Six years ago, the White Sox offense was rolling entering a three-game rematch of the 2005 World Series with Houston. After being shut out by Texas on June 14, the Sox run totals went as follows: 8, 12, 8, 8, 20, 13, 1. That last game was a 1-0 win, with Jim Thome belting a mammoth home run off Cardinals starter Anthony Reyes to net the Sox a sweep of the eventual champions that season.
Many of the World Series faces were the same in late June 2006. Lance Berkman, Craig Biggio, Andy Pettite, Brad Lidge and plenty more for Houston; Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye, Joe Crede, Scott Podsednik and most of the pitching staff for the White Sox. As the two teams enter their series in 2012, only three players remain from the 2005 World Series rosters -- Wandy Rodriguez, A.J. Pierzynski and Konerko.
Houston, on the other hand, was scuffling. They had dropped back-to-back series to Kansas City and Minnesota, falling to just one game over .500 when they arrived in Chicago. The Sox, at 47-25, seemed destined for a second straight playoff appearance (we all know that didn't happen, but at the time, it sure felt like it).
In true White Sox-Astros fashion, all three games of the series were close. The total run differential was five -- in 2005, the White Sox won their four games by a combined total of six runs.
The first game of the series saw Jose Contreras win his 15th consecutive decision, although he allowed four runs in 6 13 innings. He was supported by six runs through the first four innings, with the first two coming on back-to-back RBI hits by Crede and Rob Mackowiak off Astros starter Pettite. In the fourth, Pettite's control escaped him, as he sandwiched walks around a Pierzynski single to load the bases with nobody out.
But Pettite retired Mackowiak and Juan Uribe, leaving the bases loaded for Podsednik with two out. And on a 2-2 pitch, Podsednik ripped his first -- and only -- career grand slam, putting the Sox up 6-0. They would hang on for a 7-4 win.
Things didn't go as well in the second game of the series, with Jon Garland facing off against former top prospect Taylor Buccholz. The Sox jumped out to an early lead on the romanticized Podsednik singles, steals, is advanced to third on a groundout and scores on a sac fly bit. But Houston peppered Garland all game until the floodgates opened in the fourth, which saw the Astros score three times to go up 5-1.
The Sox couldn't touch Buchholz, who gave up only a single to Thome after allowing the run through the sixth. But the fearsome heart of the Sox order came alive in the seventh, as Thome walked and Konerko and Dye singled to load the bases for Crede.
Chad Qualls was best-known among Sox fans for serving up Paul Konerko's go-ahead grand slam in Game 2 of the World Series, a blast which came in the bottom of the seventh on the first pitch. So when manager Phil Garner turned to Qualls with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh on June 24, the thought of a repeat was probably at the front of the minds of more than a few spectators.
That's exactly what happened. Qualls' first pitch to Crede was ripped into the White Sox bullpen for a grand slam, tying the game at five.
From there, David Riske and Matt Thornton held Houston at bay to send the game into extras, and in the 10th, Alex Cintron's walk-off single with the bases loaded won the Sox the game and the series.
The nightcap was a nationally televised affair on Sunday night, a chance for the White Sox to cement their dominance over the Astros on a grand stage. But Javier Vazquez was lit up for nine runs on 10 hits in six innings as Houston jumped out to a 9-2 lead after seven. Oswalt was pulled as Houston's bullpen looked to cruise to an easy win.
Tadahito Iguchi had other ideas. A three-run homer off Russ Springer in the eighth seemed innocuous enough, as it only brought the Sox within four heading into the ninth. It seemed like a good chance for a struggling Brad Lidge to exorcise a demon or two. And with two outs, a runner on first and only Cintron separating the Astros from a win, it certainly looked like that was the case.
But Cintron singled, and then Podsednik drew a walk. The bases were loaded for Iguchi.
And Iguchi delivered one of the more memorable White Sox home runs in the last decade or so. His game-tying grand slam just barely cleared the wall in left-center, but it meant he had nearly single-handedly brought the Sox back from a seven-run deficit in two innings.
The Astros went on to win the game in extras when Willy Taveras singled home Adam Everett off Brandon McCarthy, but nonetheless, the series probably represented the high-water mark for the White Sox in 2006. They would rise to 27 games over .500 in early July, but that was followed by a stretch that saw the Sox win only three times in 15 games.
Six years later, the White Sox and Astros meet on completely different trajectories than the ones they were on in 2006. The Sox are in first, yes, but weren't expected to be there -- as they were in '06. Houston is a shell of its former self and while they're scrapping for wins here and there, the Astros are years -- at best -- away from contending again, especially as they prepare to join the American League West in 2013.
That move means that the Sox and Astros will meet every season from here on out. These first three games are the beginning.
And while it'll be tough to top the excitement and intensity of 2006 and, of course, 2005, hey, at least we can reminisce about those years.