Saturday, October 23, 2010

I guess we need a new hitting coach

...Since Jeff Bagwell won't be returning as hitting coach in 2011.

Ed Wade:
"We talked about the responsibilities of the job and the time and energy it takes, and it was more than he had anticipated when he took the job,. We talked about staying in the organization in a capacity similar to the one he had before he took the job as hitting coach...

..."We're disappointed. We'd love to have him back, but we understand his position."

Bagwell, in a prepared statement released by the Astros:
"This was a very difficult decision for me...At this point in time, I'm unable to commit to a full season of putting in the time that is necessary to be effective in that role. But, I do look forward to continuing to work with the Astros."

This is incredibly disappointing, and with Wade and Mills meeting to immediately put together a list of candidates, at least we'll now have something to talk about until the Hall of Fame vote is released in January.

In Review: Tri-City ValleyCats

And now we get to turn our attention to the NYPL Champion Tri-City ValleyCats.

The ValleyCats finished the regular season 38-36, a half-game better than the Connecticut Tigers to win the NYP-Stedler Division.

Home: 19-17
Away: 19-19

Of course, the ValleyCats defeated the Batavia Muckdogs in the 1st Round of the NYPL playoffs, and defeated the Brooklyn Cyclones - who had the best record in the NYPL - in two games for the Championship.

The average age of the ValleyCats' batters was 21.5, just a touch over the NYPL average (21.1). The pitching staff's average age was the same (21.5), while the NYPL pitchers' average was 21.3.

Runs: 340 (7th out of 14), 4.59 per game
Doubles: 115 (11th)
Triples: 16 (12th)
Homers: 50 (2nd)
Stolen Bases: 73 (7th) - 26 caught stealing - 73.4% SB rate
Strikeouts: 542 (4th-fewest)
Walks: 258 (7th)

Batting Average: .244 (8th)
OBP: .321 (8th)
SLG: .361 (6th)
OPS: .681 (7th)

Runs allowed/game: 4.05 (2nd)
ERA: 3.43 (3rd)
WHIP: 1.30 (5th)
Strikeouts: 604 (4th)
Walks: 208 (2nd-fewest) - 2.90 K:BB ratio
Wild Pitches: 51 (7th)

Fielding Errors: 80 (3rd)
Fielding Percentage: .973 (2nd)
Passed Balls: 21 (T-4th)
Bases Stolen Against: 68 (9th)
Caught Stealing: 33 (5th)
Caught Stealing %: 33% (T-6th)

Team Leaders:
Runs: Ben Orloff (52)
Hits: Ben Orloff (73)
Doubles: Enrique Hernandez (18)
Triples: Dan Adamson (4)
Homers: Dan Adamson (9)
RBI: Mike Kvasnicka (36)
Total Bases: Dan Adamson (112)
Strikeouts (most): Dan Adamson (79)
Walks: Tyler Burnett (45)
Stolen Bases: Ben Orloff (23)

Avg (100 AB minimum): Ben Orloff (.307)
OBP: Ben Orloff (.405)
SLG: Ben Heath (.457)

IP: Carlos Quevedo (85.1)
Wins: Carlos Quevedo (7)
Losses: Bobby Doran and Jake Buchanan (5)
ERA (20IP min.): Jorge De Leon (0.64)*
WHIP (20IP min.): Carlos Quevedo (0.98)
Strikeouts: David Martinez (57)
Walks (by starter): Carlos Quevedo (8 walks, 85.1IP)

*We should note that Tommy Shirley made five starts, pitching 17IP, and did not allow a run. That's solid.

Offensive Employee of the Year: This one was difficult, because while Ben Heath and Dan Adamson put up big numbers, Ben Orloff - in a repeat NYPL performance - was a pretty great lead-off man. Getting on base at a .405 clip, he did his best Ichiro impression, mainly getting on with singles (69 of his 73 hits were for singles), but he also stole 23 bases, getting thrown out just five times, for an 82.1% success rate. Ben Orloff is your Astros County Offensive Employee of the Year.

Pitcher of the Year: Carlos Quevedo. There were a few possibilities here, but Quevedo is our choice for Astros County's Pitching Employee of the Year. His WHIP was under 1.00. There were only two pitchers in the top 40 - ordered by IP - who walked fewer than ten batters all season long. The other? Tri-City's Bobby Doran. Williamsport's Eric Pettis walked seven batters, but in 26 fewer IPs. Win.

So Drayton promised Roy a bulldozer so that he would pay attention to him?

