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Bullpen smothers Astros with group hug

'Pen holds Astros with group hug

HOUSTON -- In a postseason driven and dominated by the starting pitchers, the White Sox bullpen finally got its moment under the moon Tuesday night.

Make it, many moments. And Wednesday morning, too.

Taking over for starter Jon Garland, Chicago relievers took the second seven-inning shift of a classic night/dawn of Fall Classic baseball to enable a 7-5 Game 3 victory that delivered the White Sox within a win of World Series nirvana, and the Astros to the doorsill of a sanitarium.

Eight Chicago relievers combined to hold the Astros to one hit. Oh, they also issued 10 walks and hit a batter, conditions that merely tightened the frustration screws around the Astros.

"I'm really ticked off," Houston manager Phil Garner kept repeating after this game.

All we can do is tick off the relievers who pulled this off. Remember a week ago when, in the wake of the starters hogging the mound, people were asking, "Where are the White Sox relievers?"

Well, they all took relief bows in this one. Even someone not in the bullpen, left-hander Mark Buehrle, who came on to retire the game's last batter with runners at the corners.

That's right. Buehrle, the White Sox Game 2 starter, appeared in Game 3 at approximately 1:20 a.m. CT to earn the new nickname of Early Buehrle.

"He told me, 'If you need somebody, I'll be ready.' And I was worried about [Damaso] Marte," said manager Ozzie Guillen.

"We're gonna trade jobs for a while," usual closer Bobby Jenks said of Buehrle. "He likes it a lot."

On this occasion, Jenks was needed to work the "middle" innings, the 11th and 12th. Then came Marte, who was within one out of ending it himself when a walk and an error set off the alarms in Guillen's head.

You remember Damaso: The guy who hadn't recorded an out since the regular season earned the victory with 1 2/3 innings of gut-wrenching tenacity.

"We're glad he's cleared his head," Jenks said of the left-hander. "Damaso, everyone knows, has been very important to the success of the White Sox for a while now. We're behind him. We believe in him."

They, well, probably also prayed for him.

"That's the best Marte has thrown the ball in two months," Guillen said. "But I was still worried about him."

That's the way it went as Guillen brilliantly, and somewhat daringly, used his bullpen taxi squad to keep the White Sox in this amazing game. Those used between Garland and Buehrle included:

• Dustin Hermanson, in his first appearance since the last Friday of the regular season.

On 25 days' rest, Hermanson allowed Jason Lane's game-tying single in the eighth before striking out Brad Ausmus to end that inning.

• Orlando Hernandez, in his first appearance since the third and final game of the American League Division Series, on Oct. 7.

El Duque walked his typical high wire in the ninth inning, dodging three walks and his own throwing error on a pickoff attempt to send the game into extra innings by fanning Morgan Ensberg with the bases loaded.

But Hernandez paid an immediate price for that labor-intensive 25-pitch inning. Coincidentally or not, he issued a four-pitch leadoff walk to Orlando Palmeiro in the 10th, then left with pain in his neck.

That directly led to Guillen's gutsiest move of the game, as he chose to introduce Luis Vizcaino to the postseason crowd.

• Vizcaino, making his first appearance since the final day of the regular season, put up a 10th-inning zero.

• And, of course, Marte, who had worked zero innings since the end of the season. The left-hander did make one prior postseason appearance, on Oct. 7 in Boston, but did not register an out while giving up two walks and a hit.

That created the bases-loaded mess that Hernandez came in to clean up, providing the pitching centerpiece of Chicago's 5-3 Division Series clincher.

The White Sox relievers spent seven innings cleaning up each other's messes Tuesday-Wednesday.

They formed a pretty good relay team, for a non-Olympic year.

Some of them will probably be needed to work on no days' rest in Wednesday night's Game 4.

"I hope I don't have to use Jenks," Guillen said, "but if we need him, we'll use him. Everybody should be ready to go."

"It was a whole team effort tonight," Jenks said. "It took the entire 'pen, plus Buehrle. It shows the heart of this team."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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