What is becoming my annual pilgrimage to Florida for Spring Training is also yielding what is becoming my annual Limey Time. Following on from last year’s recap, here now is the 2011 trip report.
In two days, I shall depart for Florida to join roving SnSer Chuck for some springtime fun (NTTAWWT). I have never managed to get to Spring Training before, but everyone tells me it’s a blast and so I’m really looking forward to going.
The mundane detail of the trip is that we’re attending two road games: the Gnats in Space City and the Blue Jays in Tampa, where our duo will become a threesome with Ty. Eh? Oh. Anyway, that’s Thursday and Friday. To be followed by 2 games at the OCS: a split-squad game with Washington being the visitors (while the rooks ride the bus to Jakeback Mountain) and then the Hated ATL come in to finish me off. Whatever.Read More
And, no, I’m not talking about Geoff Blum…yet.
Firstly, let me apologise for the long hiatus. I’d like to say that I’d been hiking the Old Appalachian Trail but, in truth, the lack of productivity has been the result of personal strife, work pressures, a dearth of creative talent and plain ol’ laziness. As some of you know, I have recently turned a very large corner on the personal front, so now I have reduced my excuses by 25%. Work pressures remain, but that doesn’t make me unique. As for talent, I’ll let you decide (and many may not have even made it this far). Laziness is probably the only one over which I have any control. I’d fix it if I could be arsed, but I can’t.
So, to the Astros. What a mess. Perhaps I should qualify that statement before I go any further. If this were Pittsburgh or Washington, maybe the fans would be crazy for a team with a couple of all stars and a 1 game under record nearing the break. But this is Houston, where we have seen – in the very recent past – teams that play together, pull together and find ways to get “it” done. I loved watching those teams.
Not this team, though. They are distracted, disjointed, disconnected and disaffected.
As many of you may suspect by now, I will shortly be launching into an expletive-laden tirade about Cecil Cooper. I know that I am not alone in my frustration and anger of near nucular proportions at this clusterfuck (Ding! First Coop related expletive) of his creation, but the players are (allegedly) grown-ups, (allegedly) professionals and (actually) highly paid, so not fulfilling their end of the contract, both written and implied, is unforgivable. And the fans are just about at their end of their rope.
A case in point. On the opening night of the home series against the Nationals, which was last night for those reading this on the day of publication, the Astros had 1.0333 games against the worst team on the Senior Circuit, which could be worth two wins that, if achieved, would see the Astros level their season at .500 and leapfrog the Dickities and the FTCs into 3rd in the NL Central. This, to be followed by three more games against notably inferior opposition prior to the ASB. All that was required was to survive a 1 on, 1 out situation in the resumption of the suspended game.
Myself and my mate braved full on rush hour traffic to make sure we’d get to MMPUS by 6:05 to see the whole enchilada. Our biggest fear was that we’d suffer a one pitch, WOHR type arse reaming, and then have an hour to wait for the regularly scheduled game to start. Little did we know that the Astros had something far more ignominious in mind.
A double play was the simple solution to the game situation as it resumed. Hawkins took his place back on the mound, and promptly induced a sharp grounder up the middle. It was the desired ground ball, it simply missed the infield. 1st and 2nd now, but the pitcher’s friend was still “en vogue”, so Hawkins needn’t change his game plan one iota. Hawkins made his pitch again, and induced another grounder. This time it was a medium paced two-hopper to Keppinger at 2nd. Flip fire and we go to the top of the 12th, which was advantage Astros given that the Nationals’ bullpen is dogshit.
I don’t know who was at fault, maybe both of the protagonists, but the pivot took…fore…ev…ver! Things were slightly complicated by the fact that the runners were moving on the pitch, but an attempt by the other team to avoid the inning ending twin killing should not have been a shock to anyone. Regardless, Keppinger failed to get himself into position to make the first relay, instead allowing the ball to come to him while flat footed and turned fully towards home plate. As a result, his throw to Tejada at the bag was an underwhelming shovel pass.
The slow incoming throw stranded Tejada on the bag, as he had to break his momentum. This meant that the ball and runner arrived near simultaneously. The runner from 2nd was already around 3rd and steaming home, so Miggy’s only option was to leap and unleash his throw, which sailed into the Astros’ dugout. Game over.
What happened next was bizarre. The Nationals celebrated like the FTCs in April. Meanwhile, the Astros trotted off the field, nonchalantly waving to the furious spectators as if they’d just been taking catching practice. WTF?! Do these guys have any sensitivity? If you thought, as did I, that this was bad PR, just wait you wait.
I’ll fast forward past the first 3½ innings of the regular game that followed. There’s no need at this point to talk about Cooper’s customary gorvelled lineup, the terrible fielding, the inconsistent hitting or the curious decision to remove Ortiz after just 3 innings. I’ll drop you right into the bottom of the 4th.