Here's a retelling of just how that Bulldozer Deal went down, by Roy:

Drayton had a dozer that he was using on his farm. And we was going back and forth about I wanted to buy it from him for a discount. And through the season we went back and forth, I was trying to buy it from him after he got finished using it and what he was going to do with it. And before the game I was watching film on St. Louis. He came in there, in the video room, and was talking, normally, you know, about being a champion and different things that he talks about.

And he said I wasn't really not focused on him, I guess you could say, I was trying to focus on the hitters. He knew he had to say something to get my attention. He told me if I win he would just buy me a new one. I made him shake my hand on that. So it worked out pretty well.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Qs, As with Aaron Bray

Honorary Citizen Aaron Bray dominated Astros County last off-season, writing a weekly series of posts for us as he prepared for his first full season in the Astros' organization. While we don't want to put that same pressure on him this off-season, he was kind enough to answer a few questions about 2010.

AC: Last time we talked to you, you were gearing up for Spring Training. How was this season - your first full one - different, and how did it meet your expectations going into 2010?

AB: Well, it was totally different compared to my first. 162 games plus spring training is a very long time. I felt like this is the hardest part in your professional career - you don't know what exactly to expect when you go into spring training or when you go into your first full season. It was a great experience and I understand how it all works now. I am already working out, because I know what it takes now physically to get through a long season. I do feel like the hardest thing to make the jump from rookie ball to full season is mentally. That's what I would say was different from my first year in Greeneville: you have to come to work each day with an attitude of wanting to get better and put yesterday behind you. I am already looking forward to going back.

AC: You got off to a slow start in April and May (.440 and .470 OPS, respectively) before absolutely lighting it up in June (.966 OPS) and finishing well down the stretch. What happened after your first 100(-ish) ABs that made everything click in June (.391/.451/.516)?

AB: Last off-season I worked on a few things with my swing. At the time I thought felt better. I found myself, come season time, changing things every day. I did not feel comfortable in the box. It wasn't that the pitching was better, it was more of a mental thing. So I worked on it by myself, and I have to also thank hitting coach Stubby Clapp - he let me venture off and figure it out on my own. He did have input, but told me the only way I would find something that works is on my own. I think he appreciated the fact that I learned on my own. I think that shows a lot of the time and effort I put in to what I am doing.

As for the problem, I felt like I had nothing into my swing. No weight, no power. I was stiff. I watched film on myself and then went on youtube and watched guys like Hamilton and Cano, guys that I can emulate. I adopted a leg kick, that I felt helped me have rhythm and a good weight transfer. So now I am still continuing to work on stuff but I have made it a lot easier to myself.

AC: What was the biggest adjustment you had to make, going from college/Greeneville in 2009 to Lexington this past season?

AB: The biggest adjustment is the traveling. In school you flew places. In Greeneville we did not travel far. Long bus rides that go all through the night and different hotels is a culture shock. You have to get yourself to adjust to sleeping on a bus, as well as eating a different places. Trying to be healthy is hard to do when you're on the road. You may only have a fast food place by your hotel. It is a different lifestyle, but like I said after you go through it once, with trial and error, you prepare yourself for the next go round.

AC: What are the types of end-of-year conversations you have with teammates, coaches and other Astros organizational guys?

AB: Most of the conversations between players as the year came to an end were about what the off season was going to be like. I still stay in contact with guys that I played with, whether it be through Call of duty, Facebook, or Twitter - we all still have a good relationship. Coaches just said work hard. They gave us some information about what we need to do in the off season to get better. Not much was said because when you're with people for seven months, especially coaches, you get a great idea of what they focused on during the season. So you take that information and work on that in the off season.

AC: What will you be working on this off-season as you prepare for 2011, and do you know where you'll be playing next year?

AB: I am going to be working on eating healthier. I want to put on some weight but maintain the little speed I have. I do want to get faster and stronger. There is always work to be done on the field, as well. I want to find a swing that makes me feel comfortable. I found that during the season, it's just time to build off that. I will also prepare myself to play wherever. Last year I played first, third and left. If I show I can hit at this level playing many positions, that will help me out. I do not have an idea of where I will be next year - I can just work hard and go to spring training ready to play.

Big thanks to Aaron for taking the time to do this, and as always, we'll try to check in with him later on in the off-season. And if you're a new citizen of Astros County, be sure to read his weekly posts last year - they give great insight into the life of a professional baseball player.

Greeneville Astros: Vincent Velasquez

Vincent Velasquez
How did he get here?: Drafted, 2010 (2nd Round)
Stats: 6'3", 185 lbs, Throws: Right
Age as of April 1, 2011: 18
Birthplace/Hometown: Pomona, CA
Men of the Match: 4

2010 Overview (Greeneville + Tri-City)


What happened?

