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Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Astros: Looking Ahead to Tomorrow 

I don't envy Phil Garner right now.

His Astros are less than 24 hours from the biggest game in team history (of course every game from here on out carries that title) and if they don't win, then he's going to receive all of the blame, due to the fallot over whichever pitcher he selects to start Game Six.

Until this afternoon I thought that picking Pete Munro over Roger Clemens was a slam dunk decision, and I maintain that it is probably the correct one. But after reading some of the commentary over at the OWA Talkzone, I recognize that maybe The Rocket is indeed the better choice.

Both have their pros and cons:

Clemens PRO- This is exactly why Roger Clemens is here. He's pitched in big games his entire career. He's the grizzled vet that can put the team on his shoulders and lead them to victory. Even on three days rest he's probably better than a 100% Pete Munro, and if he can get even six innings in, Brad Lidge can come on to close the deal.

Clemens CON- Clemens would go on three days rest, raising the likely possibility that Houston's suspect bullpen might have to carry the brunt of the load if he only lasts five innings. Brad Lidge has shut St. Louis down thus far, but that just means that the Cards are due, right? And should Houston lose, a less-than-100% Roy Oswalt would have to try the same thing the following day.

Munro PRO- He pitched well last time out. In fact, Houston had the lead when Munro left. It wasn't his fault that the pen blew it. Besides, even if he doesn't win, a fresh Clemens gets to take the mound Thursday with everything on the line, and like I mentioned in the Clemens PRO, this is still what he's here for. Game Six, Game Seven -- it makes no difference -- The Rocket came to H-town to win a championship. He'll take the ball whenever Garner asks him to. Is there anyone you'd rather have on the mound in that situation than Roger Clemens?

Munro CON- Let's be honest. Yes Munro pitched well last time. No we didn't expect that from him. So can we really expect this journeyman stop-gap to repeat that performance against this team in this situation? Should he falter, now St. Louis would have the momentum heading into the pivotal Game Seven, and even though Houston would have The Rocket ready to fire, it seems almost like a classic example of putting all of your eggs in one basket, in a game where anything can happen.

It's a lot to consider, which is why I feel bad that Garner -- who has done an admirable job the past three games of disproving the criticism created in the first two NLCS losses. Should things go awry, and any realistic fan can see that a team as good as St. Louis would not have to pull off a miracle to come back and win this series, Garner faces the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't proposition of being second-guessed and ridiculed no matter what course of action he takes.

Looking at it from all the angles, though, my pick still goes with the youngster for Game Six. I just get the feeling that Pete Munro can get it done if the Astros bats come through for him. If he does not, then we regroup and run our best horse out there in what amounts to the dream scenario. It's not a comforting feeling in the regard that Game Seven represents the pinnacle of pressure-cookers (no matter the pitcher), but this is the best pitcher of my lifetime that we're talking about. If I have to have a win, I want Roger Clemens throwing the ball, so in that sense, it is at least slightly comforting.

Before the season, I predicted that Houston would defeat Chicago in Game Seven of the NLCS to advance to the World Series. I even took it a step further, imagining Clemens out-dueling Mark Prior for the win. Yeah, it was a homer pick if there's ever ben one, and around mid-July I felt like an idiot for letting my heart get in the way of my using my head.

I'm still confident that the Astros can win this thing before we get to that do-or-die scenario, but should it occur, I'll have at least gotten one-half of the equation right. And Jeff Suppan is no Mark Prior.

Go Astros!


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