Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Astros knock off the Braves for the second year in a row

Last weekend was a good weekend for Houston sports teams. Well, except for the Texans, and let’s face it, who really cares about them?

The Astros outlasted the Atlanta Braves in an amazing and historic National League Divisional Series Game Four and made it to the National League Championship Series for the second year in a row, where they will once again meet up with the St. Louis Cardinals. The eighteen-inning marathon set a new record for the longest postseason game ever played. The previous record, the sixteen-inning Game Six of the 1986 NLCS, also featured the Astros. 

Although the Astros were not technically facing elimination in Sunday’s game, I really didn’t like their chances in a possible Game Five, since they would have had to travel back to Atlanta and face Braves hurler John Smoltz, who has historically owned the Astros in the postseason. For much of the game, however, it looked like a return trip to Atlanta was indeed on the agenda, as the Astros trailed 6-1 going into the eighth inning. However, a grand slam by Lance Berkman in the bottom of the eighth, followed by a just-barely home run by Brad Ausmus with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, tied things up. The tie would remain for the next nine innings of what essentially became a doubleheader. The extra frames were excruciating to watch, as neither the Braves nor the Astros could put any more runs on the board, and by the sixteenth inning the Astros had run out of bullpen relievers and had to resort to Roger Clemens, who made only his second relief appearance in his long career.

I remember all too well the aforementioned Game Six of the 1986 NLCS. I remember Kevin Bass striking out in the bottom of the sixteenth inning. I remember the New York Mets, who would go on to win the World Series that year, celebrating their 7-6 victory on the Astrodome turf. And I remember crying my eyes out. A lot of people believe that Game Six of the 1986 NLCS is the greatest game ever played. One guy even wrote a book about it. For me, it’s just another painful memory as a Houston sports fan, much like Jimmy Valvano’s wild celebration after his North Carolina State team upset the Houston Cougars on a last-second dunk in the 1983 NCAA basketball championship game, or the Houston Oilers’ spectacular 32-point choke to the Buffalo Bills in the 1993 AFC Wild Card game. And as I watched the agonizing extra innings last Sunday, I kept having flashbacks to that NLCS moment, nineteen years ago. Would this be yet another in a long line of bitter, painful Houston sports memories?

Fortunately, Chris Burke assured that it would not. Instead, his magnificent game-winning home run in the bottom of the eighteenth instantly became one in a (much shorter) list of Houston sports highlights. 

As a Houston sports fan, I am accustomed to watching the local teams fail. So when a local team succeeds, especially as amazingly and improbably as the Astros did last Sunday, it's always a pleasant surprise.

So now it’s on to the Cardinals. Will this be the year that the Astros finally make it into the World Series? Probably not; the Cardinals are just as good as they were last year and the Astros don’t have Carlos Beltran or Jeff Kent in the lineup this year. But after Sunday's game, as well as the remarkable fact that the Astros made the playoffs after being fifteen games below .500 at one point this season, I'm really not complaining. The Astros beat the cursed Braves two years in a row, and that's always something to celebrate.

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015.)

No comments: