The day America joined the battle in the War on Terror, Shane Reynolds and the Astros had their backs against the wall on the closing day of the season. One game behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the Central Division pennant, the 'Stros needed one win to take the title on the tie-breaker of head-to-head competition. A victory would give the Astros a 9-7 advantage, and the Division pennant.
The main problem was, the one team standing in their way, the Cardinals, were also the team the Astros had to beat, and in the Cards' crib.
The Chicago Cubs had led the Central Division for most of the season, and the All-Star Break saw the Astros 8-1/2 games out, in third place. But a second half of solid baseball allowed the Astros to chip away at that lead, and they took the lead after a 21-7 tear in August. The 'Stros opened up a six-game lead in September as both the Cubbies and Cards slumped.
America was dealt a severe shock on September 11, 2001 with the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, and the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C. All play in Major League Baseball was halted for ten days as the nation at first reeled from the body-blow to its psyche, found its feet, and then rebounded with renewed resolve to bring the perpetrators to justice and never again to let its guard down, cost what it may.
The hiatus in baseball worked to the detriment of the Astros, however, who bafflingly dropped eight of their last nine games after play resumed. The 'Stros systematically blew their six-game lead in a tragi-comic slump, during which they were embarrassingly swept by the Giants at Enron Field.
The Astros went into their final series of the regular season in St. Louis trailing the Cards by one game, needing to win two out of the three games to claim the pennant. They won the first game, then lost the second. This set the stage for the season's closing game. The winner would walk away with the Division pennant (on the tie-breaker), the loser would be the NL Wildcard.
The word "choke" was again to be heard in Houston. though it would be truly hard to measure whether the Astros or the early-80's Oilers deserved that moniker.
Both clubs sent their respective staff aces to the mound: Shane Reynolds for the Astros, ex-Astro Darryl Kile for the Cards.
Reynolds was, if not brilliant, certainly effective, sprinkling eight hits allowed over 7-1/3 innings pitched for only one earned run. Astros bats, on the other hand, came alive against their old teammate Kile. The end result was a 9-2 rout by the Astros.
Reynolds was the first Houston pitcher to earn 100 victories as an Astro since Mike Scott achieved the feat in 1989, and only the seventh in franchise history.
The 'Stros would go on to be swept by the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS. but after the ignominy of their 72-90 2000 season, a return to the playoffs and pennant-winning certainly seemed a step forward.
ST. LOUIS -- The Astros heard the "C" word when a late-season slump threatened to unravel their playoff hopes.
They heard another "C" word Sunday afternoon.
Needing a win on the final day of the regular season, the Astros received a solid pitching performance from Shane Reynolds and a revival on offense, posting a 9-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals and clinching their fourth National League Central championship in five years.
The Astros have home-field advantage throughout the postseason. They will open their best-of-five Division Series on Tuesday against NL East champion Atlanta at Enron Field.
St. Louis, the wild-card entrant, will play NL West winner Arizona.
"Choke turned into clutch," Astros left fielder Lance Berkman said. "Now we've got to get it done in the playoffs. It's not over yet."
The Astros, who had lost eight of nine games entering the final weekend of the regular season, needed at least two victories -- or help from elsewhere -- to secure a spot in the playoffs after a one-year absence. They won Friday's opener 2-1 to assure at least a wild-card berth before failing to clinch the division Saturday, setting up a showdown with the Cardinals in the regular-season finale.
Reynolds (14-11), the veteran of the Astros' rotation, allowed only one run in 7 1/3 innings for his 100th career victory. Richard Hidalgo and Jeff Bagwell hit two-run homers off former teammate Darryl Kile (16-11). Eight of the Astros' nine runs came with two outs.
"This validates what we've done," manager Larry Dierker said.
The Astros and Cardinals finished with 93-69 records, but the Astros won the division based on a 9-7 head-to-head tiebreaker.
The Astros' rebound from last year's 72-90 fourth-place finish completed the largest turnaround in franchise history. The previous best single-season improvement was 18 games from 1997 to '98.
"We've overcome a lot from last year's injuries to this year's injuries and listening to everybody get on us about choking," closer Billy Wagner said. "I think we proved we're pretty clutch. We won it from the defending champion."
After a nearly two-week free fall, the Astros won Sunday in convincing fashion. They fell behind when J.D. Drew hit a solo home run to right field off Reynolds with two outs in the first inning, but the Cardinals weren't heard from again until the ninth inning, and by then the Astros led 9-1.