Velasquez was drafted in the 2nd Round of June's draft, and went directly to Greeneville, where he was very effective in what was his 18-year old season.

He made his debut on July 7, and allowed 0H/0ER, 1K:2BB in 1IP, and walked three more batters the rest of the season. Velasquez made his final start of the season against Princeton on August 24 where he left after 3.2IP - it turns out that some scar tissue had broken loose in his elbow. It was initially thought that there was no ligament or tendon damage, but he underwent Tommy John surgery in September, and will be out until 2011.

What went right?

Right-handed batters. Against RHBs, Velasquez allowed 14H/5ER, with 16K:2BB in 19.2IP - also allowing RHBs to hit .187 against him.

K:BB. As mentioned before, Velasquez walked three batters once he got that first inning out of the way, including just one walk over his final 22.1IP (15K in that same span).

What went wrong?

Besides the Tommy John surgery? If we're (nit-)picking a couple of things, it may be flyballs. He ended up with a 1:1 GB:FB ratio on the season, but that became 0.68 with the bases empty and 0.83 w/RISP.

It should also be noted that Velasquez allowed four homers during the season - two to RHBs and two to LHBs. All four came in his final five starts.

Appy Astros says:
There is a great deal to be excited about here but in cloud of injury is hanging over him. How his arm heals will determine his location this year. If healthy, I could easily see him in Lexington.

Luckily for Velasquez, he'll only be 19 at the end of next season, so he will be turning 20 in 2012 when he - ideally - returns from Tommy John surgery. Provided he comes back in the way that pitchers traditionally do from TJ, there's still quite a lot to be excited about.

Greeneville Astros: Brian Streilein

Brian Streilein
How did he get here?: Drafted, 2010 (37th Round)
Stats: 6'4", 205 lbs, Throws: Right
Age as of April 1, 2011: 22
Birthplace/Hometown: Point Pleasant, NJ
Men of the Match: 0

2010 Overview (Greeneville + Tri-City)


What happened?

Streilein was drafted out of Villanova in the 37th Round of this summer's draft, and was sent to Greeneville, where he threw 32 of his 33IP. On August 31, Streilein was sent up to Tri-City with Telvin Nash, Garrett Bullock and Ryan Cole to assist with the playoff push, where he threw 1IP against Brooklyn in the pennant-clincher on September 5.

Thanks to MiLB's posting only the splits of the team the player is currently with, we get to see the splits from that one inning - not the first 32. So we'll have to be creative, and realize our limitations on this one.

What went right?

Strikeouts. Streilein got 9.8 K/9IP, with 36K in 33IP.

Walks. Dude only walked nine batters all season (eight at Greeneville), and four of those walks were intentional.

What went wrong?

Hits! Streilein allowed 11H/9IP in Greeneville, and gave up 26 runs (Eight of which were unearned) on 39 hits. This doesn't take into account runners inherited by the next reliever, however.

We'll leave it up to Appy Astros to fill us in on Streilein's year:
The big righty appeared in 20 games covering 32 IP and was second on the team with 5 saves. He too had a large number of his walks accounted for with intentional passes (4 out of 8). Streilein was the closer at the end of the season and earned a brief appearance in Tri Cities. At 22 next season, I could see Streilein in Tri-City working the late innings out of the pen.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Yankees complete Kerry Wood trade

Why do we even care who the two guys the Yankees sent to the Indians for Kerry Wood?

Because one of them is 2007 10th Round pick Matt Cusick, who was traded to New York by the Astros for LaTroy Hawkins back in mid-2008.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Goose Gossage Reliever of the Year

So the next Baseball Bloggers Allicance award in which we are participating is the Goose Gossage Reliever of the Year Award.

American League

3rd place:
Neftali Feliz - Texas

2nd place:
Joakim Soria - Kansas City

1st place:
Rafael Soriano - Tampa Bay

National League

3rd place:
Brian Wilson - San Francisco

2nd place:
Carlos Marmol - Chicago

1st place:
Heath Bell - San Diego

Astros release Spring Training schedule

Hey, now we know when Angel Sanchez and Tommy Manzella will engage in a steel-cage match for the SS1 position!

It all begins February 28 on the road against the Braves, with the home opener on March 1. On March 29 the Astros will take on the Oklahoma City RedHawks at Bricktown, then return to Minute Maid for March 30/31 exhibition games against the Red Sox.

Qs, As with Mike Modica

It's time for another Qs, As session - this time with Lancaster pitcher Mike Modica. Let's read, shall we?

AC: You were drafted by the Astros in 2009, having been drafted twice before - by Ed Wade and the Phillies (2005 and 2008). How much familiarity was there with Ed Wade in the negotiations to sign last summer?

