At a luncheon to kick off the ’05 season, Lance Berkman keenly observed that the Astro roster,with a number of highly seasoned veterans and a bunch of relative newcomers resembled a Father-Son game.Well, if these Dads and their "sons" gather for a family reunion many years from now they will fondly remember treating the fans of Houston to the greatest season in team history. I don’t think they are the best team in club history, that might be the 98 version, but they are the team that played the best when they needed to. And they will be remembered for bringing the first pennant to a city craving one.It is truly an astonishing accomplishment.
All the way back in spring training in Kissimmee, I had numerous scouts tell me the Astros had taken a significant step backwards. And they seemed vindicated as you watched this team play the first two months of the season. People will talk about how resolute this team was, but the real story of the 05 Astros is pitching. When you have the caliber of pitching the Astros featured, you’re in almost every game. And if you almost never get blown out early you’re going to win your fair share.And this year, that share was just enough to reach the post season.It was the combinaton of great pitching and just enough hitting that pushed the Astros through the LDS and the LCS. In the World Series they came up a bit short on both ends. And I do mean just a bit. Because even though they were swept, they were hardly dominated. One or two key hits and the Astros are even, if not better after four games.That reality will haunt the players,but hopefully they will be able to turn the page and realize what a magical season they provided their fans.
Houston we have a ….. By now you’re probably aware of the history the Astros are up against. No team has ever overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a world series. Of the 22 series that went 3-0, 19 of them finished with a sweep, the other three went 5 games. This is the tightest most lopsided series I can remember. While the Sox have a commanding lead, the Astros could easily be winning this series. Well, easily probably isn’t the right word, because nothing is easy for this club.When Chris Burke stole third base in the ninth,I actually told my wife " game over." But the Astros failed to get him home. Situational hitting, or lack thereof has been a big problem for this club all year.A tough call for Phil Garner after the Biggio walk. I’m sure he considered a squeeze with Taveras hitting next, and I imagine he contemplated pinch hitting with Palmeiro or Vizcaino.Both are more reliable when it comes to putting the ball in play, but Taveras is having a solid series and letting him hit is certainly a defensible move. An attempted squeeze or pinch -hitting would also have been justifiable plays. That’s the thing with baseball. There is very little black and white and a whole lot of gray.Speaking of gray, this whole city is going to be a lot more gray on top after this post-season.
The White Sox have now gotten game winning HRs from two guys who combined to hit one for them during the regular season. Blum had 6 on the season but only one for the Sox after joining them at the trade deadline. Scott Podsednick did not hit any during the season.Further adding to the improbability factor, Geoff Blum hadn’t had an at bat in three weeks.To quote Tim Mcarver from game two " How does this stuff happen?" Adding to the frustration for Astro fans,it is nearly impossible to villainize,Geoff Blum. He’s the type of guy you tend to root for and was a very popular member of the club while in an Astro uniform.
Brandon Backe gets the ball for game four and maybe the Astros can make an historic comeback. The Fat Lady isn’t singing yet, but she’s definitely taken the stage.
If the Astros fail to come back and win this World Series, I’ll at least be happy for the 92 year old lady who braved the cold and rain to cheer for her Sox. Or is she part of Fox’s new fall line-up?
Perhaps the two most over used and over rated terms in baseball are Chemistry and Momentum. If ever a club had momentum it would have been the Cardinals back at Busch for Game 6 after Pujols’ game winning HR. Oswalt proved how meaningful "Big Mo" was. He will have the opportunity again tomorrow to save the day for the Astros.The challenge for the Astros will be to find a way to stay relaxed in such a critical game. This is where veteran players can really help set the tone. Try to treat the game as much like a regular season game as possible, in terms of attitude and preparation.
Much noise today about the Commissioner insisting the games be played with the roof open.I can understand MLB wanting the games played under the stars, but it should be the Astros’ call.
The at bats that Jeff Bagwell got as the DH in Chicago could prove meaningful as he returns to the role of pinch hitter here in Houston. I thought he had some real good swings in the two games at the Cell.
Reason to be optimistic if you’re an Astros fan. In the second half alone, the Astros won three in a row on 10 different occasions. Reason to be pessimistic.The clubs they beat didn’t have the starting pitching that the White Sox feature.
Collectively, the Astros have just a handful of at bats versus Jon Garland. Mike Lamb has seen him the most, but with limited success — one hit in nine ABs. People questioned not pinch hitting for Ausmus in game two, but given his second half and post season performance (remember Kyle Farnsworth) it is understandable that Garner stayed with him.
