Game 3 evolves into a timeless classic

HOUSTON -- On and on they went. To the 12th inning. To the 13th. To the 14th freaking inning.

On and on they went. Past midnight. Past 12:30. Past 1 o' freaking clock in the morning, in the Central Time Zone.

They were making history. World Series history. Except it wasn't Reggie-Jackson-Three-Homer-Game kind of history, or Bob-Gibson-Punching-Out-17 kind of history.

It was just This-Game-Is-Never-Going-To-End-Ever kind of history. And that, friends, is the kind of history that can make a guy delirious -- but not necessarily delirious with joy.

"I didn't look at the clock until the 14th inning," said White Sox center fielder Aaron Rowand, in some ridiculous hour of Tuesday-night-turned-Wednesday-morning, after The Longest World Series Game Ever Played. "But then, when they brought in (Mark) Buehrle (to serve as relief pitcher No. 15), the three of us in the outfield were just kind of hanging out there, looking around. And that's when I saw the clock.

"And I said, 'Holy xpffgghqxf! This is like a six-hour game.' "

Well, Game 3 of the 2005 World Series wasn't quite a six-hour game. We'd better clear that up right now, for those of you who may have nodded off a couple of hundred pitches before its conclusion. But it only missed by 19 freaking minutes. And that's a statement that has never been made about any other World Series game ever played.

Matter of fact, a lot of things can be said about this game that have never been said about any other game ever played. But when it was over, at 1:20 a.m. CT -- 45 minutes after Conan O'Brien had signed off back east -- there was no more amazing thing that could be said of it than this:

After their mind-boggling 7-5 win over the Astros on Tuesday (and Wednesday), the Chicago White Sox -- no kidding -- are on the verge of winning the World Series. For the first time since the light bulb was most people's idea of cool technology.

Back in 1917, which was when that win-the-Series deal last happened, the Sox and Giants played the first three games of their World Series in only 15 more minutes (5:56) than it took just to play this one game (5:41). But that's one of many, many, many aspects to Game 3, 2005, that is going to take awhile to comprehend.

If you wouldn't mind fastening your seat belt and placing your seat back and tray table in the full upright and locked position, we now would like to try to run through several more of those incomprehensibilities:

• The guy who hit the game-winning home run (Geoff Blum) -- on the (gulp) 440th pitch of the night -- hadn't had a single at-bat in 21 days, hadn't gotten a single hit in 24 days and hadn't driven in a single run in 56 days (since Aug. 30).

• The winning pitcher (Damaso Marte) hadn't collected any wins in more than five months (since May 24) -- and actually hadn't even gotten one stinking out in 3½ weeks (since Oct. 1). At one point in this game, his postseason ERA was infinity (four batters, zero outs).

• The pitcher who saved this game (Buehrle) hadn't saved any games any place since the previous millennium, when he saved three for Burlington of the Eastern League back in 1999. And those saves were so similar to this save, that Buehrle had absolutely no recollection that he'd ever saved a game in any league.

• The White Sox used four relief pitchers in this game -- Marte, Dustin Hermanson, Luis Vizcaino and Orlando (El Duque) Hernandez -- who hadn't thrown a single pitch among the four of them in the last 2½ weeks.

• The two teams combined to use 17 pitchers -- which was not just a World Series record; it was also slightly more than were used in the only other 14-inning game in Series history. In that game (Game 2, 1916), there was a grand total of no relievers used -- because the two starters, Babe Ruth and Sherry Smith, threw every single pitch.

• After taking a 4-0 lead on Jason Lane's fourth-inning homer, the Astros sent another 47 batters to home plate -- and precisely one of them got a hit. Naturally, that hit was a game-tying eighth-inning double by Lane that made the rest of this marathon possible.

• But the Astros still managed to leave 15 runners on base, with some major help from the White Sox. Over the last eight innings, the Astros crowded up those bases with 11 walks, one hit batter and one Sox error -- and still scored only once.

• So the winning team set the all-time Series record for most walks issued by a pitching staff in one game (12). And the losing team managed to throw eight straight shutout innings between the sixth and 14th, even though just two of them went 1-2-3.

It was no surprise, then, that these two teams blew away the record for most runners left on base (a total of 30 -- or 15 apiece). In fact, there were so many hair-raising escapes, White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski asked: "Is there a stat for that?"

"If there is a record for escapes," Pierzysnki decided later, "it's probably held by some guy at Alcatraz."

It's hard to believe that for a few innings there, this looked like a nice, normal little game. It's hard to remember now, but it really was this game when Roy Oswalt took a shutout, and a four-run lead, into the fifth inning. Then, however, he coughed up all of it -- allowing five runs. And throwing a career-high 46 pitches in one inning. And becoming the first pitcher in World Series history to be left in to face 11 hitters in the same inning.

And after that, this game spent the next four hours flying over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Somewhere in there, a guy hit a home run that actually wasn't a home run (Jason Lane).

And somewhere in there, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen handed an eighth-inning, two-out lead to a man who hadn't pitched since Sept. 30 (Hermanson). And four pitches later, Guillen didn't have himself a lead anymore.

And somewhere in there, the legendary El Duque wandered in to teeter through one of the most bizarre postseason outings ever -- 28 pitches, eight strikes, one bases-loaded jam wriggled out of, and a box-score line that read: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 2 K. (Kids, please don't try that at home.)