MM: Well having been in that situation two previous times, there was quite a bit familiarity. This time was different. The other two previous times I was drafted, I wasn’t sure I was going to sign at all. The third time I knew I would be signing no matter what. My intentions to finish college (George Mason) were always in the back of my mind, and that was what kept me from signing the first two times I was drafted.

AC: Having spent 2009 in Tri-City, you pitched in Lexington for a couple of weeks before getting sent out to Lancaster, where you finished out the season. What were the circumstances regarding your short stint in Lexington, and getting sent up to High-A?

MM: Well I only had 3 appearances in Lexington, so I’m not really sure what the circumstances for me getting sent up to Lancaster so quickly.

AC: This season, you pitched 35 more innings than in 2009. How did that extra work affect you, and what kind of adjustments did you have to make to accommodate a full season?

MM: The extra workload didn’t affect me at all. There were a few bumps and bruises along the way this year, but nothing to keep me from being available every night. I’m still learning how to pitch out of the bullpen.

AC: What will you be doing/working on this off-season?

MM: Maybe some traveling, and lots of football. I’ll be at the Army-Navy game in December I haven’t missed a game since I was seven years old. It’s a family tradition that we take part in every year. Right now I’m working as a pitching instructor at a local indoor baseball facility. It works out perfectly for me because they let me workout there for free once I start my throwing program. Also, next month I start substitute teaching at the high school I graduated from.

AC: From your tweets, we can take an educated guess and say that you're a Phillies fan. Is it difficult to grow up a fan of one team, and play for another?

MM: It certainly is difficult. I take great pride in being a part of the Astros organization, and if things were different and they were playing the Phillies in the NLCS right now my heart would certainly side with Houston. With that being said, for the past 23 years I’ve lived 8 miles from the ballpark in South Philly, and I’ve watched Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Cole Hamels become annual All-Stars and I can’t be more happy for the success they’ve had over the past few years.

AC: How do you think the Phillies will fare this post-season (and give us your thoughts on Oswalt)?

MM: Well as of right now the series with the Giants is all-square at 1-1, and I feel pretty good about it. Oswalt pitched a great game, oh, and he handled the bat pretty well too. He attacked hitters with his fastball all night long, and towards the end of the game he even squeaked in a couple of those 65 mph floating curveballs. I was excited to see Charlie Manuel leave him out there to get Aubrey Huff in the 8th - as a pitcher I live for moments like that. Hamels is up next, and with the way he’s been throwing lately and his previous postseason experience I like their chances tomorrow night (which would have been last night). Overall, I’d like to see the Phils get another chance at the Yankees in the World Series, and maybe start up another great rivalry.

Big thanks to Mike for taking the time to answer these. As with the others, we'll try to check back in with him later on in the off-season. Maybe we'll ask about substitute teaching.

Methinks this Gil LeBreton fella has it wrong

It's not often that we link to a story that doesn't specifically deal with the Astros, but that's exactly what we'll do this morning.

In Gil LeBreton's column glorification of the Rangers' front office staff (which is admittedly deserved), compared to the soulless evil no-good Yankees, LeBreton makes some payroll numbers fit his purpose:

For the New York Yankees, starting pitcher A.J. Burnett: $16.5 million.

Lance Berkman, acquired at the trade deadline: $14.5 million.

Rangers catcher Bengie Molina: priceless...

...Actually, he was less than priceless because, as part of the July 1 trade, the Giants agreed to pick up Molina's remaining $2 million salary.

Hooray for the Rangers, who got a deadline acquisition to pay off for them! At what point should we note that Berkman was only due $4.8 million of his remaining salary, and the Astros took $4m of that.'s Yankees 1B1, thanks to Teixeira's hamstring injury, really cost the Yankees $800,000. But that's not good copy, is it?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Greeneville Astros: Travis Smink

Travis Smink
How did he get here?: Drafted, 2009 (31st Round)
Stats: 6'2", 200 lbs, Throws: Left
Age as of April 1, 2011: 23
Birthplace/Hometown: Dalmatia, PA
Men of the Match: 1

2010 Overview




What happened?

After a long season at VMI in 2009, Smink was pretty ineffective in Greeneville last season, leading to a repeat year in the App League. And what we saw was basically a 180 from 2009. He cut his ERA by almost three runs. He cut his WHIP by almost a half a baserunner, and he cut his H/9 by over 3H, and also doubled his strikeout rate.

Smink even made a spot start on August 3 against Johnson City, which didn't go so well (2.2IP, 5H/3ER). So in short, it was a pretty good year for the lefty reliever, who posted six saves for the Gastros. As a reliever, he posted 27IP, 26H/8ER, 25K:3BB.

