Or at the least this season.
The Astros/Phillies series has quite possibly been the best series of the season. We’ve seen just about everything in the series: Great pitching, great defense, great baserunning, timely hitting, extra innings, controversy, ejections, home runs, pickoffs, stolen bases, and Oswalt in left field. We've laughed, Philly fans have cried. I know at least one fist pump was had by all of you. I think Brett Myers put it best though
The Philly fans packing Citizen Bank Park gave the atmosphere a playoff quality. It’s a nice feeling for us Houston fans since it’s been a while and could very well be a while longer before we experience that atmosphere for our own team. Enjoy it Astros fans. As Zach Levine pointed out yesterday, the Astros only have nine more opportunities to play spoiler with three games against St. Louis and six games against Cincinnati. I'd argue that to expect the same kind of results against those two opponents will be a bit of a stretch.
The offense didn't really perform all that well. Fifteen runs in a four game series is not something I would consider great. Sure, it should help you win a couple games, but not a sweep. Especially against a team of the Phillies caliber. If I told you the Astros would score fifteen runs against the Phillies would you of expected the sweep? No. My guess would be Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels would be marked down as loses. You'd also probably penciled in two high-scoring games with Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick on the mound.
Or, maybe you would have guessed sweep or at least thought there was a chance, but unless you were picking the Phillies to sweep, I would have called you crazy. In fact, FanGraphs had a post up yesterday on just how improbably the sweep was. 1%. I'll let you sit on that for a moment...
To beat those kind of odds is a testament to how good this pitching staff has been recently. In this series, the pitching held the high-powered offense of the Phillies to seven runs. Granted, a couple of their guys are struggling just having come off the disabled list. Dare I say, though, that a pitching staff with middle of the rotation starters and a bullpen without it's closer put together one heck of a series.
But, enough ranting, let’s take a quick look back at this series before it’s put away and deteriorated by time. I’ve added links to highlights from MLB.com for some of the key plays in the series.
August 23rd - Astros 3 Phillies 2
Game Time: 2 hours, 37 minutes
- Myers returning to Philadelphia, facing his former team for the first time, went 7 innings with nine strikeouts, one walk and two runs allowed. He also made a key tongue movement that helped the team avoid a big inning.
- Jayson Werth was picked off second base, right after the Astros intentionally walked Carlos "Chooch" Ruiz. That’s not the best part, though. Brett Myers had stuck his tongue out at Werth before he made the pitch. Werth turned away just long enough, because he was laughing, for Quintero to throw down and pick him off.
- In the 8th inning, Bourn started some controversy with a drag bunt down the first base line. Howard attempted a diving tag that missed Bourn as he strayed off the base line. Umpire Greg Gibson determined Bourn hadn’t gone out of the baseline, after the Phillies complained that he did.
- That same inning, after a Sanchez bunt, moved the two base runners over and Hunter Pence striuck out, Carlos Lee blooped a two-RBI single to left to help the Astros take the lead.
- Byrdak and Lyon then came in to shut down the Phillies for the 8th and 9th inning respectively. Lyon earned his seventh save of the season.
August 24th - Astros 4 Phillies 2 in 16 innings
Game Time: 5 hours 20 minutes
- Bud Norris took the mound going 6 innings with four strikeouts, three walks and one run allowed. Little did we all know his exit was only the beginning.
- Carlos Lee gave the Astros a two-run lead in the top of the fourth with a bomb to left.
Quintero continued his dominance of the base paths, nabbing Jimmy Rollins at third. It was the first time Rollins had been caught stealing all season.
- In the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs and Wilton Lopez on the mound, Jimmy Rollins decided he wasn’t dealing with Q at all this time, and homered to tie the game.
- Tommy Manzella brought some outstanding glove work and hustle on the base paths to the game. He robbed Carlos Ruiz of a hit in the ninth. Then, he did it again to Ruiz in the eleventh. He also beat out what looked to be a sure force at second.
- Fernando Abad pitched two impressive innings, striking out three. Two of his victims were Utley and Howard.
- More controversy! In the fourteenth inning, Ryan Howard was tossed after showing his displeasure with being called out on a check swing. From behind, it looked like all he did was throw his equipment which made me think he was tossed a bit early. From a different angle, you can see him staring down the third base line barking something. Having already been animated with the third base ump on a previous check swing call did not bode well for Howard or his team, as they were out of position players.