And somewhere in there, Buehrle -- who had just started Game 2 about 48 hours earlier -- found himself volunteering to go to the bullpen. But even he wasn't sure when that was. The ninth inning. The 10th inning. Sometime.

"I think I finally went down to the bullpen around the 12th or 13th," Buehrle reported. "But I'm really not sure anymore."

Somewhere in there, Vizcaino came out of that bullpen (for the first time in 23 days), did his thing for an inning and left. And somewhere in there, Marte stomped out of that bullpen, too (for the first time in 18 days). Which meant Buehrle was the only guy left in a place he never thought he'd ever visit.

"I was sitting out there, the last guy in the bullpen, saying, 'Man, it's getting to be like 1:30 in the morning,' " Buehrle said. "I mean, they were probably closing down bars all over Chicago."

He told himself that Marte couldn't possibly go more than a couple of innings. So that meant -- uh-oh -- he was probably going to have to pitch in this thing.

"At first, I didn't think it would come down to that," Buehrle said. "But when the phone rang down there, I said, 'Oh, no, this is really going to happen.' "

Of course, he didn't know at that point if they were going to need him for an inning -- or for 12 innings. But then up came Blum to help end this game the way it had to end. Which means, of course, in about the least likely way possible.

Just the day before, Blum had been joking about feeling so strong from lack of activity, he might hit a 743-foot homer. Instead, he took a mighty hack at a 2-0 pitch from reliever No. 13 (Ezequiel Astacio) and hit a line drive that didn't come down until it almost wiped out the occupants of the entire third row in right field.

Asked later how come he was 400 feet short of that 743-foot homer, Blum said: "I hit it too low. If I'd just gotten it a little higher, I would have (hit it 743 feet)."

And afterward, Blum traipsed into the interview room, where he was asked where this shot would rank on his list of biggest hits.

"Good Lord," he laughed. "Have I had any big hits?"

Well, he has now.

But the goofiness wasn't even done in that inning. The White Sox miraculously turned two infield-thunker hits, a walk and then a bases-loaded walk to another of their most secret weapons -- backup catcher Chris Widger -- into yet another run.

Widger, fittingly, hadn't batted in 24 days and hadn't driven in a run since Aug. 21. Even more fittingly, a year ago he was not just missing from the big leagues, he was playing in a fast-pitch softball league. Where the games never lasted 5 hours, 41 minutes.

"Heck, no," he chuckled. "Our softball games were over in an hour and a half. We had to get them over with so we could go have a couple of beers."

Widger didn't do much walking in those softball games, either, he admitted -- at least not of his own volition.

"But I used to get some intentional walks," he quipped, "because I was actually a good player in that league."

After drawing this heroic unintentional walk, however, he had to head back behind the plate and try to wriggle three more outs out of his weary pitching staff. But it turned out Marte only had two in him.

And after a walk and a Juan Uribe error on what looked like the last out of the game, out sprinted Guillen one last time to wave for (who else?) Mark Buehrle.

No pitcher in World Series history had ever started a Series game and then saved a Series game in consecutive games. And only one pitcher in World Series history (Catfish Hunter) ever collected a save in a Series game without ever collecting a save in any regular-season games.

But as Buehrle trotted in from the now-desolate left-field bullpen, he was on the verge of joining that glorious trivia list. It was all so surreal, so goofy, so mixed up, so downright White Sox-esque, that Pierzynski joked: "We told Bobby Jenks (the regular closer) he's starting when it's Buehrle's turn."

The folks remaining in the once-throbbing stands were trying their best to muster one final burst of noise as Adam Everett (0 for his previous 13 in this postseason with men in scoring position) stepped in to hit. But they were more limp than loud.

So Buehrle wound and tossed the 480th pitch of the evening (and morning) for ball one. Then came No. 481 -- a fastball for a called strike. And finally it was time for that long-awaited 482nd and final pitch -- a curve ball that Everett popped into the crisp October sky.

When it came down in the glove of Uribe, the White Sox -- THE WHITE SOX -- led this World Series, three games to zilch. What a concept.

"It was weird," Buehrle said. "When I got that last out, I wasn't ready to walk off the field. I'm not used to throwing three pitches and then the game's over."

But it's been that kind of World Series for this team. Their big home run heroes -- Blum and Scott Podsednik -- combined to hit one homer for them in the regular season. Pierzynski, who stole no bases all year, has stolen two this October. And their opening-day starter (Buehrle) just collected their biggest save of the year.

"It's kind of freaky. It really is," said Buehrle. "If people had said in spring training -- or even now -- that all this was going to happen, everybody would say, 'Aw, B.S.' But that's just the way this team is. I don't think Blum has seen an at-bat in about a month and a half. Then he goes out and hits that home run. That's how it's been. Every guy here has done something."

You couldn't script this. You couldn't design this. You could barely even stay awake for the latest chapter. But it's all coming together now -- for one of the most star-crossed franchises in sports. So what are we to make of that?

"You know," said Blum, "maybe we stole a little October magic from Boston. We swept them. We went into Fenway and won. Maybe we stole their magic. It took them 86 years to win, right? And for us, it would be 88. So maybe people have this October Magic theory all wrong. Instead of the wild card, maybe you just need to go through 85 years, or more, of torture."

Well, either that or 14 innings of Great Escapes. Whatever works. And right now, it's all working for the Chicago White Sox. Who'd have thunk it?

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.