© 2005 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
HOUSTON -- He hasn't thrown a pitch in anger in 10 days, so it isn't like he had to be delayed for proper rest. So it says a lot about the pitching abundance fueling the White Sox plunder through the postseason that their biggest winner wouldn't get a World Series turn until Game 3.
Jon Garland, the 18-game winner who may have the best pure stuff on Ozzie Guillen's staff, gets his shot here Tuesday night, and it is one he'll want to make count.
From the moment the respective managers set their World Series rotations, Garland's confrontation with Houston ace Roy Oswalt was spotlighted as pivotal. Stand up to the Astros' top gun, and you leave with a big piece of their heart.
Now that Chicago has a 2-0 lead in the 101st Fall Classic, Garland's opportunity grows exponentially. The Astros are convinced their
World Series begins now, in a house they rule and behind a pitcher they ride.
Beat Oswalt at Minute Maid Park, and everything else becomes an epilogue. That's the opportunity. That's the daunting challenge.
"I hear what hitters say about him -- that he's got some of the dirtiest stuff they've ever seen," Garland said early Monday afternoon while his teammates were familiarizing themselves with Minute Maid's idiosyncrasies. "That's enough for me.
"The guy is a great pitcher, he goes out and competes, he wants to win. There's nothing that holds him back when he's on the mound, he brings it all."
It is also an apt description of Garland, the 26-year-old California native who won 12 games three consecutive seasons before busting out of the pack in 2005. But getting on the mound has been his problem.
Tuesday's start will be only his second in more than three weeks since the last Saturday of the regular season. The White Sox swept Boston in the Division Series without his input, and his Game 3 complete-game four-hitter helped make quick work of the Angels in the American League Championship Series.
"It's one of those things you have to deal with, you have to overcome," Garland said of the long layoffs. "I throw more on the side, and threw against some of my own hitters again, just so I could see somebody standing in the box.
"But it's tough. There's nothing like the real game."
He will get all the game he wants Tuesday night. The first Texan World Series game in history will whip already enthusiastic fans into delirium, raising Minute Maid Park's closed roof.
Garland has an inner calm about him that should isolate him on the mound and insulate him from the emotional setting.
And pitching indoors will not faze him. This season, he made four starts under domes (in Minneapolis and Toronto) and was 2-0, allowing 10 runs in 27 1/3 innings.
As for this
particular place ... it can dismay visiting pitchers, but Garland won't let it intimidate him. Like, for instance, the 315-foot span to the Crawford Boxes in the left-field corner -- only five feet deeper than Fenway Park's cozy corner, but without a 37-foot Green Monster towering at the end of it.
"It's one of those things where you might have to keep [the ball] away from some of the lefties and some of the righties, keep them from pulling it into the corner with the short porches," Garland said.
"For me, I'm not going to try to pitch different because of a short porch, or things like that. I've got to go out and make quality pitches, regardless. If I'm not doing that, it's not going to matter where I'm at."
Where they play has been pretty much insignificant for his entire team. The White Sox were the Majors' best road club with a record of 52-29. The Astros can counter that with the National League's best home record (53-28, second in the Majors to Boston), just as the Angels tried to hold their home successes over the White Sox (they had been 39-15 in the last decade) against them.
That didn't do the Angels any good.
If anything, Garland figures to be better armed for this test against a Houston lineup that will throw only two left-handed batters at him, the switch-hitting Lance Berkman and Mike Lamb. The Angels had presented a different challenge, with Garret Anderson, Darin Erstad, Adam Kennedy, Steve Finley and switch-hitting Chone Figgins.
That lefty brigade prompted Garland to keep his sinker holstered.
"I had a lot of lefties," he recalled, "and I wanted to bust them in with the four seamer, and stay away from the sinker. I'll get my scouting report, and if it calls for throwing a sinker [against the Houston batters], that's what I'll go to."
The path out of long droughts is taken in baby steps. Of course, the White Sox have not won a World Series since 1917. It is also true they have not won three games in a World Series since the same year.
So, Garland gets the first opportunity to take them to a new level.
"But you've got to be careful. In a short series you always have to be careful," reminded Guillen, mindful of the footing on this yellow brick road.
Garland and Oz ... now there's a match made for chasing rainbows.