added 10/29/2005 by Scott Barzilla
Usually, a substantial waiting period is warranted to report on these items, but we don't have time for such things. I've waited until the day after to reflect on what has transpired and one feeling overwhelms me: pride. No, the boys at Fox and ESPN won't cover that part of the story, but we'll get to those boys later. If you don't feel pain you aren't an Astros fan, but if you're still harping on them when the mourning stops you're not a good Astros fan.
Every time I want to yell at Phil Garner, Morgan Ensberg, or Brad Lidge I stop and remember that we were never supposed to get to the World Series. The Astros were pronounced dead on June 1st, were not picked to win the Wild Card on September 1st, and picked to lose every series they entered into once they won the wild card. This club was not the juggernaut that lost in 1998 or the clubs that faced off against legendary opponents in 1980 and 1986. This was a flawed club from beginning until end and they showed it every step of the way. What they also showed was more heart than any Astros team had shown before.
Hold off on the Heimlich maneuver
The Fox announcers practically drooled over the Sox pitchers while Astros fans cried about the likes of Morgan Ensberg and the rest of the offense choking. Anyone that focused too much on either extreme wasn't paying much attention this season. Every game was decided by one or two runs. The Astros were 38-38 this season in one and two run games while the Sox were 60-35. Should any of us be really surprised that the series turned out this way?
The Sox finished the post-season with an 11-1 record (tied for the best since the divisional series were added) and most of those were close affairs. The Astros finished the post-season with a 7-7 mark. It shouldn't surprise anyone that both clubs' respective records in the post-season reflected their record in close games. The Astros played in one true blowout and the Sox did the same. Simply put, these teams did what they always did this season. The Sox did what they needed to do in close games consistently while the Astros were hit or miss. In the NLCS and World Series they seemed to be mostly miss, but their pitching carried them as far as they would go.
I hate the term 'choking'. It doesn't represent most situations well. For one, it never gives credit to the competition, and in the case of the Astros it doesn't acknowledge what was there the whole time. The next time I hear someone call for the trade of Morgan Ensberg or anyone else in the lineup based on the World Series I'll scream. Do we really want to base decisions on four games? Honestly, we have folks that underperformed in the playoffs and we have folks that underperformed all season. Let's focus on them.
My wife made me keep the sound on throughout the playoffs. She says it annoys her more than the announcers. Personally, I'd rather listen to Milo than hearing Joe Buck or any other commentator butcher Craig Biggio's name again. It seemed we were the underdog and forgotten one every step of the way. The national media fawned over Chipper Jones, Albert Pujols, and Joe Crede. You would think they were the second coming of Mike Schmidt, Lou Gehrig, and Brooks Robinson. Well, maybe Pujols is the second coming of Gehrig, but you get the idea.
Announcers that make six and seven figures should not mispronounce names as consistently as these guys do. Walk the hundred steps to the dugout and ask them how to pronounce their name. Craig Biggio will be in the Hall of Fame someday. Hearing some jackass say 'Craig Beegio' is an insult to what he has done in his career. I'll defy you to find me another superstar that has his name pronounced as consistently as Biggio.
Meanwhile the production of Fox baseball game makes me long to watch a long series of Sylvester Stallone and Steven Segal movies. Did Albert Pujols really hit a home run in Game 5? I'm not sure, maybe the 501st replay will convince me. I personally love getting into the director's head for the frequent 'do I show the replay or actual game action' decision. That feature was almost as irritating as the frequent shots of Chipper Jones' dad last season. Of course, why should anyone expect subtlety out of the network that brings you 'wife swapping' and 'act like a jackass for a 1000 bucks' or any other stupid reality show they can come up with? Now I know why Larry Dierker didn't make it as a national color commentator: he knows too much.
Hope Springs Eternal
Usually, when a team makes it to the World Series and loses, they are at a loss to know what to add to get back there and win. This is not true in the Astros case. We know exactly what needs to be added. The Astros lack of hitting and clutch hitting in particular reared its ugly head every step of the way. We don't know if Roger Clemens will return, but it is clear that the bullpen and rotation stepped up in a huge way. All of them are slated to return except Clemens. He will begin the long process of deciding if his illustrious career should come to an end.
The White Sox, on the other hand, have a whole host of issues beginning with Paul Konerko and continuing with guys like Frank Thomas and Carl Everett. The Astros have no issues in terms of free agency. Their only issues are Roger Clemens and Jeff Bagwell and whether they will come back. Certainly, there are a number of ways to look at it, but at this point, either possibility is positive. If Bagwell is healthy enough to play and Clemens chooses to return, we have the same pitching staff and a bolstered offense. If neither return then we have 35 million dollars to spend. As we know, the situation is not that simple, but before the November calendar turns we don't have to worry about those complications.
Simply put, the Astros have to find more offense. In the coming columns I will look at where we can do that, but for the time being I'm enjoying the totality of the season. No one can claim the Astros underachieved this season. They did as well as anyone could have expected. Now it's time to go back to work to get the crown next season.
Scott Barzilla is the author of 'Checks and Imbalances' and 'The State of Baseball Management'.