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An October to Savor

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Contributor Bill Gilbert was kind enough to submit the following and I am just as pleased to post it:

An October to Savor

By Bill Gilbert

While the Houston Astros can't escape the reality that they were swept in four games in the World Series by the White Sox, they can look back with pride on their most successful post-season.   The city and the fans responded in a big way to provide a memorable experience for all who were involved.

Division Series

The three games to one win over the Atlanta in the Division Series was the most decisive post-season victory that the Astros have achieved.  However, it did not come easily.  The clincher, a 7-6 victory in 18 innings, was a game for the ages.  With each team recording a grand slam home run in the game to account for most of the runs, the Astros overcame a 6-1 deficit entering the 8th inning to outlast the Braves 10 innings later.  It was the only time all year in which the Astros overcame a 5-run deficit to win a game.  

Winning the game required a grand slam homer by Lance Berkman in the 8th inning, a two-out homer by Brad Ausmus in the 9th inning and a walk-off homer by Chris Burke in the 18th inning.  It also required 8 pitchers including a stellar 3 inning stint by Roger Clemens to pick up the win.  All of this obscured the disturbing reality that the Astros were held hitless for seven straight innings before Burke's game-winner.

League Championship Series

In a rematch of the 2004 LCS, the Astros seized the home field advantage with a 4-1 win behind Roy Oswalt in Game 2 in St. Louis.   Clemens and Brandon Backe followed with home wins and Andy Pettitte appeared poised to do the same until Albert Pujols provided the most dramatic moment of the series with a two-out, three-run homer in the 9th inning off Brad Lidge to give the Cardinals a 5-4 win.  However, the Astros demonstrated the resilience that characterized their season by taking a 5-1 win in St. Louis behind Oswalt to close out the series in six games.

World Series

In a World Series featuring two teams that hadn't been in a World Series in over 40 years, the Chicago White Sox grabbed the advantage with two close wins in cold and wet conditions in Chicago.  In Game 3, the first World Series game ever played in Texas, the Astros appeared to be on their way back by taking a 4-0 lead after 4 innings behind Oswalt.  However, it all fell apart in the 5th inning as Oswalt gave up 5 runs in suffering through the worst inning of his career.  While the Astros rallied to tie the game in the 8th inning, they would not again hold the lead in a series game.  They had a golden opportunity to win the game in the 9th inning by loading the bases with one out but failed to capitalize.  Meanwhile, Astro pitchers shut out the White Sox on 2 hits for 8 innings before former Astro, Geoff Blum, hit a pinch hit home run in the 14th inning off Ezequiel Astacio to key a 7-5 win.

            Down 3 games to 0, the Astros received a sterling pitching performance from Backe in Game 4 but the bats were silent and the White Sox scratched out a run off Lidge in the 8th inning for a 1-0 win.  It was the first time the Astros were shut out in the playoffs after absorbing a major league leading 17 shutouts during the regular season.

Wrap-Up

            The White Sox concluded one of the most remarkable late season runs ever with their sweep of the Astros.  After almost blowing a 15-game lead, the Sox began their run by winning the last 5 regular season games to hold off the Cleveland Indians in the American League Central Division.  They then swept 3 games from the Boston Red Sox and took 4 out of 5 from the Angels before sweeping the Astros to finish out a 16-1 run.

            The Astros biggest shortcoming throughout the season was an inability to score runs.  However, this was largely overcome by a pitching staff that was the stingiest in the major leagues in allowing runs.  While the offensive woes again surfaced in the World Series, a case can be made that it was a breakdown in pitching that ultimately led to the team's defeat.

 During the regular season, the Astros scored an average of 4.25 runs per game while allowing 3.74.  In the post season, the offense stepped up slightly to 4.36 runs per game while the pitchers allowed 4.07.  In World Series Game 1, the Astros were undone by Clemens' hamstring injury.  In Game 2, all three of the Astros top relievers suffered bad games and in Game 3, Oswalt's inexplicable meltdown in the 5th inning was the turning point of the Series.

All in all, it was a great ride which solidified the Astros as one of the three most successful franchises in the National League, culminating with victories over the other two.  This could raise expectations to possibly an unrealistic level, given how difficult it is to get where the Astros were this year.  In any case, 2005 will be remembered as a season that raised interest in baseball in Houston to a new level.