Oh my! What is it with this team? If the Astros had any real fans41 (i..e., the new Kissing Bandit) and Nolan Ryan don't countthey would be losing it. One strike away with the greatest relief pitcher that Thom Brennamen has ever seen (Brad Lidge) on the mound, and we get a game six.
Maybe it's me, but I thought of Mariano Rivera. Fox's "B" team (Lyons, Brennamen, and Brenly) had been touting Brad Lidge as the greatest thing since sliced Eckersley. Rivera, who I consider a future Hall of Famer, has really sealed his case with his great postseason record. Lidge is to quote Elvis Costello, "This year's girl."
Lidge completely lost it after getting within one strike of the World Series. His inability to find the plate on five pitches to Edmonds was pathetic. And then there's what he allowed Albert Pujols to do by telegraphing and then hanging a slider.
Though I don't mean to take anything away from Pujols, who hit one of the most emphatic shots I have ever seen to put the Cards up 5-4. It's great when the best players a) have the opportunity to do great things and b) actually do them. Maybe Brennamen will now stop calling him "Albert Pools".
The fickle Brennamen did at least transfer his affections from Lidge, decent reliever though he may be, to one of the best players in the game (saying 95% of GMs would build a team around Pools, though that doesn't resolve with 30 teams).
So what happened? With two outs in the ninth, a 4-2 lead, and a 1-2 count, David Eckstein hit a seeing-eye single just to the third-base side of short on a slider (remember the slider).
Lidge then tried to nibble the plate with Jim Edmonds and missed badly. On the first pitch, Lidge paid to little attention to Eckstein who took second. I know he's a meaningless runner, but when that leaves a base open at first and pitcher gets erratic, I have to think that it creates some doubt in the pitcher's mind or at least he loses focus on the batter at hand. "I'm not going to let this guy beat me with a base open." And Lidge, to his credit, didn't.
Lidge seemed to collect himself getting a slider past Pujols. Then the remarkably prescient Bob Brenly said, and I quote, "I would expect to see all sliders in this at-bat from Brad Lidge. I wouldn't risk throwing a fast ball up there to one of the best fast ball hitters in the game." The guy should be a negative barometer. Think Bill Macy in "The Cooler".
The next pitch as Brenly predicted was a slider. Pujols must have been listening to Brenly, since he was apparently thinking slider. And unfortunately for Lidge it was a hanger, which Pujols deposited somewhere near Austin.
If the Stros now fade, it will be historic. Lidge will be the new Donnie Moore and Phil Garner the new Mauch. But they should look on the bright side: we don't have to wait until Saturday for a game.
Houston is currently competing with the interleague "natural" rival, Texas Rangers, for the longest wait (thereby justifying the gratuitous Tom Petty reference in the headline) for a team's first World Series appearance. My Phils scuttled them in 1980 and then the Mets did the same in 1986, both epic postseason series.
Here are the franchises ranked by longest wait for a first World Series appearance. The "Original 16" are on the clock starting with the first Series in 1903:
New York Yankees
San Diego Padres
Toronto Blue Jays
Kansas City Royals
New York Mets
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Chicago White Sox
Boston Red Sox
(Note that the Yankees had the third-longest wait among the original teams. Of course, that was before Babe Ruth put the evil eye on the Red Sox.)
And before we get too enthused for the Astros being some sort of giant beaten by the upstart Cardinal's David, remember that this team trailed St. Louis by 11 games this year. That is the more games than any other wild card has trailed by and still made it to the Series since the science experiment started in 1995 (well, '94 but they never had any playoffs that year).
Here are the number of games back for every wild card team who made it to the Series:
New York Mets
San Francisco Giants
Boston Red Sox
Also, we have to remember that the 'Stros meandered their way into the wild card, winning just 89 games. I know the 15-30 start is often cited, but minus a couple of home runs off of Billy Wagner at the start of September, the Astros are home watching the Phils groove sliders to Albert Pujols.
By the way, here are the teams with the least wins that got into the World Series Note that there have been only four teams who were worse over a 162-game schedule: