchi 0.022 0.000 0.020 0.042 Pierzynski 0.038 0.000 0.000 0.038 Uribe 0.004 0.000 0.028 0.032 Podsednik 0.024 0.000 0.000 0.024 No One 0.007 0.000 0.000 0.007 Rowand -0.011 0.000 0.000 -0.011 Crede -0.054 0.000 0.000 -0.054 Everett -0.085 0.000 0.000 -0.085 Garcia 0.000 -0.105 0.000 -0.105 Marte 0.000 -0.252 0.000 -0.252 White Sox Total 0.117 0.268 0.115 0.500 Red Sox Ramirez 0.253 0.000 0.000 0.253 Papelbon 0.000 0.157 0.000 0.157 Olerud 0.151 0.000 0.000 0.151 Mueller -0.011 0.000 0.016 0.005 Ortiz -0.020 0.000 0.000 -0.020 Bradford 0.000 -0.025 0.000 -0.025 Myers 0.000 -0.038 0.000 -0.038 Nixon -0.072 0.000 0.008 -0.064 Timlin 0.000 -0.072 0.000 -0.072 Mirabelli -0.075 0.000 0.000 -0.075 Renteria -0.098 0.000 0.004 -0.094 Varitek -0.173 0.000 0.027 -0.146 Graffanino -0.157 0.000 0.000 -0.157 Damon -0.182 0.000 0.000 -0.182 Wakefield 0.000 -0.194 0.000 -0.194 Red Sox Total -0.383 -0.172 0.055 -0.500
And here’s a graph of how the White Sox’s Win Probability rose and fell through the afternoon: