From Comcast SportsNetThe Baltimore Orioles began the week with the best record in the majors, with Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals close behind. Albert Pujols was slumping, Bobby Valentine was getting booed and Derek Jeter was hitting nearly .400.Signs of the season, or mere mirages? A quick look at the big questions so far in baseball:-------- Can the Orioles stay atop the AL East? Cleveland teased fans last spring, Pittsburgh stuck around until summer. Sure looks like a charmed year in Charm City, too, coming off DH Chris Davis' improbable stint on the mound. Buck Showalter has the Birds believing, bolstered by a shutdown bullpen. The O's haven't had a winning season since future Hall of Famers Cal Ripken and Roberto Alomar led them to a division title in 1997 -- let's watch the next two weeks when Texas, Tampa Bay and the Yankees visit Camden Yards. The call: The Orioles fall back a couple spots before the All-Star break.-------- How many home runs will Albert Pujols hit? After ending the longest power drought of his career, the three-time NL MVP was still hitting in the .190s. He's in a new, better league, facing many pitchers he's never seen, playing in a park that's not ultra-homer friendly. His 240 million contract draws a lot of attention, but these are the numbers worth noticing -- 47 homers in 2009, down to 42 in 2010, down to 37 last year with St. Louis. The call: Pujols drops again, and finishes with 33.-------- Will Washington win the NL East? All eyes are on Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals right now. They're fresh, fun and full of rising talent. Plus, they're winning minus injured closer Drew Storen. Manager Davey Johnson provides a steady hand, and the Nats will do OK while Jayson Werth's broken wrist heals. The last time a baseball team from the nation's capital reached the postseason was 1933, when FDR was in office. It might be time for President Barack Obama to begin warming up his left arm. The call: The Nats just miss the playoffs.-------- What will Derek Jeter hit? In recent years, the Captain has become perhaps the most polarizing player in the majors. Really, try to find a single fan who stays anywhere near neutral when talking about the Yankees star. At this point last year, Jeter seemed washed up at the plate and in the field. Since homering for his 3,000th hit right before the All-Star break, he's completely rejuvenated. Manager Joe Girardi is being diligent in giving the 37-year-old shortstop proper rest, and the results appear to be showing. The call: Jeter hits a robust .321.-------- Can Bobby Valentine survive the season? This sure isn't what Bobby V had in mind when he returned to the big leagues. Battered bullpen, banged-up roster, mini-feud with popular Kevin Youkilis and angry crowds at Fenway Park. Many fans in Boston wondered how much worse it could get after last year's collapse. Well, last place isn't looking so great. That said, he won't be the first manager to get chopped in 2012 -- that's much more likely to be Kansas City's Ned Yost. The call: Red Sox management will preach patience, Boston starts playing better and Valentine makes it through the year.-------- How many more no-hitters will there be? Jered Weaver, OK, maybe some could've foreseen that. But Philip Humber's perfect game, no way. Predicting no-hitters is a tricky business. A lot of people claim they're more possible nowadays, with hitters in the post-Steroids Era. Maybe a pair of gems in less than two weeks means more are on the way. Even so, all it takes is a checked-swing blooper to wreck a bid. The call: One more this year, pitched by Matt Cain.-------- What's in the future for Mariano Rivera? The greatest closer of all-time is holding out hope that he'll pitch again this year. Such comebacks from torn ACLs have occurred, although not with 42-year-old ballplayers. If the Yankees reach the playoffs, look for daily stories on how Rivera is close to rejoining them. Mo' likely, a return in 2013. The call: "Enter Sandman" blasts away at Yankee Stadium next season as Rivera, with almost a full year to rest his arm, loses very little off his cutter.-------- Who will win the World Series? Tampa Bay looks sharp with all its pitching, St. Louis has done well as the defending champion and Miami is starting to play well under Ozzie Guillen. And how magical it would be if Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Dodgers captured the crown? The call: There can be just one champion, and that team is Texas. With Yu Darvish on his way to winning 20 games and Josh Hamilton leading a beastly lineup, the Rangers will shake off the disappointment of losing two straight World Series and hammer whichever NL team dares to get in their way.
Bases loaded. Nobody out. And the White Sox held the slimmest of leads, 4-3, in Game 3 of the 2005 ALDS.
And who did Ozzie Guillen turn to?
Cliff Politte, an ace reliever who posted a 2.00 ERA during the regular season? Or Neal Cotts, who was even more effective, with a 1.94 ERA? Or even Dustin Hermanson, who closed out so many nail-biters before being replaced with fireballing rookie Bobby Jenks, and his 2.04 ERA?
No, Guillen went with the former fifth starter who was jettisoned from the rotation weeks earlier, a guy who had a 5.12 ERA during the regular season.
Enter: El Duque.
Orlando Hernandez didn’t put up the kind of regular-season numbers that would typically warrant his manager’s utmost confidence in the season’s most critical moment. But he had been in this position before.
During an illustrious tenure with the Yankees, Hernandez pitched in six postseasons in seven years, winning three World Series rings, logging more than 100 playoff innings and bringing a 2.65 ERA playoff ERA into this least enviable of situations that night at Fenway Park.
Guillen opted for playoff experience over regular-season results. And boy, did it work.
“There’s 45,000 people in the stands with tight a-------,” White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper told Our Chuck Garfien years later in an NBC Sports Chicago interview. “Every fan’s got the tight a------. Every coach, every player’s got the tight a------.
“The only a------ that wasn’t tight was El Duque’s.”
