2005 - Season Recap
by Bob Hulsey
The 2005 season began and ended with big disappointments but, in between, the franchise saw yet another miracle finish leading up to their first National League Championship. The year began with the loss of their 2004 postseason star Carlos Beltran to the New York Mets via free agency, this despite being offered more money to stay than any Astro had ever been offered. The decision left the Astros unprepared to fill the void in center field. All-Star second baseman Jeff Kent had been cut loose when his contract was not renewed.
Due to an offseason knee injury to slugger Lance Berkman, Houston began the year with three inexperienced outfielders - Luke Scott in left field (a call-up from AA), Willy Taveras in center (another call-up from AA who, with Scott, came in a trade from Cleveland for pitcher Jeriome Robertson) and Jason Lane in right (who had spent most of his time in the minors or on the bench). A fourth new face, converted infielder Chris Burke, was also promoted from the minors to share time in left.
Craig Biggio returned to second base to join holdovers Jeff Bagwell, Adam Everett, Morgan Ensberg and catcher Brad Ausmus around the bags. After winning four of their first five to begin the season, the Astros spiraled downward due primarily to a lack of timely hitting. By May 24th, Houston was last in their division at 15-30, 14 games behind the Cardinals.
On May 5th, Bagwell took himself out of the lineup and it was soon announced that he would have capsular release surgery on his arthritic right shoulder in hopes of extending his career. Berkman returned on the 6th, but his batting average was just .179 as of that fateful 24th. Houston was shut out 10 times in their first 53 games, four times at the expense of defending Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens. Rumors flourished that Clemens would be traded back to the Yankees.
But on May 25th, a small rally began in Chicago. The Astros began winning and took 16 of 25 games in June. By the All-Star Break, they were over .500 at 44-43 and had pulled to within 5-1/2 games of Atlanta for the wild card spot even though they were still well behind St. Louis in their own division. After getting swept by the Cardinals to start the second half, the Astros won 13 of their next 14 games, finally claiming the wild card lead on July 29th. New General Manager Tim Purpura passed on making any deals at the trade deadline.
Over the next 30 days, Houston would go 12-15 and fell behind Philadelphia and Florida, tied with Beltran's Mets. Still no trade to bolster the team was consumated.
The Astros had been under this sort of pressure the year before when they came back in September to make the playoffs. They would do so again, turning in a 21-11 clip down the stretch to finish with a record of 89-73, still 11 games back of the Cardinals in the Central Division but good enough, by one game, over Philadelphia to make the playoffs as the wild card for the second consecutive year.
While every game in such a situation is important, perhaps the biggest game came on September 7th when Biggio shocked the Phillies with a three-run homer against ex-Astro Billy Wagner with two outs in the ninth for an 8-6 triumph. Without that homer, Philadelphia makes the playoffs instead of Houston - but then it had been awhile since the Phils had beaten the Astros. Houston had won 12 straight against their former nemesis over the past two years.
After their awful 15-30 start, the Astros went 74-43 (.632) the rest of the way, staking the best record in the majors over that time. They'd need every one of those wins just to make the postseason. In doing so, they joined the 1914 "Miracle" Boston Braves as the only team to reach the postseason after being 15 games under .500 during any part of the same season.
Pitching was the biggest reason for their success. Roy Oswalt (20-12, 2.94 ERA) won twenty games for the second straight season. 43-year-old Roger Clemens (13-8, 1.37) won the league's ERA title despite a frustrating year where many strong performances were wasted by a lack of offensive support. Andy Pettitte (17-9, 2.39) started slowly but came on strong (7-0) in the final six weeks. Brandon Backe (10-8, 4.76) and two rookies - Wandy Rodriguez (10-10, 5.53) and Ezequiel Astacio (3-5, 5.67) - rounded out the starting staff.
With so many Astro sluggers injured or gone, Ensberg (.283, 36 HRs, 101 RBIs) became the cleanup hitter and delivered the best performance of his career. Berkman (.293, 24, 82) bounced back from a slow start and Lane (.267, 26, 78) provided additional power. Biggio (.264, 26, 69) had a career high in homers to go with 156 hits, reaching 2,795 for his career - 43rd all-time. He also set a unique mark on June 29th when he was hit by pitch for the 268th time of his career, establishing a modern-day record.
Of the newcomers, Taveras (.291, 3, 29) shone most brightly, leading the club in hits (172) and steals (34) while finishing second in the league's Rookie of the Year balloting. Burke (.248, 5, 26) settled into a three-way platoon with Berkman and first baseman Mike Lamb (.236, 12, 53) as manager Phil Garner jockeyed Berkman between first and left. At the bottom of the order, Everett (.248, 11, 54) and Ausmus (.258, 3, 47) provided some timely hits down the stretch.
Clemens had a unique moment on April 29th when he lost to Greg Maddux and the Cubs, 3-2. It was the first time that two 300-win pitchers had dueled each other in the National League in 113 years. That same night, Bagwell provided the 449th homer of his career - his last before surgery. Clemens also passed Steve Carlton for ninth on the all-time wins list with 341. His 4,502 strikeouts are second all-time, behind Nolan Ryan's 5,714.
