Sing, lady, sing!

added 10/11/2005 by Willie B. Lakey

“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” - - - Yogi Berra.

It might be one of the most recognizable sports quotes ever made, and that’s saying something. It’s saying something just to suggest it’s the most widely known and heard quote Yogi Berra is credited with since the list is long from his lips.

You’ll also hear the same message delivered as, “It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings.” The Houston Astros truly proved both the Yogism and the opera-inspired proverb on Sunday in Game 4 of their NLDS versus the Atlanta Braves. Down to their final six outs trailing 6-1 in the bottom of the eighth with a Game 5 back in Georgia on Monday, the Astros picked themselves up and rallied for a 7-6, 18-inning epic victory.

But in an ironic twist to the old adages, the Astros might have started a new 'ism' of their own in the contest since Game 4 didn’t really begin for Houston until after the young lady sang.

The young lady in this case was not fat at all, and her chosen pieces to belt out were not arias from any opera. Nicole Oswalt, wife of Astros righty Roy, sang the National Anthem before Game 4 and God Bless America during the 7th-inning stretch, and by all accounts I received she has a nice voice. One Astros fan supreme, who also doubles as a music critic in his spare time, suggested Mrs. Roy O may have dragged the anthem out a little bit. But as long as she didn’t yodel during the song, as so many do these days, I’m ok with a little slower pace to the piece. I still challenge any and all singers to show me where Francis Scott Key scribbled, “Yodel here,” on his original score.

Houston might consider hiring Nicole Oswalt to perform at every game, home and on the road. At least have her sing when the Astros trail late in a game. Sure can’t hurt.

Here are some other musings about that game.

Fans for 18 innings: Watching the game from my home in the Texas Hill Country, I was struck by how few empty seats there were at the end of Game 4 in Houston. As cameras panned the crowd in the 14th, 15th, 16th innings and beyond, there was just a smattering of blank spaces among the crowd. Can’t help but assume some of those fans left around the top of the eighth when Atlanta rookie Brian McCann touched Astros rookie Wandy Rodriguez for a homer that gave the Braves a 6-1 lead. But it was like nobody left after that point. Not that we shouldn’t expect fans to stay for the whole game, especially with it being the playoffs not to mention what postseason ducats run these days. But so often the crowd dwindles as each and every extra inning mounts. So I’m proud of the Astros fans, as well as the Braves fans who are often as thick as Bayou City humidity at the games in Houston, for sticking this one out to the very end.

One reason so many fans might have been in their seats the last 9-10 innings or so was what a buddy who was in attendance told me. Seated out in the left field bleachers about 20-25 feet towards the foul pole from the fan who caught both Lance Berkman’s grand slam and Chris Burke’s game-winner, my friend commented that fans had no reason to be up and moving around the stadium except to use the restroom. “They quit selling beer after the seventh inning,” the longtime ‘Stros fan said, “and they ran out of other stuff at the concession stands.”

Good points, but I’m still proud of all those who stayed.

Favorite moment: Considering the Astros-Braves Game 4 lasted two games and almost six hours long, there are a lot of moments in the contest that fans can cull from when picking a favorite. Between all of the homers, relief pitching, and timely defense by both teams, it might be impossible to get a consensus for any single play as the most crucial. But for yours truly, the one lasting memory I will take from the contest is Roger Clemens. No, not his three scoreless innings out of the pen, just his second relief appearance ever and the first in 21 years for the eventual Hall of Famer. Clemens’ effort in his two plate appearances will be forever etched in my mind. He put down a perfect bunt as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the 15th, then came up swinging for the fences leading off the bottom of the 18th just ahead of Burke’s walk-off shot. Love him or hate him, it just seems impossible for anyone to ignore the old man’s effort.

Nit(wit) picking with the media: I generally stay away from a lot of the sports talk shows these days since so many are geared for entertainment and not information. But I decided to check a few out on Monday to see what the media, local and national, had to say about Game 4 of the Atlanta-Houston NLDS.

In the end, they didn’t have much to say at all, at least very little that was constructive or positive about the classic battle. A few writers, broadcaster and callers were upbeat or put positive spins on the contest, but there were also a lot of detractors and pooh-poohers. The self-appointed experts who make up the Fourth Estate will tell you it is not their job to put positive spins on things or serve as cheerleaders for any team or sport. True.

But if you’re going to have a comment or opinion about Game 4, or any other game, for that matter, shouldn’t you at least have watched it?

The exact name of the show escapes me right now, what with all of the glittering graphics, bells and whistles that accompany the broadcast wreaking havoc on my feeble mind. But it airs on ESPN in the mid-afternoon most days, about the same time my wife begins to get mad at me for not having a full-time job. Two of the expert panelists on Monday were Woody Paige and Michael Smith who are employed, I believe, by The Denver Post and ESPN respectively. Houston manager Phil Garner’s comment after Houston’s 7-6 win on Sunday that the game was ‘the greatest game ever’ was tossed out for the print and electronic piranhas to feed upon.

Paige commented it couldn’t be the greatest game ever since it wasn’t even the greatest Astros game ever, noting that Houston’s 16-inning loss to the Mets in Game 6 of the NLCS still holds that position. Umm, Woody baby, did you ever stop to think that maybe a thrilling extra-inning win in the playoffs might rank a little higher for Astros fans than a depressing extra-inning postseason loss? Paige then enlightened viewers just how he arrived at the conclusion with his confession that he wasn’t even watching the game at the end after flipping over to the golf match and finding John Daly’s failings to give Tiger Woods yet another tourney the most riveting sports show of the day.

Smith also shook his head no to the idea that it may have been the greatest baseball game ever. “This wasn’t the greatest game ever,” Smith opined. “To begin with, I didn’t even watch it…”

That was all I needed to hear. TV off, stereo on.