Hidalgo hit his 19th home run of the season in the second inning -- one of three hits for the center fielder -- and Bagwell doubled off the right-field wall and scored on Berkman's single in the sixth.
The Astros put away the game with four runs in the seventh. Bagwell, who had two crucial throwing errors in Saturday's 10-6 loss, delivered the crushing blow with his 39th homer.
Julio Lugo went 3-for-5, and Moises Alou had two RBIs. Every Astros starting position player had at least one hit.
"To do what I did today in a game this important is the highlight of my career," Hidalgo said. "I really wanted to do something to help this team win."
Kile, who starred in the first of the Astros' recent championships in 1997, allowed a season-high seven runs and 10 hits in 6 2/3 innings. He entered the game second in the NL with a 2.90 ERA.
"I got my butt kicked," Kile said. "I let the guys down. That's what it boils down to."
Wagner allowed one run in the ninth inning before getting Eli Marrero to ground out to the mound to end the game.
The Astros quietly exchanged high-fives on the field before a champagne-uncorking celebration in the visitors' clubhouse at Busch Stadium. During the celebration, they paused for a moment of silence to remember those affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Today they begin focusing on longtime nemesis Atlanta, responsible for the Astros' first-round exits in two of their three postseason trips in the late 1990s. With the slate wiped clean, the Astros believe they have an edge by entering the playoffs on the heels of a grueling, season-ending stretch of 19 games against contenders.
"Almost letting the postseason slip away from us the last couple of weeks, we come up with our backs against the wall and played huge games in this series," general manager Gerry Hunsicker said. "I couldn't think of a better game to prepare ourselves for going into the postseason. Every part of our game was championship-caliber."
All photos copyright Houston Astros & St. Louis Cardinals
Game of 10/7/2001 -- Houston at St. Louis Courtesy of Retrosheet Houston AB R H RBI St. Louis AB R H RBI Biggio C, 2b 5 1 1 1 Vina F, 2b 4 0 1 0 Lugo J, ss 5 2 3 1 Polanco P, 3b 4 0 1 0 Bagwell J, 1b 4 3 2 2 Drew J, rf 4 1 1 1 Berkman L, lf 3 1 1 1 Pujols A, 1b 4 0 1 0 Alou M, rf 5 0 1 2 Edmonds J, cf 3 0 3 0 Barker G, pr-cf 0 0 0 0 McGwire M, ph 1 0 0 0 Castilla V, 3b 5 0 1 0 Paquette C, lf 4 1 1 0 Hidalgo R, cf-rf 4 1 3 2 Renteria E, ss 3 0 0 0 Eusebio T, c 3 1 1 0 Bonilla B, ph 1 0 0 0 Reynolds S, p 2 0 0 0 Matheny M, c 2 0 0 0 Jackson M, p 0 0 0 0 Robinson K, ph 1 0 0 0 Truby C, ph 1 0 0 0 Hackman L, p 0 0 0 0 Wagner B, p 0 0 0 0 Kline S, p 0 0 0 0 Stechschulte G, p 0 0 0 0 Cairo M, ph 1 0 1 1 Kile D, p 2 0 1 0 Matthews M, p 0 0 0 0 Marrero E, ph-c 2 0 0 0 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 37 9 13 9 36 2 10 2 Houston 020 001 402 -- 9 St. Louis 100 000 001 -- 2 Houston IP H R ER BB SO Reynolds S (W) 7.1 8 1 1 0 1 Jackson M 0.2 0 0 0 0 0 Wagner B 1.0 2 1 1 0 1 St. Louis IP H R ER BB SO Kile D (L) 6.2 10 7 7 2 5 Matthews M 0.1 0 0 0 0 0 Hackman L 1.0 1 0 0 0 0 Kline S 0.2 0 0 0 0 1 Stechschulte G 0.1 2 2 2 1 0 Game winning RBI -- none DP -- Houston 1, St. Louis 1 LOB -- Houston 6, St. Louis 7 2B -- Edmonds J, Eusebio T, Kile D, Bagwell J, Biggio C, Cairo M HR -- Drew J, Hidalgo R, Bagwell J SB -- Polanco P CS -- Hidalgo R SH -- Reynolds S HBP -- by Stechschulte G (Berkman L) PB -- Marrero E T -- 3:00 A -- 47518