What went right?

K:BB ratio. Smink struck out 28 batters in 29.2IP, so that's pretty damn good. But only walked four batters in those 29.2IP, that's a nice picture of command.

June and July. In his first 15.1IP, Smink allowed 13H/3ER, 16K:2BB.

Groundballs. On the season, Smink posted a 2.63 GB:FB ratio - including a 3.00 rate in August.

What went wrong?

It looked like Smink tired a little in August (and that spot start didn't really help, either). Opposing batters hit .182 in June, .234 in July, and .321 in August - but he still had 12K:2BB in 14.1 August IPs.

Bases Empty. Smink's WHIP w/runners on: 0.90. WHIP w/RISP: 1.00. WHIP w/Bases Empty: 1.54, including the two homers he allowed.

Appy Astros says: He was the closer to start the season. He got 5 saves out of his first 6 outings. There doesn't appear to be a reason why he stopped getting save opportunities as he continued to be effective through the end of July, giving up just 3 ER in 151/3 IP. But maybe the Astros coaching staff could see something we couldn't because in August, Smink struggled.

Appy Astros thinks that Smink will be in Lexington next year, and I whole-heartedly agree. His command, even with a shaky August, is too good not to bump him up to the SAL in 2011.

Greeneville Astros: Phil Rorabaugh

Phil Rorabaugh
How did he get here?: Undrafted free agent, signed June 2009
Stats: 6'0", 185 lbs, Throws: Right
Age as of April 1, 2011: 24
Birthplace/Hometown: ?
Men of the Match: 0

2010 Overview




What happened?

Rorabaugh was signed shortly after the 2009 draft out of the Univeristy of North Florida and spent 2009 in the GCL, allowing a lot of hits (12.7 per 9IP), but he limited the long ball (0.3 per 9IP) and got a decent number of strikeouts. Those numbers retreated as he spent 2010 in the App League. His WHIP dropped, and his H/9 came down by a full hit, but that's still 11.7 per 9IP. And he gave up 1.8 HR/9 in 2010, as well.

What went right?

Home games. At Pioneer Park, Rorabaugh allowed 20H/8ER in 18.2IP (1.23 WHIP), limiting batters to a .263 BAA.

June and July. In 19.1IP in his first 13 appearances of the season, Rorabaugh held hitters to 22H/7ER.

What went wrong?

Homers. After giving up just one home run in 2009, Rorabaugh allowed six long balls in 29.1IP in 2010. Five of them were to RHBs, four of them on the road, four of them with the bases empty.

Strikeouts. Rorabaugh struck out just 12 batters in 29.1IP (but the last seven of those in 10IP in August).

And while we're at it, August was pretty bad. In 10IP, he allowed 16H/9ER, 7K:4BB, 3HR. All three of those homers came on August 30 at Pulaski, when he got tagged for 3H/4ER in 1IP. He also allowed 3H/3ER in 3IP vs Elizabethton on August 9. So there's some skewing here when we look at the monthly splits.

Appy Astros says: If Rorabaugh is with the organization next season, he will likely be in Tri Cities for some additional depth.

October 18 AFL recap

The Peoria Javelinas scored a run in the 9th and two in the 10th to defeat Mesa 4-2 yesterday. How did Eddie's Farm fare?

Jack Shuck: 1x1, 2BB, R, SB, CS
Jay Austin: 0x5, K

Monday, October 18, 2010

Alyson Footer's new blog post is a good one

Good post from Alyson Footer, in which she thankfully sets the expectation level for Houston's signing Carl Crawford:

I put the odds at slim to none. The numbers I'm hearing bandied about from industry insiders is six years at $120 million or seven at $140 million. Yes, there will be a team out there goofy enough to shell out that kind of cash. I cannot envision it'll be the Astros.

Within the post, we also get some sad news:

Terribly tragic news from out Latin American operation: Astros Venezuelan Scout Luimac Quero passed away in the early morning hours on Sunday from a heart attack at the age of 26. He is survived by his wife Klineidy Leon, who is three months pregnant, and his one year old daughter, Megan Quero. Deep condolences to his family.


Damn you, Brian McTaggart

Brian McTaggart totally swooped in and posted the first of a series we were hoping to post - a position-by-position look at the organization. Today's it's the Catcher.

What's Next:

The Astros are still committed to Castro. He's only 23 years old and there's no reason to believe he won't get better with age. But don't be surprised to the see the club perhaps bring in a low-cost veteran to take over behind the plate if Castro just isn't ready on Opening Day. Among the free agents who could fit that bill are Gregg Zaun, Matt Treanor and Josh Bard or similiar-type players in age, ability and salary. Unless the Astros don't tender him a contract, Quintero appears poised to return as the back up yet again.

