USA? Meet Wade Miller!
added 4/23/2001 by Steve Cutchen
There were several subplots surrounding the ESPN nationally televised Houston Astros game against the St. Louis Cardinals last night. But the leading man was Wade Miller. And the script read "K". Wade Miller finished with a flourish, striking out 10 of the last 12 batters he faced. Throwing a 95 mph fastball, a 88 mph slider and an 80 mph curve, all for strikes, Wade scattered 5 hits. Only Albert Pujols hit him hard, with two home runs. More on those later... First, some of the other subplots.
My son Ryan and I got to the game early. The St. Louis meal special was some type of slices of sausage, with peppers and onions... hmmm... I opted for the New York dog, on a poppy seed bun with sauerkraut. Ryan's repast consisted of pedestrian Decker Star Dogs, which hit the spot. Much better than the old Dome Dogs. Better buns and better dogs.
For this game, we had great seats. Row 4 of the upper deck, section 419. Right behind the plate.
We settled in to watch batting practice and... it started raining. Drizzle; stop; rain; stop; drizzle again... It was fun watching everyone bail for the concourse. Don't we have a roof? Do I have to sit in the rain? I'd brought an umbrella in case I needed it for the trek to the car, and it came in handy.
Then, the rain really started coming down.
So the hometown folks made the decision to close the roof,
which I'm sure made for cool video for ESPN and the Budweiser Blimp.
As the game got ready to start, we were treated to a couple of cool events. First, the new mascot of the Houston Texans was introduced. Toro proceeded to the mound and threw the first "pass" to the Astros mascot.
Then, former President George Bush and Astros owner Drayton McLane introduced U.S. Navy Petty Officer Rodney Young to an Enron Standing Ovation. Mr. Young was one of the navy flyers that had been held in China after crash-landing their airplane following a collision with a Chinese fighter. Rodney threw out the Official First Pitch to Scott Elarton.
As the lineups were read, we found out that Chris Truby was not starting. Charlie Hayes got the start instead. Even so, the Astros put up a monstrous lineup, one that ESPN's Peter Gammons called the most powerful in baseball. Look at this lineup in spots 1-6:
And Truby is at .935; Ward is at .904.
The game started with Wade Miller pitching well, but the Cards were getting the bat on the ball. Miller had but 3 of his 13 strikeouts in the first three innings. So defense was a key. And Berkman set the tone with the very first batter, making a great flat-out catch on a line drive by Vina.
As the Astros got their first shot at the Cardinal twirler Hermanson, things were looking up. After Lugo grounded out to short, Biggio hit a smash off Hermanson; literally. An out, but a LOUD out. The Bagwell deposited a 3-2 pitch over the wall, under the Conoco pump; a 409 feet shot.
Berkman began his night with a great at bat. He took Hermanson full and fouled off three more pitches before banging a base hit. Lance went 3 for 4 for the night, with two doubles. His only out was on a called third strike in the 6th on a pitch that looked WAY outside.
In the third, Matheny lead off for the Cards, and Miller gave a sign of things to come. He got up quickly 0-2 with 95 mph fastballs. Then he dropped an 80 mpg curve in on the 2-2 pitch, buckling Matheny and sending him to the bench.
In the good guy's half of the frame, the Astros really hit Hermanson hard. Miller led off and hit a hard shot to Vina for the first out. The Lugo hit an absolute replay shot of Bagwell's home run, into the Conoco sign in left center. I bet my son that it would be declared shorter than Bagwell's, since Jeff is the big star... and sho' 'nuff, it came in at 405', 4 feet off Jeff's mighty blast.
Hermanson was fooling no one. Biggio hit a smash single down the 3rd base line. Bagwell hit a very hard liner to Renteria for out number 2, Berkman doubled down the right field line and Alou flew out deep to right.
Even the outs were loud outs.
On Berkman's double, Biggio charged to third. He was held up on J. D. Drew's return throw, but Vina sent the relay into the Card's dugout, plating Biggio for an unearned run. Astros up 3-0
Unfortunately, even though Miller was throwing BB's, the Card's super-rookie Anthony Pujols put them back in the game. Bonilla had hit an 0-2 pitch up the middle for a single, and Pujols hit a 2 out 1 strike pitch into the Crawford Boxes. Miller said after the game the pitch was a four seamer, riding up and in on Pujols. He was surprised to see him able to turn on that pitch, and just tipped his cap to good hitting. Cards down one, 3-2.
An ominous sign for the Cardinals... Miller threw 11 pitches in the 4th inning. Ten were strikes. He had found his game; he had all his pitches working.
In the fifth, Wade Miller hit his stride. Ten of the next 11 Cardinal outs were strikeouts.
What was the over/under on "Miller Time" resets on ESPN?
I was surprised to see Wade come out for the 8th inning. His spot in the lineup had come up in the bottom of the 7th, and I thought they would pinch hit in a 3-3 tie game. But with 2 outs, he was left in to bat, even though his pitch count was 111 going in to the 7th.
Miller set down three in a row. But before he did... there was another Pujols at bat; and a 396 ft bomb. This one was Wade's mistake. He was up 0-2 and simply tried to blow Pujols away with a fastball. Pujols was sitting on it and turned it around, big time.
This is the type of game we lost last year. No doubt about it. We went three up three down in the 5th, 6th and 7th, not counting a walk to Miller in the 7th. Hermanson had found enough to silence the Astros offense. It looked like we might be headed to extra innings.
The Cardinals made a pitching change in the 8th. They brought in Stechschulte. He walked Biggio on 5 pitches.
Bagwell flied out to Vina in short right field for the first out.
Up steps Berkman. Lance hit a 0-1 pitch for a double, sending Biggio to third. Runners at 2nd and 3rd, with 1 out. Yeah, Baby!
The Cardinals met at the mound and decided to load the bases and try for the double play. So Alou was intentionally walked.
Up comes Richard Hidalgo. The crowd is going NUTS. Barking our heads off! Like Berkman, Richard hit an 0-1 pitch. A line shot to left center which Lankford dove to catch. If it gets by, three runs score. But Lankford made the catch.
Still, there was no way to make a play on Biggio tagging up on third, and the Astros took the lead 4-3.
And you know what happens with the Astros in the lead in the...
Billy the Kid. Wagner got Bonilla to pop up to Ausmus on a 1-0 pitch. Then he gave up a single to Lankford. Up came Pujols... Man, visions of Aramis Rameriz were running through my head...
But not tonight. three pitches. Three strikes. Two outs.
Then it was Renteria's turn.
Three pitches, three strikes... Game Over!
This was an important game. Not just because this was the Cardinals. Bagwell was asked if it was important to beat the Cards. He said, "It's more important to beat the Cubs. They are the ones in first place!"
No. This was an important game because it was a game we would have most likely lost last year. As this team continues to transcend last year's debacle, this is just another signal that history was an aberration. THIS is the Astros team that should have been, even last year. But breaks and psyche can kill even a good team.
We are back, baby.
We may or may not win the Central this year. But we will not see a meltdown like last year.