added 10/10/2005 by Scott Barzilla
My day began innocently enough. I am a marshal at a local country club on Sundays, so my duties took me through the start of the game until two o’clock. Luckily, modern technology allowed me to check the scores on my cellphone. When I saw the score go 4-0 in favor of the Braves I resigned myself to another Game 5 in Atlanta. I checked the score of the Texans game and started to get that much more depressed. I thought another repeat of “Black Monday” was in the offing.
Last year, Houstonians walked around in a zombie-like state on the Monday when Game 5 was to be played. Everyone just knew that the Astros would lose, because teams are supposed to lose on the road in the final game of the series. Also, the Astros had never come through in the clutch in their playoff lives. In fact, the Astros had been involved in more memorable pre-World Series games than any team in history, but that was just a historical footnote at that point. Winning Game 5 in Atlanta changed everything for this franchise.
Yes, anything was possible, but the anemic offense seemed to be rearing it’s ugly head. When I got home a little after two, I settled in on the recliner and started to doze off. Being a marshal requires me to get there pretty early, so taking a nap while the Astros floundered seemed like a good idea. Switching over to the Texans wasn’t an option unless I wanted to see David Carr be horizontal for most of the day.
Lance Berkman’s grand slam removed me from my slumber, so I poised to watch the last inning with total attention. Brad Ausmus has the power of a middle infielder from the 1910s. His home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth was the biggest hit in context I have ever seen. As we know, that was only a pretense of things to come. Luke Scott missed being the hero by a matter of inches and the bullpen managed to put up a remarkable thirteen innings with only one run. Of course, when you use 23 of the 24 available players (Andy Pettitte was in Atlanta) there will always be plenty of heroes.
These kinds of things can turn around careers. Burke had been a popular whipping boy among Astros fans. He was a second baseman, but Biggio’s renaissance forced him to move to left field. He was a middle infielder playing in the corner outfield slot, so his lack of punch brought him much ire. Yet, here he was at the end getting the big hit off of Devine. You can’t help but feel for that kid because he was in college this time last year. I know it’s usually not good to show mercy to the enemy, but we know how that feels.
Chris Burke is going to be a regular second basemen somewhere in the majors someday. We hope it can be in Houston, but realistically he won’t get that opportunity until 2008. Burke will be an interesting player to follow this off-season. This home run will get some people to inquire about him. I don’t know if I want him to go, but he might have to.
Scott is another player that took a lot of flack throughout most of his time in Houston. People will remember the home run that wasn’t. I have to give credit to the umpires because they got that one right, but the most important moment was his pinch hit walk in the 8th inning. Luke Scott has had many more quality at bats than his numbers would indicate. He might have solidified a spot for himself on the bench for 2006.
That was the single biggest hit I’ve ever seen. I cannot say anything else than that. There will be plenty of time to analyze each player as a whole, but for now he deserves all the praise I can heep on him. Ausmus has been a good clutch hitter this season and a better hitter overall than he usually is.
The best player on the team made the biggest impact. Think about it for a second. If Berkman flies out then Houston loses the game and everyone wonders if this team will ever get a meaningful hit. Berkman’s hit put us within striking distance and made everyone believe a comeback was possible. The Braves spent the entire series trying to make sure Berkman didn’t beat them and he did the one time he had the opportunity.
This one was a perfect effort by the guys that have done it all season. Chad Qualls, Dan Wheeler, and Brad Lidge combined for seven scoreless innings. The three aces in the rotation steal a lot of the press and Brad Lidge takes the press they don’t get. Meanwhile, Dan Wheeler had three scoreless innings in perhaps the most quiet and best season by a setup man in the game. Remove strikeouts and Chad Qualls is Brad Lidge from 2003.
How does a 43 year old pitcher pitch three scoreless innings of relief two days after he started a game? All I have to say to the person that called Roger Clemens a choker on the message board is, “shame on you.” No, he may not have the same post-season resume as John Smoltz or Andy Pettitte, but eleven post-season victories (versus five losses) is still pretty darn good.
Believe it or not, there is a book titled, The Greatest Game Ever Played about Game six of the 1986 NLCS. I have a hard time grasping the concept of writing a book on a single game. Heck, I’m having a hard time getting through this column and this was easily better than that game. I wish ESPN would have shut up long enough to let us enjoy the show along the way. I’m torn between feeling an evil glee at Atlanta’s pain or feeling for them after the most grueling game anyone of us has ever witnessed. Considering the amount of pain they have inflicted on Astros fans through the years it’s nice to return the favor.
Scott Barzilla is the author of “Checks and Imbalances” and “The State of Baseball Management.”