CHICAGO (AP) -- Back in spring training, the Houston Astros were a 20-1 shot to win the World Series. The odds on the Chicago White Sox were 22-1.
While the rest of baseball has gone home, they'll be on the field for Saturday night's Series opener, when 43-year-old Roger Clemens starts for Houston against Jose Contreras.
"I think it's going to be a real attractive and weird World Series because you've got two teams that aren't supposed to be there," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said Thursday. "You're not going to see the big-name franchises. Nothing against them. I think it's just good for baseball, these two franchises that have never been there -- one the first time ever, the other people forget when was the last time."
A Cubs' town is rooting for the White Sox, the Second City's second team -- a White Sox flag was even spotted on the antenna of a truck in the Wrigley Field parking lot this week. Not since 1959 have the White Sox played in the Series, and they haven't won it since 1917.
Houston had missed out every single year since starting play in 1962. No wonder Astros president Tal Smith didn't get much sleep.
After beating the Cardinals 5-1 in St. Louis to claim the NL pennant Wednesday night, the Astros didn't get back to their ballpark in Texas until 3 a.m. Smith's head hit the pillow at 5:30.
"At 7:15, the first phone call came," he said. "It was for a ticket request. And it kept ringing. I guess for once every 44 years, it's OK."
Given how good the pitching has been, there might be a 1917 feel to the game. The White Sox and New York Giants combined for just three home runs in that year's Series.
Chicago's rotation of Jose Contreras, Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland and Freddy Garcia famously pitched four straight complete games to beat the Los Angeles Angels in the AL Championship Series, the first quartet to finish their starts consecutively in a postseason series since the 1956 New York Yankees. They were so good, Guillen is keeping them in the same order against the Astros.
Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner who led the major leagues in ERA this year, will be followed by Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt, giving the Astros a formidable trio. Brandon Backe starts against Garcia in Game 4.
"You get to the World Series, you're not going to be facing guys that were recalled from Triple-A," Chicago catcher A.J. Pierzynski said.
His starters were so good against the Angels that the bullpen was needed for just two outs -- the lowest total in a postseason series since Sandy Koufax & Co.'s Los Angeles Dodgers swept the Yankees in the 1963 World Series, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
"A lot of people counted us out before spring training even started," Garland said. "We already were written off in a lot of people's books."
Chicago closer Bobby Jenks hasn't even been needed since the first-round clincher against Boston on Oct 7. He will enter Saturday night's opener on 14 days' rest.
His bullpen mates have had similar layoffs.
"Hermy, the last time he pitched was like two three months ago," Guillen said of Dustin Hermanson. "How can they stay sharp? It's not easy."
Chicago took two days off after winning the pennant Sunday in California, then worked out Thursday for the second straight day.
At U.S. Cellular Field, rain started falling the in the middle of Thursday's workout. There were 14 boxes of baseballs on the table, ready for each player to sign. The logos already were painted in foul territory, and the entrance to the ballpark displayed a pumpkin carved with the White Sox logo.
Outside was a huge photograph of White Sox players celebrating. On it were the words: "Crying in baseball -- only acceptable if champagne burns your eyes."
Houston arrives Friday afternoon and will work out in a ballpark the Astros haven't played in since an interleague series in 2000. The Astros became the first team since the 1914 Boston Braves to reach the World Series after falling 15 games under .500.
"The most dangerous thing about the Astros is the wild card," Guillen said.
The last three World Series champions and four of the last five were wild-card winners. Even though the White Sox went 99-63 and had the best record in the American League, Guillen thinks they've taken many by surprise.
"My team is always under the radar, always," he said. "All kind of crazy stuff people think I will say, and they backed me up. My team backed me up. We're here together."
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