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Sunday, October 17, 2004

Astros: And We're Tied!!! 

No matter what happens the rest of the way, I think I can safely say that the 2004 Astros are my favorite club in team history. I loved the 1998 team -- the "Cardiac Kids" -- but the "Never Say Die" 2004 Astros are a roller-coaster group of gritty competitors that never cease to amaze me.

Left for dead in August, Houston roared back in September to get into contention. In a hole with six games to play, the Astros swept the division-leading Redbirds en route to clinching the Wildcard. With their backs against the wall after a Game Four loss in the NLDS, the guys went to Atlanta and mauled the Braves to win that first-ever postseason series. And after losing two winnable games on the road in the NLCS, they've bounced back to tie this series with a 6-5 win today.

This team just does not give up.

I think my affinity stems from spite. Spite is my favorite emotion (or whatever category of feeling it might be) and Houston's ability to do the things that people say they can't do exemplifies the same kind of "yes I can" spitefulness that I often use to motivate myself.

We're four games under .500? No sweat, let's go win twelve in a row. Everyone says we need to take two of three from St. Louis and hope the Giants lose twice to San Diego? Forget that, let's sweep the Cardinals and let San Fran worry about us. The talking heads on ESPN are saying we're the same old "can't get it done in the clutch" Astros? We'll stuff it down their throats and celebrate in the A-T-L.

Today was actually a double dose of their winning attitude. Roy Oswalt's shaky start left Houston in a 4-1 hole, but the Killer B's didn't panic. Home runs from Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran put the club in the lead and the much-maligned bullpen saved the day when Dan Wheeler and Brad "Lights Out" Lidge threw three innings of shutout ball.

The NLCS gets a fresh start tomorrow and a fully rested Brandon Backe gets to take another crack at that vaunted Cardinals lineup. Git'er done, baby!

Other thoughts:

- Does anyone still think that the Billy Wagner deal was a bad one? The pitchers we got from Philly haven't done much, but the move cleared the way for Andy Pettitte to sign, and even though he spent most of the season on the shelf, his presence brought Roger Clemens into the fold. Lidge is every bit as good as Wags, and there's no superlative left to describe The Rocket and what he's meant to this Houston team.

- Welcome to the bigs, Dan Wheeler. Nice to have you on board. This kid became an instant favorite of mine when he plunked Chicago's Derek Lee in his Astros debut, and now he's proven to be the best reliever in the NLCS not named Brad Lidge.

- Julian Tavarez is a prick. Was he intentionally throwing at Jeff Bagwell in the 7th? Probably not. But that dramatic display he put on afterwards was bush league. I remember watching Tavarez cry his eyes out in the 1995 World Series against Atlanta, and I hope the scene repeats itself either Wednesday or Thursday in Busch.

- Today on Astro Launch, GM Gerry Hunsicker told Milo Hamilton that Carlos Beltran and Lance Berkman are two guys, around whom he's excited to be able to build the future of the club. I really think that Houston stands a decent shot to re-sign Carlos, despite the naysayers that are already penciling him into the Yankees lineup card next season.

- Houston has now won more games this postseason than in their last five trips combined. Should they go on to win this series, they would double their franchise playoff win total.

- NLCS: tied after four games. ALCS: nine innings away from a Yankees sweep. NLCS: Drama and fireworks every night (literal fireworks during Astos at-bats in Busch [league]). ALCS: Snoozers almost every night. Tell me again, which series has ESPN and FOX been pimping non-stop for two weeks? Good call, guys.

- Yesterday at the Texas-Missouri game, I talked to a few Mizzou fans who were, of course, Cardinal fans also. One told me that Houston was "done." I told him to put down the pork tenderloin and get the hell out of our tailgate. I was only half joking. Lots of Astros caps at the game, by the way. I "watched" the Stros on my cell phone, which promptly went dead in the 4th quarter. Fortunately I found a tailgate with the game on on my way back to our camp. Lidge shutting the door in the 9th drew the most raucos cheers I heard all day long, and Texas won a tight game, 28-20, against the North division leader. My "Let's go, Astros" chant during the 4th quarter, unfortunately, didn't really catch on.


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