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2004-10-04 00:59
by Mike Carminati

The Astros quickly became everyone's postseason Cinderella pick by easily clinching a wild card berth today with a 5-3 win over the Rockies behind Brandon Bracke, of all people. It was an anticlimactic finish to a wildly improbable stretch run for the 'Stros.

On August 14, Houston was four games under .500 and had just lost six of seven to the lowly Expos and Mets. They were seven games behind the Cubs in the wild card hunt. They were, as a matter of fact, tied for seventh in the wild card race with the Reds and had teams like the Mets, Phils, and Marlins, who were hardly in the playoff race, ahead of them. They were in fact just a game and one-half out of last place, seven games out of the wild card, and 19.5 games out of the NL Central division lead. Many were criticizing the Astros for not having gotten rid of mid-season acquisition Carlos Beltran and other potential free agents.

They went on to finish August with a 13-3 record and won their last five games straight, but were still 18.5 games out of first place. They had, however, moved into a tie for forth in the wild card, tie with the Marlins, and trailed the Cubs by three games.

The streak continued in September. By September 8, they had won 12 consecutive ballgames. That day Roger Clemens got his 326th win to tie Eddie Plank for eleventh all time and ran his record to 16-4. At that date, Houston was in a virtual tie as the wild card leader with the Giants but led by winning percentage points.

The Astros then cooled a bit going 9-6 until September 25. They had lost the wild card lead to the Cubs. They were in third in the wild card race and trailed Chicago by 2.5 games.

Houston then won their last seven games. On September 28, they were still in third in the wild card, trailing both the Giants and the Cubs by one-half game. On September 29, they finished sweeping the Cardinals at home and took sole possession of the wild card. They were idle the next day and the Giants tied them for first. On Friday, the Cubs fell two games behind and were virtually eliminated. The Astros and Giants remained tied for first. On Saturday, the Cubs were eliminated and the Astros won 9-3 against the Rockies and took a one-game lead. Today, the Astros won obviating the need for the Giants-Dodgers game, which the Giants won big-time anyway.

In total, the 'Stros were in first or tied for first in the wild card on September 8, 9, 10 (three-way tie), 29, and 30 and October 1, 2, and 3. That's eight days, but they might be going to the World Series and the Cubs and Giants, who seemed to be in a dog fight for the spot all year, are going home.

So the networks may have lost a Cubs-Red Sox Series but may have gained a Clemens-Yankees Series. To me, it means one more year without the greatest player in the game (guess who) in the World Series. At least, no one can blame Steve Bartman for this one.

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