The biggest stories coming out of game one are Clemens hammy, the Sox bullpen and the Astros failure to hit in the " clutch." It’s probably too early to know if Roger will be able to take the ball in game 5. Given the nature of that injury, and the way it has lingered, I’m not optimistic. The question before last night’s game was will the Sox pen benfit from all that rest or would they be rusty from the lay-off. Well, I didn’t see a whole lot of rust. Cotts was outstanding, and Jenks was humping it up there at triple digits. The Angels have to be kicking themselves for letting that big horse get away. The Astro hitters will get blistered for not coming through in the clutch. The reality is, they had some pretty good at bats with nothing to show for it. Most notably in the 6th. After the Taveras lead-off double, Berkman hit a screamer to first advancing the runner to third with one out. So,that has to be considered a productive at bat. Ensberg followed with a bullet to third, where Joe Crede channeled Brooks Robinson or was it Patrick Roy, as he did again with Biggio hitting in the seventh. The third out in the sixth was another well hit ball by Mike Lamb.However, you can’t let the hitters off the hook completely. The stikeouts by Ensberg and Lamb in the eighth with runners on 1st and 3rd with no outs and one out respectively were critical. It’s funny how quickly things change in a short series. A win tonight and the Asros become the favorite. If they lose, they become decided underdogs and would probably have to win all three at Minute Maid.
Every year since 1986 that the Astros have been in the post season, I’ve purchased tickets for all potential play-off games. They arrive in a big manila envelope and come in strips that you have to tear off for each game. The World series tickets are always quite a bit bigger than those for the LDS and the LCS, and every year prior to this magical season they’ve been rendered useless. When they first arrive I look at those series tickets in the same way I once looked upon a shiny new bike in the ailes of Crow’s sporting goods back in my hometown of Massena, NY. Kids today would probably feel the same about an ipod or cell phone with cool ring tones.Brimming with anticipation, I hoped I’d get to throw that bike in the back of the car, or better yet jump on and ride home.Similarly, each post-season I hoped this would be the year I’d get to use those series tickets, but it was not to be. Someone would always manage to crash the party.No doubt, I was thrilled to find that bike on the back porch one summer day. The answer to a birthday wish. And now for Astro fans ,this one included, another wish fulfilled.
We finally get to use those big shiny tickets, the ones that used to stare up at us from the bottom of some desk drawer, a painful winter reminder of what could have been in the fall. This year, there was no Garry Maddox, no Jesse Orosco, Walt Weiss or Jim Edmonds. There was Albert Pujols trying to ruin the party,but it was not enough. Roy Oswalt made sure of that.So, let’s raise a glass to the 05 Astros. Thanks to you ,we finally get to use the big tickets.
Since the networks pick up all the post season television coverage,I have simply been a fan for this Astros run.And what a run it has been. I have to admit, I enjoy the game more from the booth. It is easier to concentrate in that controlled environment,plus you have all the replays right in front of you. Pehaps the most interesting thing about being in the seats is watching the behavior of the faithful. I’ve witnessed good and bad. The sixty something year old ladies dressed like killer bees very good. The 70 something grandfatherly looking guy making obscene gestures toward the umpires very bad.And why is it that people who can stick their fingers in their mouths and whistle really loudly feel compelled to do this non stop for all nine or 18 innings.They seem to be very proud of this skill. The coolest part about being in the stands is the shared joy amongst the fans. Total strangers high fiving, jumping up and down, hugging each other after a big hit or clutch double-play.You watch some of these fans and you’d think the Astros have never been to a world series before.
The Astros have now played in three of the most gut wrenching play-off games in baseball history. But now Astro fans can enjoy the victory as opposed to the consolation prize of "if only." In1980 the Astros dropped game 5 to the Phillies 8-7 in ten innings. That game featured 5 lead changes and was part of perhaps the most dramatic series in post-season history. The game 6 loss to the Mets in 86 has been referred to as the greatest game ever played. It would be hard to argue otherwise. The Mets trailed 3-0 entering the 9th, tied it , went ahead in the14th ,only to have Billy Hatcher hit the game tying HR in the bottom of the inning. After falling behind by three in the 16th the Astros scored twice and had the tying run in scoring position when it ended. So for pure drama, yesterday might come up a little short.But for heroics, unequaled. During the regular season Brad Ausmus and Chris Burke combined for 8 hrs in 705 at bats. I don’t know about you , but with two out nobody on in the 9th, I was thinking " Well we’ll get them in Atlanta." In 86 Charlie Kerfeld referred to our club as a " team of destination." When Ausmus hit that 2-0 pitch from Farnsworth out to tie the game that immediately entered my mind.Of course, without Berkman’s slam there is no Ausmus moment and likewise without Qualls, Wheeler Lidge theres no Burke and no Clemens. This may seem a bit odd, but my favorite moment in that game may have been the Rockets second at bat. If you ever get a chance to watch this game again, check out the hack he takes at the first pitch in that ab. Maybe the prudent approach would have been to take a pitch or try to poke a single the other way. Not Clemens, he wanted train tracks, he wanted history. But mostly he wanted to win and that swing helps define him almost as much as the effort on the mound does. So Chris Burke has secured a place in Houston baseball lore and now the question is , how far can this team of "destination" go.
