Road split cuts into lead

added 9/21/2003 by Willie B. Lakey

At least the math is getting easier.

Though we’re all tired of the clichés that have been used and abused for 25 weeks now, we really have reached that point in the season where the only thing a fan can do is take ‘em one game at a time. So go out there and give it your best, Astros fans. Be thankful for what the Good Lord gave you and be ready to do whatever you can to help the team. After all, we’re just happy to be here, right?

Under normal conditions a 3-3 trek through Denver and St. Louis this week would be met with more smiles. But these are not normal conditions. Indeed these are desperate times as the Astros enter the season’s 26th and final week with just a half-game lead over the Chicago Cubs, having watched almost all of a 2-game lead last Monday morning shrink almost as fast as the sale of license plate frames across Lone Star State since September 1st.

In normal times we could live with players named So Taguchi and Eduardo Perez combining to hang a black mark in our L-column. But these aren’t normal times and we can’t let anyone beat us. And under normal conditions I would still be monitoring my blood pressure and taking antacids following yet another senseless pitching change by manager Jimy Williams. Or should I say “pitching changes?” But these aren’t normal conditions and I understand Jimy using everything he’s got trying for a win.

No, even under abnormal conditions I don’t think I’ll ever understand some of Williams’ calls to the pen, Sunday’s decision to remove Rick White after five pitches and two quick outs in the 6th inning. That may just be one of those I never understand for any reason.

The math really is simple from here on out. Houston has seven games left and Chicago has six. If the Cubs go 3-3, the Astros have to go 4-3. If Chicago’s 4-2, Houston must be 5-2. While there are a finite number of scenarios, I won’t bore you. It won’t be easy, and it’s not supposed to be. The Giants are still playing for home field advantage in the NL playoffs, and the Brewers would love nothing more than to play the role of spoiler those last four games of the season. It could be over by Wednesday night, or it could drag out and drag all of us with it until well after next Sunday’s final regularly scheduled games. The notion of a 1-game playoff in the Windy City isn’t farfetched at all, and it would bring back strong memories of and comparisons to the 1980 season that ended with Houston and LA tied for the NL West.

Did I mention the part about the math being easier? I did? Good, because the rest of it’s getting hard as hell.

WINS & LOSSES: Houston used Monday to travel to Denver where they promptly dispatched the Rockies on Tuesday in a 14-4 whipping. Richard hidalgo hit half of the Astros’ 6 homers on the evening, driving in 5 in the process. Jeriome Robertson hurled 7 very good innings in Colorado’s thin air to post his 15th win of the season, a new Houston record for rookies.

The inability to collect a timely extra base hit cost Houston on Wednesday as the Rockies slipped past the Astros 7-5. Houston’s defense was shaky at times, and Ron Villone just didn’t have his A-game. But the difference in the game hinged on both teams collecting 12 hits, with Houston’s safeties all singles and the Colorado managing to mix 7 singles with 5 extra base knocks.

Wade Miller led the way on Thursday as Houston blanked Colorado 6-0, ending the longest home scoring streak in MLB history. Miller worked into the 7th inning before Octavio Dotel and Mike Gallo came out of the pen to complete the blanking. Venerable vets Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio each collected 3 hits, with Baggy driving in a trio and Bidge crossing the plate a trio of times. The last time Colorado was failed to score at home was July 4, 1999, a stretch of 361 games for the Rockies.

The Astros then traveled east a short distance to St. Louis, making easy work of Matt Morris and the Cardinals on Friday in an 8-1 triumph. Roy Oswalt was spot-on and had a rather easy time with the dangerous St. Louis lineup for the first 7 frames. Brad Lidge and Billy Wagner tossed scoreless ball the final two innings. Jeff Bagwell and Richard Hidalgo each went deep in the contest, combining to drive in 5 of Houston’s 8 runs.

On Saturday the two teams battled for 13 long innings before Albert Pujols’ 43rd HR of the season won it 3-2 for St. Louis. The Cardinals rallied to negate an early 2-0 Houston lead, and Astros field boss Jimy Williams, never one to be afraid to make a pitching change, stretched his bullpen out in an effort to pick up the win. But in the end it just wasn’t enough to top the Cards.

Sunday looked to be going Houston’s way early on before the Cardinals fought back to take a 6-4 win. Lance Berkman homered to give the Astros a 3-0 lead in the top of the 4th. But St. Louis responded with 5 runs in the next two frames, 2 of them on a rare homer off the bat of So Taguchi, to give them the lead, and eventually both the game and the series.

BUMPS, BRUISES & BREAKS: The good news is Houston goes into the final week of action in fairly good shape as far as injuries go. Aside from the normal aches and pains that come from completing 155 of the 162 games, the Astros enter these final seven contests with a strong and complete roster.

DAY-BY-DAY ASTRO-LOGY: Houston ended the week with 84 wins and 71 losses, good for first in the NL Central by the slimmest of margins over the Chicago Cubs (84-72). Monday’s series opener against the Giants should find Lance Berkman and Adam Everett, both Aquarius, enjoying fine linescores. Tuesday should be great for the offense as both Jeff Bagwell (Gemini) and Richard Hidalgo (Cancer) are primed for big days. Geoff Blum (Taurus) will enjoy his stars and planets at their peak on Wednesday. Thursday’s series opener with Milwaukee will find Craig Biggio (Sagittarius) leading the way on offense and Billy Wagner (Leo) closing another victory out at the end. A new moon hits on Friday; all bets are off. Saturday will belong to Capricorns, so it’s a great day to give Ron Villone the ball to start and hand it off later to Brad Lidge in relief. And the regular season finale will find A couple of Virgo’s, Wade Miller and Morgan Ensberg, sending the Astros into postseason orbit with a win to close out the 2003 campaign.

Monday 6-4 . . . Tuesday 15-9 . . . Wednesday 13-11 . . . Thursday 11-12 . . . Friday 16-9 . . . Saturday 11-14 . . . Sunday 12-12

STAR OF THE WEEK: Though he tallied most of his stats in the first game of the week, my Shooting Star goes to Richard Hidalgo who controlled games with his offense and defense. Doggie hit .360 for the week (9-for-25) with 4 HR, a double, 7 RBI and 5 runs scored.

ON DECK: The Astros will take a quick flight out of St. Louis on Sunday and head back home to Houston for the final week on the 2003 regular season schedule. First up are the Giants for a 3-game set beginning Monday in what could be a playoff preview. The season then wraps up with a 4-game series against the visiting Brewers that starts on Thursday. It also might not be a bad idea to start thinking of reasons to call in sick next Monday for that playoff game in Chicago.

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