It's just a snippet, and you should really click the link and read it for yourself. Basically, one of these days the Astros will have a catcher who can hit.

Matt Downs is one humble guy

Stephen Goff talked to Matt Downs in a morning post for the Examiner today. How is he trying to stand out for the Astros?

"Every day, you could be playing for 29 other teams watching what you're doing. I'm glad the Astros have given me a chance and I hope to stay with Houston. I'm not very good in comparison to other players. I have to play harder because of that. I'm always out there doing the extra work."

That's a shocking level of humility and honesty from a player...

Nice little article on Mills

Brad Mills' hometown paper has a nice little profile on an off-season Brad Mills.

On watching the playoffs:
"I don't like it. It doesn't feel good. You wanna play for something. You wanna compete for something. When you don't get a chance to be in the playoffs, it's like someone telling you [that] you have to go home. You can't play anymore, you have to go home."

On trading away Berkman and Oswalt:
"It's not that we had to move on from those guys. We just had a culture change. We were in a culture change and mindset change. You have to get rid of some of the things that were there. They're great ball players and great guys. But they were rooted in the way things had been done for a long time."

On going into 2011:
"Are we gonna start next season with some questions? Yes, as every major league team does. But we're going in the right direction. We can do things right. We can compete with those [playoff] teams. We were in a situation where we wanted to be able to get the organization to the next level. And I think we're headed in the right direction."

Eric Young no longer roving

Eric Young, former MLBer and most recently Roving Instructor for Eddie's Farm, looks like he'll be on Kirk Gibson's coaching staff in Arizona.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Remembering Game 5

It was five years ago today that one of the most remarkable games in Astros history was played. Let's remember it.

Going into the final two games of the season, the Astros had lost two games to the Cubs - including the September 30 game when Brad Lidge came in to preserve a 3-2 lead, and allowed three straight hits, a fielder's choice, and a single to pinch-hitter Todd Walker, scoring Michael Barrett for the go-ahead run and the Cubs win. A Philly win at Washington cut the Astros' Wild Card lead to one game.

Again, Philly won on October 1 at Washington, but Roger Clemens threw 7IP, 6H/1ER, 5K:3BB, and Craig Biggio led off the game with a first-pitch homer off the Cubs' Jerome Williams, eventually winning the game 3-1. On the last day of the season, Philly again beat the piss out of Washington, and an Astros loss would send it to a tie for the Wild Card. Sending Roy Oswalt to the mound to face Greg Maddux, Oswalt wasn't perfect, but Maddux got roughed up for ten hits and six runs (four of them earned), and the Astros were playoff-bound for the second straight year.

The 82-80 Padres, meanwhile were bound for a First Round matchup with the 100-62 Cardinals (despite having the 7th-best record in the NL). The Astros would face the 90-72 Braves, setting up a rematch of the 2004 NLDS that saw the Astros win their first post-season series in franchise history.

Of course, the Astros won the 2005 NLDS, featuring the incredible 18-inning game which featured the series-clinching Greatest Chris Burke AB Of All Time (or the GCBABOAT, as it's known in my house) in Game 4. The Cardinals swept the Padres to set up the second 2004 rematch of the postseason.

Chris Carpenter beat Andy Pettitte in Game 1, while Roy outdueled Mark Mulder in Game 2, with Lidge getting the save. Clemens beat Matt Morris in Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead, with Brandon Backe getting the ball in Game 4. Backe got the no-decision, but did enough in 5.2IP to earn the win (2H/1ER, 7K:3BB) as the Astros were one game away from their first trip to the World Series.

Game 5 saw a starting pitcher rematch, with Chris Carpenter getting the start for St. Louis and Andy Pettitte taking the mound for the Astros at Minute Maid Park in front of 43,470 fans, who were all about the Astros (as the Texans had been defeated the day before at home to Seattle, 42-10, to drop to 0-5).

Pettitte hit (insert some adjective for "gritty" here) David Eckstein on a 1-2 count to start the game, and walked Jim Edmonds on five pitches. With runners on 1st and 2nd, Pujols popped up to third on the first pitch, and Reggie Sanders flied out to left - also on the first pitch. Larry Walker grounded out in front of the plate, and Pettitte was out of the inning, having thrown just 13 pitches.

Craig Biggio took a 1-2 pitch back up the middle for a single in the bottom of the 1st, Chris Burke laid down a sac bunt to move Biggio to second, and Lance Berkman fouled off three straight pitches after working Carpenter to a 3-1 count before laying off the eighth pitch of the at-bat, and drawing the walk. With one out, Biggio on 2nd and Berkman on 1st, Morgan Ensberg and Mike Lamb didn't get the ball out of the infield, and the inning was over.