- The ejection did lead to Philly sending out Roy Oswalt to play left field. Who we thought the Astros wouldn't face him at all this series. He even made a catch as the first batter as Jason Castro decided to test him early.
- In the top of the sixteenth inning, Chris Johnson put the Astros ahead with a hot shot to third baseman Placido Polanco. Polanco threw to second attempting to start a double play, but Jason Michaels beat the throw and was called safe at second. The extra time gave Johnson the opportunity to reach first base safely. The next batter, Manzella, would also add a run when Ibanez dropped a double play rely throw at first base that would have ended the top of the inning.
- With two outs in the bottom of the sixteenth, Oswalt would ground out to end the game.
August 25th - Astros 3 Phillies 2
Game Time: 2 hours, 27 minutes
- After a sixteen inning game, the Astros needed a strong start out of JA Happ, who was starting against his former team. He basically delivered with 6 1/3 innings, striking out four, walking two while allowing two runs.
- Brad Mills had to piece together the remaining eight outs, and did so using Wilton Lopez, Tim Byrdak, and Mark Melancon to get two outs in the seventh inning. Then, he turned to Brandon Lyon for the eighth and ninth inning for his eight save of the season.
- In between the stellar pitching performances, Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn both went deep with solo shots. Yes, Michael Bourn!
- For the third straight game, Humberto Quintero laid down the law on the base paths, picking Ben Francisco off third to end the seventh inning.
August 26th - Astros 5 Phillies 1
Game Time: 2 hours, 44 minutes
- The Astros sent Wandy Rodriguez to the hill with aspirations of sweeping the Phillies. He delivered, going 7 innings, striking out six, walking one and allowing only one run. He came into the game with a 4.00 earned run average. In route to his seven innings pitched, Wandy lowered his ERA to 3.87. Why is this significant? The Astros now have four of five starts with ERAs below 4.00. Advanced statistics aside, that’s a solid rotation, and if Bud continues his dominance playoff hopefuls should be afraid. Be Very Afraid! Muahahahaha...
- Now that Dr. Evil is back in his box, let’s move on.
Michael Bourn showed off his power Winsday night. Thursday, he flashed his speed. In the seventh inning, Bourn reached on an infield single to second baseman Chase Utley, which had been deflected by the pitcher JC Romero. Then, on a pickoff attempt to first, Bourn stole second. Anderson Hernandez then hit an infield single to third allowing Bourn to score from second base. Oh, and he drove in a run in the second inning as well. I know a lot of people are frustrated with Bourn, but games like this show what he's capable of.
Carlos Lee had an RBI double in the first then smoked a ball to left field in the third, for his second home run of the series.
- Out in the field, Hunter Pence gunned down Jayson Werth at the plate to end the fourth inning.
- A rested Jeff Fulchino and Fernando Abad closed out the game and the Astros sweep with a one and two innings performance respectively.
Needles to say this team is firing on all cylinders. They are on a five-game road winning streak and are about to head into New York to play the Mets. That's the same Mets team that they split another four game series with last week. I don't think there was really any one player that truly stood out against the Phillies. Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence continued their hot hitting. Just when you think Chris Johnson is going to cool off, he busts out again for a three-hit game. Humberto Quintero should have a warning sign on his helmet.
WARNING: Baserunners have been known to get called out if not paying attention.
I could go on and on about the stellar pitching and the individual performances but I think the coaching staff needs some props. Even though I've been harsh on Brad Mills lately, he really managed this series well. The Wednesday game, after the sixteen inning marathon, was a tough one to manage and I think Brad Mills did so beautifully. He certainly pulled the right strings to help the Astros pull off an improbable sweep of the reigning National League champions.
If you're an Astro fan living in Atlanta, I hope you hit the bar scene last night. Any Astro fan in an Atlanta bar last night probably drank for free, as Twitter was littered with thanks and offers of free drinks from Braves fans. Let this moment sink in, Astros fans. This is a bright spot in a very very dark season and hopefully signifies a step towards brighter days.
What were some of your favorite moments or recollections of this series?