Blum lead off and absolutely crushed one just to the right of the Crawfish Boxes, into the cut-out. Dunn never had a chance and it was clear from crack of the bat that he was going to struggle to run it down, let alone make the catch. Blum was on for a sure double. So sure, in fact, that he guaranteed it by dawdling his way around first before breaking it down halfway to 2nd. Then Dunn shit the bed and the ball was loose in the outfield. Blum fired up the jets and was able to round 2nd before being stopped because the ball was by then in the hands of the cutoff man. Utter bollocks. Blum’s lack of hustle was obvious to all in attendance.
Two outs followed, with Blum still rooted at 2nd. One was a slow but high chopper to 3rd, and the other a shallow fly to CF. I doubt Blum could’ve come home from third on either of those had he been there. Then Bourn stepped up, and bounced one up the middle but in range of the shortstop. With two out, Blum should’ve been hauling all kinds of arse…but he wasn’t. He loped his way over to 3rd, expecting the routine put-out. But Bourn was running and Guzman at short panicked. He misplayed the ball. Bourn was safe and Blum, who should’ve been cruising home was, once again, standing with his thumb up his butt on the wrong base. Tejada grounded out meekly to end the inning…and then came the boos.
Not a smattering of boos. A hearty, widespread, protracted and loud chorus of boos that lasted as long as it took the Astros to clear the field. And then the shit really started to fly.
According to my boss, who was at the field box level, two rows back behind the Astros’ dugout, some of the attending yayhoos took serious umbrage. They harangued Blum from their perch just above the dugout, hurling insults and expletives in equal measure. Blum and a few of the other Astros decided to get into it with the “fans”, and the ante got upped. One of the players made a throat slashing gesture at one of the fans.
It took the stadium staff a while to sort this out. Eventually they culled the retards from the bystanders and ejected them. Such behaviour is unacceptable in any public venue – my boss was there with his kids of 8 and 6 – so these morons got what they deserved. But…the gist of their tirade was that they pay a lot of money for their tickets (and drinks and hot dogs), and the least the players can do is put in a smidgeon of effort. On that point, I totally agree.
I like Blum, but he played like shit that inning and then compounded that by engaging the loudmouths instead of alerting the staff and sitting the fuck down. There is more to this, though, because this is a symptom of the malaise afflicting the Astros in 2009. Everyone’s got their heads up their own arses, and doesn’t seem to give a shit about anyone else.
So here’s where the Cooper bashing begins. I think it’s mostly his fucking fault. He has fucking fractured this fucking club with all his fucking nonsensical management and fucking nonsensical public pronouncements, many of which involve him fucking throwing his own fucking players under a fucking bus.
Unless and until the Astros’ brass get rid of Cooper and install a manager who can actually manage this club, both on and off the field, they will continue to slide along, underperforming with the other dregs of the NL Central. The players are not to be excused for their decent into Lords of the Flies, but this doesn’t happen if they’re being managed by someone with a firm grip on the reins and a firm grip on reality.
Cooper has neither. Time for the organization to make a change…
We’ve endured years of this shit. Most of the oughts, in fact, have been plagued with an offense so anemic that it makes Powder look like George Hamilton. I understand that there was a need to make over the pitching staff after The Debacle of 2000, and I applaud the club’s efforts in that vein. Pitching and defense wins championships, they say, and the Astros made their only World Series appearance behind some tremendous pitching.
Pitching…Pitching…isn’t there another part to that? Oh yeah, defense. WTF? The Astros have staffed themselves with an infield, outfield and bench that can either hit a ball, or catch a ball, but not both. So when you put a “hands team” out there you lose a squeaker and when you put the “stick team” out there you lose a laugher. By “laugher”, I mean a Shakespearean tragedy where the Fates are all PMSing simultaneously and the poor sod on the mound hesitated when they asked him if they looked fat.
Currently, and obviously, Biggio is the everyday starter at 2B and will be until he gets #3,000. This is a fact of life, as is his statuesque defense and noodle arm. But consider the options: Burke is a solid glove man (at this position) but is currently lighting up AAA pitching to the tune of .170, and he is in no way, shape or form a leadoff hitter (he may also have an small desert in his vagina). Loretta can hit and defend, and maybe even lead off, but then who bridges the enormous gap between hitting and fielding exhibited by the other candidates for 3B?Read More
It’s French…bitch! Actually, bouncebackability is acceptable English, despite being concocted by Crystal Palace FC manager Iain Dowie to describe the facet that his team would need to display in order to survive in the English Premier League. His theory was that they’re going to get thumped on a regular basis, but will need to bounce back over and over again.
Ultimately, Iain Dowie’s side were unsuccessful, being dumped out of the Premiership because they were unable to hold the lead for the last 10 minutes of the last game, which happened to be against a heated rival. Sound familiar? My lifelong support of “the Palace” has lead me to experience numerous cockpunches of this nature, so perhaps you can understand my inability to shrug off the ball-stomping by Pooholes as quickly as some of you. You only follow the Astros; I follow two of them.
But no longer are the Astros hapless wannabees. They are the Killer Bees, and they are National League Champions.Read More
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?Read More