Game of Sunday, 10/7/2001 -- Houston Astros at St. Louis Cardinals Courtesy of Retrosheet Starting Lineups: Houston St. Louis 1. 2b Craig Biggio 2b Ferando Vina 2. ss Julio Lugo 3b Placido Polanco 3. 1b Jeff Bagwell rf J.D. Drew 4. lf Lance Berkman 1b Albert Pujols 5. rf Moises Alou cf Jim Edmonds 6. 3b Vinny Castilla lf Craig Paquette 7. cf Richard Hidalgo ss Edgar Renteria 8. c T.Eusebio c Mike Matheny 9. p S.Reynolds p Darryl Kile ASTROS 1ST: C.Biggio was called out on strikes; J.Lugo lined to F.Vina-2b; J.Bagwell struck out; 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Astros 0, Cardinals 0. CARDINALS 1ST: F.Vina flied to M.Alou-rf; P.Polanco grounded out (J.Lugo-ss to J.Bagwell-1b); J.Drew homered to rightfield (it was the 0-2 pitch); A.Pujols grounded out (S.Reynolds-p to J.Bagwell-1b); 1 R, 1 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Astros 0, Cardinals 1. ASTROS 2ND: L.Berkman walked; M.Alou flied to C.Paquette-lf; V.Castilla flied to J.Drew-rf; R.Hidalgo homered to leftfield (it was the first pitch) [L.Berkman scored]; T.Eusebio was called out on strikes; 2 R, 1 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Astros 2, Cardinals 1. CARDINALS 2ND: J.Edmonds singled (it was the 1-1 pitch); C.Paquette flied to M.Alou-rf; E.Renteria grounded into a double play (J.Lugo-ss to C.Biggio-2b to J.Bagwell-1b) [J.Edmonds out at second]; 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Astros 2, Cardinals 1. ASTROS 3RD: S.Reynolds grounded out (A.Pujols-1b unassisted); C.Biggio grounded out (P.Polanco-3b to A.Pujols-1b); J.Lugo singled to short left-center (it was the first pitch); J.Bagwell struck out; 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Astros 2, Cardinals 1. CARDINALS 3RD: M.Matheny flied to M.Alou-rf; D.Kile grounded out (J.Lugo-ss to J.Bagwell-1b); F.Vina singled to left field (it was the 1-0 pitch); P.Polanco forced F.Vina (J.Lugo-ss to C.Biggio-2b) [P.Polanco to first]; 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Astros 2, Cardinals 1. ASTROS 4TH: L.Berkman was called out on strikes; M.Alou grounded out (E.Renteria-ss to A.Pujols-1b); V.Castilla singled to right field (it was the 1-0 pitch); R.Hidalgo grounded out (F.Vina-2b to A.Pujols-1b); 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Astros 2, Cardinals 1. CARDINALS 4TH: J.Drew grounded out (J.Bagwell-1b unassisted); A.Pujols flied to L.Berkman-lf; J.Edmonds doubled to center field (it was the 3-2 pitch); C.Paquette grounded out (V.Castilla-3b to J.Bagwell-1b); 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Astros 2, Cardinals 1. ASTROS 5TH: T.Eusebio doubled to center field (it was the 1-0 pitch); S.Reynolds reached on a fielder's choice (it was the first pitch) (D.Kile-p to P.Polanco-3b) [T.Eusebio out at third]; C.Biggio grounded out (P.Polanco-3b to A.Pujols-1b) [S.Reynolds to second]; J.Lugo lined to J.Drew-rf; 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Astros 2, Cardinals 1. CARDINALS 5TH: E.Renteria flied to R.Hidalgo-cf; M.Matheny grounded out (C.Biggio-2b to J.Bagwell-1b); D.Kile doubled to left field (it was the 3-2 pitch); F.Vina grounded out (C.Biggio-2b to J.Bagwell-1b); 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Astros 2, Cardinals 1. ASTROS 6TH: J.Bagwell doubled to right field (it was the 1-1 pitch); L.Berkman singled to center field (it was the 2-1 pitch) [J.Bagwell scored]; M.Alou flied to J.Drew-rf; V.Castilla grounded into