Hernandez did the impossible, and he did it in the most dramatic fashion imaginable. With Fenway in a frenzy, he got Jason Varitek to pop out, coaxed the same result from Tony Graffanino to close out a 10-pitch at-bat and struck out Johnny Damon on a check swing to finish a seven-pitch at-bat, the latter two both going to full counts.
It was an escape act of epic proportions, one that carved El Duque into White Sox history and chiseled him into the statue that stands outside Guaranteed Rate Field.
“Tremendous inning under the highest amount of pressure that you can have as a baseball player,” Cooper said. “What’s worse? Bases loaded, nobody out in a playoff game. The stadium’s packed, and the whole world is watching the game. And he came through.
“The most important inning in White Sox history? Is it fair to say? I think so.”
Considering what followed, that might strike some as a tad hyperbolic. After all, if the White Sox coughed up that narrow lead in the sixth inning of Game 3, they still had three more innings to stage a comeback attempt. Even if they lost Game 3, they had two more games to win the series. And there were two more rounds of playoffs standing between a series win in Boston and ending an 88-year championship drought.
But Cooper’s right.
This entire postseason run was full of unforgettable moments. Tadahito Iguchi hit a go-ahead three-run homer two days before El Duque’s heroics. In the next round, A.J. Pierzynski swung and missed and ran to first base to turn the ALCS on its head. In the World Series, Paul Konerko, Scott Podsednik and Geoff Blum hit home runs permanently etched into the collective memory of the South Side.
But those were single swings of the bat. Hernandez had to grit through three at-bats when any slip up would have meant a tie game or worse. With nobody out, an early mistake could have snowballed into a huge inning for the Red Sox.
Not only did Hernandez escape the sixth inning. He pitched the seventh and eight, too. All in all, he retired nine of 10 batters, striking out four of them over those three innings. All with only a one-run lead. It doesn’t get any more clutch than that.
“He’s probably got the most heart of any pitcher I’ve ever been around,” Konerko told ESPN’s Erin Andrews after the game.
And why was he the guy to do it? Because he’d been there before.
He just wanted to make sure he didn’t have to be there again.
“(After the game), Duque comes over to me and says, ‘Cooper, one thing I’ll tell you. It’s OK next time if you bring me in with one guy on base. It’s even OK if you bring me in with two guys on base. But no more with three!’”
Keep reliving the White Sox march to the 2005 World Series with #SoxRewind, which features Game 1 of the ALCS, airing at 7 p.m. Tuesday on NBC Sports Chicago.
NBC Sports Chicago is simulating the 2020 White Sox season via MLB The Show during the postponement of play. The White Sox, stocked with young talent and veteran offseason acquisitions, were expected to take a big step forward in their rebuild this season. Follow along as we play out the first few months of the season.
Result: White Sox def. Orioles, 6-4
Record: 25-29, 3rd in A.L. Central (5.0 GB of Twins)
W: Reynaldo Lopez (5-2)
L: Asher Wojciechowski (1-6)
SV: Alex Colome (8)
Game summary: Monday’s Memorial Day matchup between the White Sox and Orioles was one of two teams going in opposite directions. The White Sox are red hot with a six-game winning streak, while the O’s were riding a nine-game losing skid.
The White Sox set off the fireworks early with a leadoff home run from Edwin Encarnacion, his 16th of the season. Two batters later, Yoan Moncada homered for the 10th time this season, becoming the sixth White Sox hitter with double-digit long balls on the season.
Encarnacion continued his run production in the fourth, driving in Luis Robert with a RBI single to left field to give the Sox a 3-1 lead. The offense didn’t skip a frame, scoring two in the fifth behind a Jose Abreu sacrifice fly and a Tim Anderson RBI single to give the Sox a four-run advantage.
The following inning, Eloy Jimenez joined the power production with his 20th homer of the season, tied for league lead with Angels third baseman Anthony Rendon.
White Sox lineup:
Edwin Encarnacion: 2-5, HR, 2 RBI (.314 BA)
Eloy Jimenez: 1-5, HR, RBI (.268 BA)
Yoan Moncada: 2-5, HR, RBI (.261 BA)
Nick Madrigal: 2-5, 2B (.252 BA)
Jose Abreu: 1-4, RBI (.308 BA)
Tim Anderson: 2-4, RBI, 2B (.300 BA)
Luis Robert: 0-3, BB (.237 BA)
Yasmani Grandal: 2-4, 2 2B (.299 BA)
Nomar Mazara: 1-4 (.244 BA)
Edwin Encarnacion homered to center field. 1-0 CHW.
Yoan Moncada homered to right field. 2-0 CHW.
Renato Nunez homered to left field. 2-1 CHW.
Encarnacion singled to left field, Luis Robert scored. 3-1 CHW.
Jose Abreu sacrifice fly to center field, Moncada scored. 4-1 CHW.
Tim Anderson singled to center field, Nick Madrigal scored. 5-1 CHW.
Eloy Jimenez homered to left field. 6-1 CHW.
Austin Hays doubled to right field, Trey Mancini scored. 6-2 CHW.
Ramon Urias doubled to right field, D.J. Stewart and Hays scored. 6-4 CHW.
Notable performance: Reynaldo Lopez continues to pitch well, leading the White Sox with five wins on the season. He went 6 1/3 innings while striking out seven Baltimore batters and only allowing two earned runs.
Next game: Tuesday, May 26 - Game 55: White Sox at Orioles (Michael Kopech, 0-0, 2.13 ERA vs Keegan Akin, 2-3, 4.44 ERA)Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.