If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be comatose having snorted heroin thinking it’s coke and then having a three inch needle stabbed through your chest plate so that 50cc’s of adrenaline can be injected directly into your heart, I think you may now have an inkling. Of course, Uma got to go home and recuperate rather than drag her arse up and play Game 4B of the 2005 NLDS. The Braves, meanwhile, played the role of Vincent Vega and got blasted to kingdom-come with their own gun after taking a huge shit.
The current incarnation of the Houston Astros is systematically and comprehensively exorcising the club’s demons. The 2004 Wild Card chase and NLDS win showed the club not to be perennial chokers. Biggio and Bagwell hit in that post season (amazing what happens when you get to face someone not called Smoltz, Glavine or Maddux). They played the 3rds to a standstill, but ultimately fell just a little short of the World Series. Re-made on the fly for 2005, they repeated and perhaps exceeded the dramatic Wild Card chase of the year before. Now they have repeated as NLDS winners, doing it in 1 game less (sort of), but more importantly from a historical perspective, doing it by erasing the extra-inning loss of 1986. That game is no longer the longest post-season game ever and arguably no longer the greatest game ever played. Those monikers now belong to Game #4 of the 2005 NLDS and the story ends with an un-fucking-believable win for the Astros.
But enough of looking back. We are in uncharted territory here people. The 2005 Astros have the best starting rotation in the playoffs, and perhaps the best bully (I am too unfamiliar with the AL clubs to make that claim unreservedly). Assuming that MLB doesn’t fuck us over by flipping the schedule, the Astros are poised to put their best feet forward in the NLCS, and the 3rds will have to be at their peak to deal with it. There is no doubt that they will give their all and then some, but what do they have to give?
On the surface, the expected three-game sweep of the hapless Padres was clinically executed. But scratch the surface, and things start to look a little iffy. Mulder got hit by a come-backer, and would not have been available to pitch again that series. He remains day-to-day for the NLCS. Meanwhile, the 3rds’ bullpen – that you know will get a lot of work with La Genius pulling the strings – sports a playoff ERA of just under 9. Nine! Against the Pads! They pitched 8.1 innings giving up 8 runs on 16 hits. And the usually reliable Reyes is gone – out for the rest of the year. Isringhausen has been torched. The 3rds survived by getting enough of a head start that the bully could hang on.
The 3rds are not the same team that needed all 7 games to take the Astros last year. Their starting pitching is the same at best, the bull pen is worse and the offense is worse (but only by a little) without Rolen. But the Astros are not the same team they were either. The offense is clearly inferior, but the rotation is greatly improved and front-loaded while the bull pen is better too.
In 2004, the Astros sent Munro and Backe to the mound to start two games each, and only 3 games were started by Clemens or Oswalt. The way things shape up right now, the 2005 contest will see Clemens, Oswalt and Pettitte starting 6 of the 7 games.
Can this team slay one more demon before the season’s over?