Pettitte took over for the top of the 2nd, allowing a double to Yadier Molina, but getting Hector Luna and Chris Carpenter to end the inning - with runners in scoring position for the second time in two innings.

Jason Lane led off the bottom of the 2nd with a single to left, and Brad Ausmus doubling through the hole to put Lane on 3rd base with nobody out. Adam Everett struck out swinging on three pitches. Pettitte put one on the ground, and Pujols threw home to get a breaking Jason Lane, Molina tagging him to preserve the scoreless-tie. Biggio, in his 2nd AB of the game, sent a liner to left field, scoring Brad Ausmus for the first lead of the game. Burke struck out swinging to end the inning, but the Astros were ahead.

With Eckstein leading off the top of the 3rd, he sent Pettitte's first-pitch to center field, dropping in front of Chris Burke. On the 1-1 pitch to Jim Edmonds, Eckstein stole second, and an Edmonds liner to right was hit too hard for Eckstein to score from 2nd. Pujols and Sanders both struck out swinging, but Pettitte then walked Larry Walker to load the bases. Mark Grudzielanek then sent a 1-1 pitch to right field, scoring both Eckstein and Edmonds and putting Walker on third base. Pettitte struck out Molina to end the inning, and while he struck out the side, the Cardinals had a 2-1 lead.

Carpenter and Pettitte both retired the side in order next time around, and Jason Lane was hit on a 1-2 pitch to lead off the 4th. Ausmus grounded out, and the Cardinals could only get Lane at second base. Adam Everett singled on an 0-2 pitch, putting Ausmus at second base with one out. A Pettitte sac bunt moved the runners up, and Biggio lined Carpenter's first pitch to left, ending the threat.

The Cardinals and Astros traded singles in the 5th, but nothing came of it, and the game headed to the 6th inning, with the Cardinals still leading 2-1. Grudzielanek singled to left, but was thrown out by Berkman (playing left) trying to stretch it into a double. Yadier Molina then singled to left, but Luna and Carpenter didn't do anything with their ABs - Pettitte needed three pitches to get those two outs.

Lane and Ausmus flied out to left and right, respectively, and Everett stood in, worked the count full, and grounded out to Carpenter on the 8th pitch of the game. After six innings, Pettitte had allowed 7H/2ER, 4K:2BB, HBP and thrown 102 pitches. Carpenter had allowed 6H/1ER, 6K:1BB, HBP, and had thrown 98 pitches.

In the top of the 7th, Eckstein again led off, and sent a groundball to Everett, who committed the error to allow Eckstein to reach. He was picked off two pitches later, to erase him on the basepaths. Edmonds resumed his AB, and reached first - this time thanks to Mike Lamb's catching error. With 110 pitches thrown, Pettitte's day was done, and Phil Garner called on Chad Qualls to relieve him. Qualls had thrown the previous day, ultimately getting the win in Brandon Backe's gem, needing nine pitches to get his three outs - two by groundball, and one flyout.

Qualls got Pujols and Sanders both to groundout to third base, and the inning was over. In the bottom of the 7th, with Qualls due to leadoff the inning, Garner send Orlando Palmeiro to pinch-hit, and he grounded out on an 0-1 pitch. Biggio hit a sharp grounder to third baseman Hector Luna, who nutted it, allowing Biggio to reach base for the third time of the game. Chris Burke singled through the right side, and Biggio took the extra base, setting up Lance Berkman with runners on 1st and 3rd, with one out. Berkman took Carpenter's first pitch deep, and the Astros regained the lead, 4-2. Morgan Ensberg singled to left to keep the inning going, but Mike Lamb flied out to center to end the inning.

A slew of defensive changes followed to start the 8th. Mike Gallo came in to pitch, Willy Taveras came in to play center, Burke moved from center to left, Berkman moved from left field to first base, Eric Bruntlett came in for Biggio, and Mike Lamb's day was over. Gallo ultimately just threw one pitch, getting a grounder right back at him off the bat of Larry Walker. Grudzielanek flied out to center and Molina grounded out to end the Cardinals' side of the 8th. Lane, Ausmus, and Everett went down in order (though getting Isringhausen to throw 21 pitches to do it), and the game headed to the 9th.