a double play (M.Matheny-c to F.Vina-2b) [L.Berkman out at second]; 1 R, 2 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Astros 3, Cardinals 1. CARDINALS 6TH: P.Polanco grounded out (J.Lugo-ss to J.Bagwell-1b); J.Drew popped to J.Lugo-ss; A.Pujols singled to center field (it was the 2-2 pitch); J.Edmonds singled to center field (it was the first pitch) [A.Pujols to second]; C.Paquette grounded out (V.Castilla-3b to J.Bagwell-1b); 0 R, 2 H, 0 E, 2 LOB. Astros 3, Cardinals 1. ASTROS 7TH: R.Hidalgo singled (it was the first pitch); R.Hidalgo was caught stealing second (it was the 2-0 pitch) (M.Matheny-c to E.Renteria-ss); T.Eusebio walked; S.Reynolds out on a sacrifice bunt (D.Kile-p to A.Pujols-1b) [T.Eusebio to second]; C.Biggio doubled to left field (it was the 2-2 pitch) [T.Eusebio scored]; J.Lugo singled to left field (it was the 2-0 pitch) [C.Biggio scored]; J.Bagwell homered to centerfield (it was the 0-2 pitch) [J.Lugo scored]; M.MATTHEWS REPLACED D.KILE (PITCHING); L.Berkman grounded out (E.Renteria-ss to A.Pujols-1b); 4 R, 4 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Astros 7, Cardinals 1. CARDINALS 7TH: E.Renteria grounded out (J.Lugo-ss to J.Bagwell-1b); K.ROBINSON BATTED FOR M.MATHENY; K.Robinson was called out on strikes; E.MARRERO BATTED FOR M.MATTHEWS; E.Marrero grounded out (J.Lugo-ss to J.Bagwell-1b); 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Astros 7, Cardinals 1. ASTROS 8TH: E.MARRERO STAYED IN GAME (PLAYING C); L.HACKMAN REPLACED K.ROBINSON (PITCHING); M.Alou grounded out (E.Renteria-ss to A.Pujols-1b); V.Castilla popped to E.Renteria-ss; R.Hidalgo singled to left field (it was the 0-1 pitch); T.Eusebio flied to J.Edmonds-cf; 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Astros 7, Cardinals 1. CARDINALS 8TH: F.Vina grounded out (J.Bagwell-1b unassisted); P.Polanco singled to left field (it was the 0-1 pitch); M.JACKSON REPLACED S.REYNOLDS (PITCHING); P.Polanco stole second (it was the 1-0 pitch); J.Drew grounded out (J.Bagwell-1b unassisted) [P.Polanco to third]; A.Pujols grounded out (V.Castilla-3b to J.Bagwell-1b); 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Astros 7, Cardinals 1. ASTROS 9TH: C.TRUBY BATTED FOR M.JACKSON; S.KLINE REPLACED L.HACKMAN (PITCHING); C.Truby was called out on strikes; C.Biggio grounded out (E.Renteria-ss to A.Pujols-1b); G.STECHSCHULTE REPLACED S.KLINE (PITCHING); J.Lugo singled (it was the 1-1 pitch); E.Marrero allowed a passed ball (it was the 2-1 pitch) [J.Lugo to second]; J.Bagwell walked; L.Berkman was hit by a pitch (it was the 1-2 pitch) [J.Lugo to third, J.Bagwell to second]; M.Alou singled to left field (it was the 1-0 pitch) [J.Lugo scored, J.Bagwell scored, L.Berkman to second]; G.BARKER RAN FOR M.ALOU; V.Castilla grounded out (E.Renteria-ss to A.Pujols-1b); 2 R, 2 H, 0 E, 2 LOB. Astros 9, Cardinals 1. CARDINALS 9TH: G.BARKER STAYED IN GAME (PLAYING CF); R.HIDALGO CHANGED POSITIONS (PLAYING RF); M.MCGWIRE BATTED FOR J.EDMONDS; B.WAGNER REPLACED C.TRUBY (PITCHING); M.McGwire flied to G.Barker-cf; C.Paquette singled to left field (it was the 0-1 pitch); B.BONILLA BATTED FOR E.RENTERIA; B.Bonilla struck out; M.CAIRO BATTED FOR G.STECHSCHULTE; M.Cairo doubled to left field (it was the first pitch) [C.Paquette scored]; E.Marrero grounded out (B.Wagner-p to J.Bagwell-1b); 1 R, 2 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Astros 9, Cardinals 2. Final Totals R H E LOB Astros 9 13 0 6 Cardinals 2 10 0 7