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-- Yes this means the Astros are not going to make the postseason.  I knew this three weeks ago, but I allowed myself to lose my objectivity (again!) when they swept the Pirates.  Baseball is a wonderful game like that:  it appeals to the imagination.  Under the right circumstances, you can imagine just about anything, including absurd little alternate universes in which the 2006 Astros make the playoffs.  

I had stated here that I wouldn't officially consider the Astros' Wild Card chances until they reached third in the Wild Card standings.  And they never got there.  So I never wrote my "Why the Astros Can Still Win This Thing" post.  But unofficially, I started to imagine.  Because Houston took two of three in San Diego, because they took two of three in Arizona, and yes, because they swept the freaking Pirates at home, I was beginning to convince myself that with the unusual conditions that exist this year (i.e. everyone in the NL but the Mets flat out blows), the Astros--flaws and all--had a chance at the postseason.

Why,  just yesterday, 1000 futile innings ago, I told a Cardinals fan moaning about his pitching that the Astros "could win the division."

I said that.  Despite the undeniable flimsiness of the evidence, I said that the Astros could win the division.  

Clearly, I was out of my mind, but I don't blame myself.  It's the nature of baseball.  It's why we watch, imagining the improbable tomorrows.  Because you can't say that sometimes the implausible endings don't happen. Like in 2005:  Sometimes the whole freaking bejeweled pachinko machine pays off in silver dollars.

But most other times, cruel reality intercedes, as when it reminds you that a team with only one reliable veteran hitter (no matter how good)  and no reliable closer just does not belong in October.  

It's that particular dynamic, the sudden death of the dream, that Giamatti had in mind when he said the game is designed to break your heart.  

No, I'm not ashamed for having been suckered in, for having allowed a flicker of belief to ignite this past week; it was foolish, but baseball does that to you.

And after all, look at ESPN:  They bumped the Astros up eight notches in their power rankings last week, based on the same paper thin evidence I was using.

-- Yes, this loss, this excruciating event that has us all examining our fandom this morning, can be more or less blamed on Brad Lidge.  He's got to be a pariah even among his teammates right now.  With a matinee to be played  Wednesday, with the idea of staying well-rested in the back of everybody's mind, his umpteenth example of gross incompetence caused what amounted to a second game to be played last night.  Never mind that the hitters weren't very good in it:  Lidge was the reason that game had to be played.

It is more than fair for me to string together the words, "Lidge sucks."  I can type them, write them, utter them, even while fully understanding how good he was, and how crucial his performances were in the runs the team made during the last two seasons.  Brad Lidge in the 2004 NLCS was historically good.  What?  Are you kidding me?  8 innings of one-hit scoreless playoff baseball? 14 strikeouts vs. two walks?  Against the league's best offense, in ridiculous pressure situations?  

Brad Lidge was phenonmenal.  I understand that.

But that doesn't mean he doesn't suck now.  Listen, I might ameliorate my criticism a little if he was making percentage points above the league minimum.  But during the offseason, when the team gave him that 4 million dollar contract, when we--through our support of Drayton's business--gave Brad Lidge his new house and his new car, and all those other things this great sport can buy him, one of the things we bought was his accountability to us.

If he sucks, we can now say so.  

This is not to say that the fat contract has caused the problems, just that it allows me to more bluntly call them out.

Brad Lidge can't get major league hitters out in the ninth inning anymore:  tell your neighbors.  You've bought the right.

--OK, Brad Lidge sucks. Now what are you gonna do about it?  Gar, Purpura, Drayton:  whoever it is that has put this ridiculous edict into place that the Houston Astros are going to continue to use Brad Lidge as if he were our best reliever when  it is transparent that he has yielded that honor to Dan Wheeler, figure it out.

Get with the program. Deal with it. Cut the crap. Boogie with Stu. Get down tonight.

Face the facts, is what I'm trying to say.

Even if the Astros have, as we have established, no chance at the playoffs, you cannot continue to allow Brad to do his sad little jig on the hearts of your fans.  If you want to showcase Lidge, showcase him at Round Rock.  They're 20 games over, and should make the PCL playoffs no matter what you do.

Or better yet, do what you should have done 30 games ago.  Give him the sixth inning of blowout losses.

Derrick Turnbow was awesome in 2005, but the Milwaukee Brewers kicked him out of the closer's spot a month ago.

Because the Brewers have faced facts. Garner, Purpura, Smith, McLane: whoever it is behind this ridiculous decision, they have not.

-- Morgan, yikes.  I am inclined to be charitable.  I understand this is a hard game we watch them play.  And man do I WANT Morgan Ensberg to succeed.  So if the power more or less continues to be absent, but he walks in 11 straight games and has a few doubles, I'm gonna tell myself we see progress.

But after the last two games, it's impossible to kid myself any longer:  Morgan is a wreck.  But I have no idea what to do about it.

-- Chris fucking Burke.  After he hit the homer in the game which ended up being named after him, you heard all kinds of hyperbolic rants about how Burke loved the pressure situation, how he as a rookie wanted the chance to bat with the game on the line.  And without diminishing what his 18th inning homer meant, or what he as up and coming infielder meant to the team in general, I was like, yeah, whatever.  

When announcers and sportswriters want to heap some nonverifiable praise on a player, they talk about his desire to be clutch.  

As if any player dreams about failing in the big situation. Cheap and easy talk.  

But I'm considering it just a little bit more this morning after his three for four performance yesterday.  Like I said during the pbp, as hitters around him turned to jelly, Burke was nails.

Chris is now 7 for 16 in extra innings this year, although honesty compels me to note as well that he was 2 for 20 in "close and late" situations going into last night.  

No matter.  I know what I saw.

-- And lastly, the tragedy that is Dave Borkowski.  For Bork to be saddled with last night's loss is proof positive baseball is an inherently unfair pursuit.  It is a gross injustice that Borkowski has this stupid L next to his name this morning, while other players much more at fault, like Lidge and Ensberg and yes, Berkman, have their names unsullied.

It makes me want to carry a placard in front of the courthouse, or something.