The NL play-offs are awfully tough to call. The only real shocker would be a Padre win over St. Louis. Not impossible, but highly improbable. For that reason, I guess you’d have to make the Cardinals slight favorites to reach the World Series. Most would probably argue that the redbirds are more than slight favorites given their 100 wins and wire to wire control of the Central.Because of the "Big Three" the Astros are a better play-off team than a regular season team and are very dangerous in a short series. Atlanta had a wonderful season but they have issues. For perhaps the first time in their unbelievable run they may hit better than they pitch as October rolls around. Bobby Cox can’t feel comfortable with John Smoltz’ shoulder and is probably losing sleep over that bullpen. If the Astros pitchers can do a good job of keeping Furcal and Giles off base I believe they will win the series.The Pettitte-Hudson match-up in game 1 is a dandy. I anticipate a 3-2 type game that will ultimately be decided by the bullpen. Remember, Hudson’s best start of the year was at Minute maid back in April or May. He pitched 9 shut-out innings in a 1-0 win over the Astros. Of course that game was started by Clemens, thus the limited out put by the Stros. Set your VCR, TIVO or whatever recording device you have for game 2. Clemens and Smoltz. It doesn’t get much better than that. From an Astro point of view, I guess it would be okay if Smoltz’ shoulder problems resurfaced, but as a baseball fan I hope his shoulder and Rogers hamstring are non issues. Two guys with great big game credentials. Advantage Astros for game three. Jorge Sosa has provided a big lift for the Braves, but in Roy Oswalt , the Astros send yet another ace type to the hill. The Braves line-up outperformed the Astros over the length of the season, but in September they were very similar clubs offensively. Andruw Jones went into a bit of a funk after hitting his 50th hr and is still more than willing to chase pitches out of the strike zone. Chipper is probably the guy most likely to beat you with a key hit late. Lance Berkman might be the hottest hitter on either club entering the. series.If the Braves tip toe around he and Morgan Ensberg,Jason Lane will have plenty of opportunities to be a hero as he was against the Cubs this past weekend. Astros win in 5
It’s about 15 mminutes before gametime and I come to you from the booth at Busch Stadium. If the rain water dripping on my back is any indication then a new ballpark here in St. Louis was a very good idea. The Cardinals must sell more jerseys than any club in baseball. Everybody here wears a team jersey with their favorite player’s name on it. And not just the big boys either. Sure, there are plenty of Rolens and Pujols but the lesser known guys are supported as well. Even the players who have moved on are displayed. Theres a Vina sitting right next to a Matheny. Of course, with the prices you pay for those things you’re not going to toss one out just because your guy got traded.The Phillies must feel like they have to run the table to catch the Astros now. I’m predicting a Saturday clinching in Houston. There is alot of speculation as to who the redbirds would prefer to play in the second round. Everyone is assuming they will blow through the Padres. It’s hard to think otherwise.
One of the time honored cliches in baseball is the standard: "It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon." Well, it’s time to find out who has the best kick in the race for the Wild Card. The schedule breaks in the Astros’ favor with four in Pittsburgh and three in Chicago before a two game set in St. Louis to end the road portion of the 05 schedule. The trifecta of Clemens,Pettitte and Oswalt will pitch 9 maybe 10 of the final 13 games. With Morgan Ensberg on the verge of returning ,things are looking up. It won’t be easy but the Astros are in position to control their own destiny.
After droppping the first two to the Fish to open the just-completed homestand, the Astros rallied to win 5 in a row. The first two games of the series with the Pirates presents two interesting pitching match-ups. Clemens and Pettitte for the Astros have won 511 games between them. Their opposite numbers Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny have not yet won a big league game. Snell will be making his fourth start and Gorzelanny is scheduled to make his major league debut. Having said that, we know anything is possible, but Phil Garner has to like his chances to extend the Astros’ lead in the Wild Card in the city where he helped win a World Series in 1979.