Expected to be lost for the season after his operation, Bagwell worked to get his batting stroke back while under orders not to throw. He returned to the team in September as a pinch-hitter during the expanded fall rosters. On September 16th, Bagwell singled home Taveras for the game-winner over Milwaukee.
Miracles and milestones were the buzzwords of the regular season but there was far more to this story as Astro fans would soon discover.
The months of work to get into the playoffs almost slipped away. One game ahead of Philadelphia for the final playoff spot on the last day of the regular season, the Astros could see the Phillies winning on the Minute Maid Park scoreboard. What was left to do was beat the Cubs with their winningest pitcher, Roy Oswalt. To lose would mean a tie and a one-game playoff in Philadelphia.
The Cubs had already won two of three in the series and sent Greg Maddux to the hill against them. Morgan Ensberg and Mike Lamb delivered RBI singles in the first and Oswalt himself singled home a run in the fourth for a 3-0 lead. It looked like Astro fans could breathe easily.
Until the fifth. Michael Barrett homered and Corey Patterson doubled to make it a 3-2 lead then Barrett and Neifi Perez singled in the sixth to put Chicago ahead, 4-3. Could all the hopes built up by the Astros collapse in one afternoon?
Jason Lane answered with a solo shot in the bottom of the sixth to tie the score. Then, after an Adam Everett single, pinch-hitter Jeff Bagwell sent a dribbler to Perez at shortstop. The throw to second sailed into right field, scoring Everett. A wild pitch brought home an insurance run.
The NLDS...(Full Recap)
For the fifth time in six postseason appearances, the Atlanta Braves were the first-round opponent. After three series losses, the Astros finally broke through to the League Championship Series in 2004. Over the 2005 season, the Braves had beaten Houston five of six times.
Andy Pettitte got the Game One start against Tim Hudson. The Braves were intent on keeping Lance Berkman from beating them so Morgan Ensberg made them pay. He provided three hits and a walk to drive in five. Up 5-3 in the eighth, Houston pasted the Atlanta bullpen for five runs to coast to a 10-5 victory.
Roger Clemens took the ball for Game Two but rookie Brian McCann surprised the Rocket with a three-run homer in the second. A two-run double in the third by Adam LaRoche built an early 5-1 lead. Astro-killer John Smoltz kept the bats at bay to drop Houston, 7-1, and even the series.
Returning to Houston for Game Three, the shaky Atlanta bullpen betrayed them again. Holding a 3-2 lead, the Astros erupted for four runs in the seventh to take a 7-3 victory and a 2-1 series edge. Roy Oswalt was the winner. Ensberg resumed his Game One performance with a pair of run-scoring doubles.
A series that lacked drama got plenty of it in the decisive Game Four. A grand slam by LaRoche and a homer by McCann highlighted a 6-1 Atlanta lead going into the bottom of the eighth behind Hudson. Houston scrapped back then watched Berkman slap a grand slam into the Crawford Boxes off Kyle Farnsworth to pull within one. Yet it all seemed in vain with two outs in the bottom of the ninth when Brad Ausmus stepped in against Farnsworth. Ausmus, however, ripped a 2-0 pitch into left center that just eluded the leaping Andruw Jones and just reached the yellow line to be ruled a home run. That tied it at 6-6. The ballpark exploded.
Whatever momentum the comeback gave was dulled after both teams wasted scoring opportunities in extra innings. The Astros bullpen was spent. Their bench was depleted. Manager Phil Garner called on Clemens to pinch-hit in the bottom of the 15th then he stayed in to pitch. Roger had not made a relief appearance in 21 years. Still favoring a pulled hamstring, Clemens was committed to pitching as long as needed.
It would be three innings. Clemens had just struck out to begin the bottom of the 18th when Chris Burke cracked a Joey Devine pitch into the Crawford seats - in the exact same spot where Berkman's grand slam landed - to win the game and the series, 7-6. It was the longest game in postseason history, lasting five hours and 50 minutes.
The NLCS...(Full Recap)
If the Astros were exhausted, the St. Louis Cardinals were well-rested, having quickly dispatched San Diego in a three-game sweep. Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter outdueled Pettitte in Game One, 5-3. Pettitte had been hit with a line drive during warmups and did not appear sharp. Sunday's hero, Chris Burke, drilled a two-run pinch-hit homer in the seventh to give the Astros some life.
Oswalt was tough in Game Two, halting the Redbirds, 4-1, to even the series. Burke continued his hot hitting, scoring the first run after a triple off Mark Mulder and later keying a two-run rally in the eighth.
Clemens gave the Astros six gutty innings while Mike Lamb homered and scored twice in a 4-3 victory in Game Three. Houston took a commanding lead with a 2-1 squeaker in Game Four, allowing just three hits in the first eight innings. Brad Lidge was roughed up in the ninth but escaped for his third save in four days when Eric Bruntlett turned John Mabry's roller into a 4-6-3 double play to end the game.
