|Billy Hatcher takes a curtain call after his 14th inning homer in the '86 NLCS|
Later on I would read about Fred Brocklander and Game Five, but it's one thing to read about a close loss like that with so much to be won, and another thing to feel it in your gut.
Since then, I've also read quite a bit about the 1980 series against Philadelphia, with its four extra-inning games. I've read how Nolan Ryan had a three-run lead in the eighth inning of the Game Five, but that the Express gave up four straight baserunners without getting an out before being removed. That eighth frame would see the Phillies score all of five times.
And of course the Phillies won the game, and the 1980 NLCS, in extras.
Just reading about that makes me uncomfortable; watching it on TV, or my God, at the Dome, must have been absolutely brutal.
But I was more of an Oakland Raiders fan when I was fifteen years old, and Game Five-- the whole of the 1980 NLCS--feels more like history to me than anything I have personal experience with.
I was well into my stride as an Astro fan by the beginning of the Dierker era, but really, the series played in '97, '98, and '01 were not all that painful to watch, simply because the Astros never looked as if they might have a chance at winning them. Disappointing? Yes. Agonizing? Gutwrenching? Absolutely not.
The 1999 playoff matchup with the Braves was a little different, though.
I watched Game Three of the 1999 NLDS at a long-defunct watering hole in Miami Lakes called Delaney Street, and I remember remarking to my drinking buddy sometime after Houston tied it in the seventh that the team that won the game we were watching would win the series. After Walt Weiss' throw nailed Caminiti at the plate in the tenth, I knew that team would be the Braves, but the game wouldn't officially end until the twelfth. I thus had some time to drink my Bloody Marias, and to consider the death of the Astros' season, and 1999 ended more like an overdose, falling into a deep sleep that doesn't end, than like a savage painful, bludgeoning.
And of course, Game Six of the NLCS last year went twelve, but that really didn't hurt all that much, either. We had the Rocket in Game Seven, right?
Well, I was looking for a game to compare Monday's heartbreaker against. And if I were older, I might go with 1980 Games Four or Five. Or if I had started watching the 1986 playoffs a week earlier, I might point at Games 5 & 6 of the affair with the Mets.
But I'm not and I didn't, so the game that I'm gonna point to, that I'm here to tell you stuck me in the gut and twisted the knife, and left me for dead, was Game Four of the 2004 NLDS.
The Astros were a game up on the hated Braves and playing at home. It looked like they were gonna beat the Braves! And they carried a three run lead into the sixth inning. We were gonna beat the f^&*ing Braves! All over, at home! And then Qualls replaced Clemens, and three very excruciating runs scored off the LaRoche homer. But I still had some hope, as the game was tied. The Astros could still get it done without having to go back to Atlanta, where certain elimination waited in Game Five. But Carlos Beltran, the bum, couldn't get Ausmus home in the bottom of the sixth, and Palmeiro couldn't drive Ausmus home from third in the eighth.
Melanie had had to work that day, and I was left alone in the apartment, alone with the Sony 27-inch and a twelve pack of Guiness Stout. I still hear from my lovely fiancé about the full bottle of beer I smashed against the apartment walls when Furcal scored after reaching on a Russ Springer HBP and stealing second with two outs in the ninth.
They'd had it. It had been in their hands! And then they almost blew it, but not quite! And we still had hope, but then they blew it for good! Blew it to f#$%ing smithereens!
I was horridly drunk, I'm ashamed to admit, and it felt like the Astros were cursed, that they would never ever, ever win a playoff series. I felt cursed. I remember wondering why I associated myself with such a losing enterprise. What good came into my life from following this team that always disappointed, and now had so deeply hurt?
Before I passed out that evening, I did the best I could at wiping the large beige splotch from the ivory walls, and I placed my Astros baseball card collection on eBay.
"Done with the Astros," I muttered to myself as consciousness slipped away, October 10, 2004.
The hangover, and the memories of the loss, were agonizing the following day at work, and the spectre of my own stupid behavior didn't help anything, either. At some point, I removed the card collection off the trading website, and bore the headache and the depression as best I could.
I got through the day, and collapsed into bed as soon as I got home. I didn't even turn on the game. Didn't feel I needed to. At some point, though, I emerged from my cocoon, to take a piss or something, and, flicking on the set, boy, was I in store for a shock. It was late, and the Astros had a commanding lead over the Braves.
They'd done it! They came back from that horrible loss, and they beat the Braves!
They were dead, I had been sure of it, and they came back! What was I, some kind of an idiot? (Don't answer that question.)
If it's not enough that the Astros have won at Busch this playoff season, or that Roy Oswalt has beat them in the playoffs, or that Roger Clemens has beaten them in the playoffs, think back to that 2004 NLDS Game Five, when the Houston Astros still had no history at all of winning anything, but came back from a horrid loss, did so on the road, and blew the Braves out of their own goddamned ballpark.
The Houston Astros have done it before, and they can do it again.