It was worth the wait.
Pitching in relief of starter Jose Contreras, Neal Cotts and Bobby Jenks showed no signs of rust, combining to brilliantly pitch the final two innings and secure the White Sox 5-3 victory against the Astros in Game 1 of the World Series at U.S. Cellular Field.
"We felt ready and we're prepared for whatever they need us for," Cotts said.
It showed despite the fact that White Sox relievers had not made an appearance since Oct. 11, when Cotts pitched two-thirds of an inning against the Angels in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.
"We just threw bullpens, simulated games," Jenks said. "Played a lot of catch. We stayed mentally ready, [which] was the harder thing to do."
They made the pitching look easy. Cotts and Jenks extended the scoreless streak among relievers in the postseason to 10 innings, striking out five of the seven batters they faced in the eighth and ninth frames. Overall, the White Sox pitching staff has allowed three runs or less in seven consecutive games, eight of nine games in the postseason and 14 out of the last 15 games dating back to the regular season.
Reliever Orlando Hernandez was among the first to shine from the bullpen for the White Sox when he retired the side in order with the bases loaded in Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Red Sox.
"I'm happy for those guys," White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko said. "They've been doing it for us all year, so it never surprises me when they do the job. That's why we are here."
After a double by Willy Taveras knocked Contreras out of the game in the eighth, Cotts gave up a single to Lance Berkman and then struck out right-hand hitting Morgan Ensberg. He also struck out left-handed hitter Mike Lamb before White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen walked to the mound and gave the signal for a Jenks appearance with two outs and runners on first and third base with Jeff Bagwell heading to the plate.
"With no outs, you're just trying to minimize damage on the first and third," Cotts said. "Once I got the first strikeout, then I was going for a ground ball, just trying to get out of the inning, and I ended up having a strikeout and Bobby came in and did the rest."
Guillen also had some fun. He didn't touch his right-arm, as is often used to call for Jenks. Instead, he spread his arms far apart to show width, then he drew an imaginary line over the top of his head with a swiping motion to show height.
He couldn't have been talking about anybody other than the 6-foot-3, 270-pound Jenks.
"I think it's pretty funny calling the big guy in," Jenks said. "I know he does a lot of things out of humor, he doesn't mean anything by it. I'm taking the smile with it."
Jenks' first pitch was a 99 mph fastball that Bagwell missed. The next pitch was 98 mph, also for a strike. Jenks' pitch on the 1-2 pitch was a fastball that was clocked at 100 mph.
Bagwell struck out swinging on Jenks' sixth pitch, a 98 mph fastball.
"If you'd seen me warming up, you'd see I didn't throw nothing but a fastball, I couldn't find anything else," Jenks said. "Going off the scouting report and 0-2 counts, he chases fastballs up above the zone; sticking to what I was doing best, going against my strengths and his weaknesses."
In the ninth, Jenks struck out two of the three batters he faced to end the game.
"That kid has been doing the same stuff all year long," Guillen said. "A lot of people ask me about the layoff he had, didn't pitch a little while. But that's the way we play all year long."
"I didn't face Cotts, but, obviously, after the single to Berkman, Cotts did an excellent job," Astros catcher Brad Ausmus said. "Jenks throws hard. He comes right at you. There's no secret, he throws 95 to a 100 and he'll mix in an occasional breaking ball. But for the most part, he comes right at you."
No secret at all. It had been a long time coming. Jenks started the season at Double-A.
"The first time I saw him was the first day of Spring Training," Guillen said. "I saw the kid throwing the first time, and I said, 'You know what, you stay healthy and do what you're supposed to do in the Minor Leagues, you have a great chance to finish up the year with the White Sox.' And he did. I think it's one of the best moves we made. And this kid came to the big level to help win this day."
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.