Long-suffering Astro fans could see their World Series dreams before their eyes. After 43 seasons, Houston needed to win just one of three games to finally reach the Fall Classic. When Berkman poked a three-run homer into the Crawford Boxes to take a 4-2 lead in the seventh inning of Game Five, all of Downtown Houston heard the reaction. It came down to Lidge to seal the first pennant in Houston's history. However, the league's Most Valuable Player, Albert Pujols, launched a devastating monster shot over the train tracks to give the Cardinals a 5-4 win and stave off elimination.
The Astros returned to St. Louis in the same position as last year - leading the series, 3-2, but presumed dead on arrival. Roy Oswalt didn't see it that way. He throttled the Redbirds while the bats chipped at Mulder once again. Lane belted a solo homer and Ausmus added three hits to give the Astros a 5-1 edge. This time, it was Dan Wheeler sent in to close the game. When Yadier Molina flied out to Lane in right field, the long wait was over. For Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, who had been with the ballclub 17 and 14 years respectively, it was the moment they had waited for their entire careers.
The World Series...(Full Recap)
The Astros' first-ever World Series began on Chicago's gritty South Side. White Sox fans had waited to be in the Fall Classic even longer than Astro fans - since 1959.
On the day Roger Clemens' mother passed away, she correctly predicted the score of Roger's game that night and, according to Roger's sister, uttered the name of Shoeless Joe Jackson repeatedly. Jackson is best known as one of the Sox players banned from baseball after the 1919 World Series was "thrown" for gambling money. The White Sox had not been World's Champions ever since.
Whatever ghosts lurked in Chicago, they appeared to be siding with the home team. Clemens, Houston's Game One starter, allowed three runs in the first two innings and left with a pulled hamstring. Houston tied it on a homer by Lamb and a two-run double by Berkman. A solo shot by Joe Crede in the fourth made it 4-3 Chicago and it stayed that way until the eighth. The Astros put runners at the corners with nobody out but the White Sox bullpen fanned Ensberg, Lamb and Bagwell in order to kill the threat. Chicago added an insurance run to win, 5-3.
Game Two was played in cold, fog and rain. It was a 2-2 tie when Berkman drilled a two-run double for a 4-2 lead. Paul Konerko changed fates in the seventh with a grand slam off Chad Qualls to pull the Sox up, 6-4. The Astros put two on in the ninth against closer Bobby Jenks when little-used Jose Vizcaino stroked a two-out two-run single to tie the score. But the White Sox won it in their half when Scott Podsednik homered off Lidge for a 7-6 victory.
In Houston, for the first Series game ever held on Texas soil, Oswalt was handed a four-run cushion which, normally, would have put the Astros in the win column. It didn't. Oswalt melted down in a five-run fifth, capped by A.J. Pierzynski's two-run double that put Chicago ahead, 5-4. Lane's double in the eighth tied it but the Astros surely felt they could have done better, squandering scoring chances in the eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh frames that could have won the game. It began to have the feel of the 18-inning thriller against the Braves but that ended when ex-Astro Geoff Blum swatted a pitch by Ezequiel Astacio into the right field seats in the 14th to give Chicago the lead. The rattled rookie then gave up an insurance run on two infield singles and two walks. The White Sox held on to win, 7-5, in the longest game in World Series history and took a commanding 3-0 lead in the series.
Brandon Backe wasn't going to let the odds work against him. The man with a flair for postseason greatness worked seven shutout innings, allowing five hits, walking none and striking out seven. But Chicago's Freddy Garcia, a former Houston farmhand, was equally tough giving up just four hits and walking three. Lidge was brought in to pitch the eighth, allowing a base hit and a sacrifice before Series MVP Jermaine Dye singled in the run. The Astros had six outs left. In their half of the eighth, they got Willy Taveras to third before Vizcaino grounded out to end the threat. Houston got Lane to second with one out in the ninth before Jose Uribe made two outstanding defensive gems to end the game and send the South Siders into celebration.
The Astros finally made it to the World Series but got swept to show for it. To add to their agony, Houston lost by a net total of six runs. All four games were winnable with a key hit or a hot pitcher coming through in the clutch. It was a bittersweet ride, having at last reached the top only to find the final summit unreachable. The White Sox were able to forget the ghosts of seasons past but, for the Astros, one 44-year-old ghost still hung around.
2nd place, NL Central
Wild Card, NL Champions
Nov 11, 2004 - Signed Travis Driskill (P) as a free agent
Jan 5, 2005 - Signed Charles Gipson (OF) as a free agent
Jan 23, 2005 - Signed John Franco (P) as a free agent
Mar 16, 2005 - Released Peter Munro (P)
May 26, 2005 - Signed Scott Strickland (P) as a free agent
July 2, 2005 - Released John Franco (P)
Aug 29, 2005 - Waived Chad Harville (P)
Sep 9, 2005 - Waived Todd Self (OF)