Brad Lidge entered the game. He had thrown 4IP in the NLCS entering Game 5, and had allowed 4H/1ER and a walk. This is after he had thrown 4IP in the NLDS against the Braves, allowing 2H/0ER, with 5K:4BB. And that's after Lidge had posted 42 saves in the regular season, with a 2.29 ERA/1.15 WHIP, walking 23 batters all season long. So he had thrown 78.2IP entering Game 5, and with 23 walks in the first 70.2IP, he had walked five batters in his last 8IP. Still, he was the Best Closer In The Game.

Albert Pujols said of Lidge: He's probably the best closer in the game besides Mariano right now. He has probably the best slider in the game. The Astros had lost one game all season with the lead to start the 9th inning.

Tony LaRussa: "I was thinking, If one guy gets on base, then Jim Edmonds, he's got legitimate game-tying power. And if we got a little something going, and you've got Albert and you've got Reggie, I think that's the strategy you want to have."

John Rodriguez was sent in to pinch-hit for Hector Luna. In two plate appearances against Lidge in 2005, he had an RBI sac fly and a strikeout. Rodriguez took a first-pitch ball, swung and missed at the next three pitches. One out.

John Mabry stepped in. He waved at the first pitch, took the second for a ball, waved at the third, fouled off the fourth, and struck out swinging on the 5th. Two outs. Lidge had thrown nine pitches, six of them swings and misses, one foul, and two balls.

Meanwhile, the Astros were starting to celebrate. Larry Walker: "We were looking over to their bench, and guys were high-fiving. A couple of guys were even dancing. But until that fat lady sings, you can't do that."

Jason Isringhausen: "Any time we go into the ninth with the bottom of the lineup coming up, all we're trying to do is get a hit, get a walk, get a couple of guys on -- because we know: We've got to get Albert up there."

David Eckstein hit for what seemed like the 12th time of the game. Eckstein: "The one thing I didn't want to do was get into any type of jumpiness. Any type of anything in my body besides just focus on the baseball. And it's pretty calming to step into at the plate in that situation. I have no idea, no reason why."

He took the first pitch for a ball, took a called first strike, and took a called second strike. The Astros were one strike away from going to the World Series. But he reached out and tagged the fourth pitch for a grounder to left.

On the first pitch to Edmonds, he took off for second, but Ausmus didn't make a throw. That first pitch, though, was a ball. Edmonds swung at the second pitch, and watched the next three go by for balls, and the Cardinals had runners on 1st and 2nd. Still two outs.

Phil Garner: "You have to let Edmonds hit the ball in the next count. You can't walk him and [Ausmus] knows that and that was a mistake."

In all of Pujols' MVP season in 2005, he had 36 starts in which he did not get a hit. At this point in the game, Pujols was 0x4 and had left five Cardinals on base. In only seven instances had Pujols gone 0x5 in a game.

Chris Carpenter: "I'm sitting there thinking that we've got the best closer in the game on the mound -- but we also have the best hitter in the game at the plate...It was an unbelievable feeling."

Pujols stood in for the first pitch, with Eckstein on 2nd and Edmonds on 1st. Pujols was taken off-balance by Lidge's first-pitch slider. Strike one. He hit .330/.430/.609 in 2005. But with an 0-1 count, he "only" hit .281/.281/.484. With runners on 1st and 2nd in 2005, he hit .380/.436/.640. But in the 9th inning, Pujols hit .184/.293/.367 in 58 PAs.

I was nervous. I was in my lucky spot - in the kitchen, but to where I could still see the television. Hands behind my head.

Lidge dug in for the second pitch. Pujols: "I was just thinking, 'Don't swing at the same slider that I swung at the first pitch.'"

You know what happened next, what happened 412 feet later. Brad Lidge's crouching. Andy Pettitte's "Oh. My. Gosh."

Larry Walker: "I've never heard 43,000 people shut up, just like that, in my life. One second, you could barely hear in here. And the next second, all that noise was gone. And the only noise you could hear was on our bench."

Ray King: "When that ball flew over our heads, I turned to Marty Mason, our bullpen coach, and said, 'That's why they pay that guy 100 million bucks.'"

Pujols: "I just couldn't believe that I did it."

Willy Taveras and Jose Vizcaino grounded out to first, and Chris Burke ended the game with a fly ball to right.

Garner: "It's terrible. You're as high as a kite one minute ... We were feeling pretty good, but you have to play every out. We failed to play every out tonight. We just didn't do it."

Lidge: "It stings. (But) we're going to win, and when that happens, it's not going to matter."

It's never too early for some revisionist history

Oswalt thinks it'll be weird if he has to pitch to Lance in the World Series, but as for the both of them? He's pretty happy:

"It worked out perfect for both of us. Houston got a few young players to try to rebuild and I got to go where I wanted to. Philly was my No. 1 choice on my teams I wanted to go to."