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Matchup/Preview/Diary Game # 143 vs. Marlins

Easy like Sunday Morning IN-TENSE!


Dontrelle Willis   Brandon Backe
20 - 8, 2.52    8 - 7, 4.99


This is big. Words such as "titanic" and "immense," like I used in the earlier story, only begin to tell the story. Here are some others:

Humongous. Gargantuan. Gigantic.

Oh yeah, and crucial.

Alright, maybe I'm getting carried away here, indulging in a bit of hype, as I'm susceptible to that kind of stuff. Though these are certainly the largest games the Fish and the 'Stros have ever played, this is not Red Sox-Yankees, and this is not the playoffs.

OK. But still, I'm sure you won't get argument from any quarter on the use of that last word I dropped, that "crucial" tag. Because this series is unquestionably that.

The team that can pull out a 3 - 1 series victory, or my gosh, a four-game sweep, will not only be able to take satisfaction from having crushed their closest competition, they will also be secure in the knowledge that they have taken command of the wild card race in general.

But what's also interesting here is that because this is a four-game set, we might just end up with a tie. After four hard-fought games, the decision may be no decision, and the telling moment in this 2005 NL Wild Card race may end up being deferred even further.

So maybe a tie, or maybe a huge decisive moment that swings a game, and the series. The potential is certainly there. The first possibility is tonight, with Brandon Backe. Overshadowed Backe, with a 4.99 ERA, given no shot by many against the 20-game winner. But those who remember his October 2004 know that the man has stepped forward before under pressure and under similar circumstances.

Or how about a Bagwell pinch-hit RBI double at some point, or a jack off the bat of Luke Scott in a close game?

Or how about Wandy conquering his sixth-inning demons and going deep into tomorrow's contest?

How about Ensberg simply returning and playing the way he can?

After playing literally heroic games against the Phillies, the Astros seemed leaderless over the weekend in Milwaukee. Biggio and Bruntlett were the last two to step up. Who will rise up on the slightly larger stage?

This series will present those kinds of opportunities. And it's that kind of crackling, sizzling, unrealized, possibility that has got the anticipation factor so ratcheted up with me.

This electric sense of grand things about to happen may die down, as the series settles into a two-all draw, or much worse, an Astros loss, but for right now, it's very hard not be psyched. . . .

* * * *
I've spent a lot of time writing about the ways in which the Astros might step up, simply because they will have to do so in order to even split the series. The Marlins come into this series with the NL's highest batting average in September, while the Astros come in last in that category in the Senior Circuit for the month.

Hate to keep using this word, but the opportunity will be there. Probably no Lo Duca, probably no Alex Gonzalez. And beyond Lenny Harris, the Marlins appear to be asking unseasoned minor league callups to pinch-hit close and late.

Josh Beckett has only been OK lately, and Burnett and Vargas have quite frankly stunk. These pitchers can in fact be hit.

Just like Rick Helling can be hit.

  No question, gotta step up.

AVG in September
AVG in
Marlin Pos Astro AVG in
.208 Paul LoDuca C1 Brad Ausmus .273 x
x .143 Matt Treanor C2 Raul Chavez .000
x .378 Carlos Delgado 1B Lance Berkman .343
x .342 Luis Castillo 2B Craig Biggio ? .250
x .385 Damion Easley SS Adam Everett .162
x .325 Miguel Cabrera 3B Morgan Ensberg ? .176
x .333 Jeff Conine OF1 Chris Burke .222
x .286 Juan Pierre OF2 Willy Taveras .205
x .282 Juan Encarnacion OF3 Jason Lane .194
x .188 Jeremy Hermida OF4 Luke Scott .120
.000 Robert Andino Util/PH Jose Vizcaino .250 x
x .500 Dontrelle Willis P1 Brandon Backe .000
.333 Josh Beckett P2 Wandy Rodriguez .000
.000 AJ Burnett P3 Roger Clemens ? .500 x
.000 Jason Vargas P4 Andy Pettitte .250 x