A whole lot of good last week

added 4/19/2004 by Willie B. Lakey

In all but one game last week, the Houston Astros did something that can’t help but have the fans a bit giddy with confidence. The Bayou City Boys posted a 6-1 record by getting offense exactly when they needed it, strong starting pitching exactly when they needed it, and super relief efforts exactly when they needed it.

So don’t blame Astros faithful for walking around with their heads held high right now as they ponder just how much better things might be when a healthy Andy Pettitte is back on the mound, and Ben Sheets isn’t.

It’s easy to look at the two starts by Roger Clemens who now sits 3-0 in his first three starts for his hometown team. Not only has he pitched well so far, he’s done so in games the team needed him to go strong. You can really feel his attitude and determination starting to permeate the whole team. And when a diehard Aggie like myself is almost tempted to flash the hook ‘em sign at a diehard Longhorn like Clemens, you know his Mojo is working.

Wade Miller working around seven walks to stick it out 121 pitches and Roy Oswalt’s 3-hit shutout are two more wins in the last seven days to point at and say, “Wow!” Lance Berkman’s bat heating up, original Killer B’s Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio both hitting in the upper- 300’s, Richard Hidalgo’s torrid start continuing, and Adam Everett’s expected solid defense at short combined with better-than-expected offense are all huge factors in Houston’s excellent play of late.

But the two games that really piqued the fan’s interest inside my ample body were the wins on Monday at St. Louis and Saturday in Houston. Without Pettitte in the rotation, who would have started both games, it would’ve been easy to shrug shoulders and concede a loss as manager Jimy Williams plugged in Jared Fernandez and Brandon Duckworth. But the bullpen and the offense cinched ‘em up a notch in both contests to turn a possible 4-3 week into a 6-1 run on the calendar.

A lot of baseball remains in this 2004 season. A whole lot. But for Astros fans, there’s also a lot to feel good about so far. A whole lot.

FOR THE WEEK: The Astros went 6-1 for the week, opening everything with a sweep of the Cardinals in St. Louis. Houston coughed up an early 4-0 lead in Monday’s series opener, but rallied against longtime Astros nemesis Woody Williams for a 10-5 win. Brandon Duckworth and Dan Miceli tossed almost six innings of 1-run relief for starter Jared Fernandez, Richard Hidalgo hit the ball real far with the sacks full to continue his torrid start, and Craig Biggio chimed in with three hits, all 2-baggers, and three RBI.

Clemens picked up his second win in as many Astros starts in Tuesday’s 5-3 Houston triumph over St. Louis. Clemens allowed just two hits in 6-2/3 innings before getting relief help from Miceli and Octavio Dotel. Ninth-inning clouts by Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen off Dotel made all Astros fans a bit uneasy despite the win. Adam Everett and Lance Berkman each homered early to give Clemens extra working space, and Hidalgo added an accent shot in the ninth, his fourth of the season.

In Wednesday’s series finale, Wade Miller worked around seven walks over seven innings, allowing just two hits, and the Killer B’s – Biggio, Berkman and Jeff Bagwell – each drove in three runs for an 11-1 laugher to complete the sweep. The 3-run taters by Berky and baggy in the fifth and ninth innings were the big blows, and Biggio’s three hits included two more doubles on the young campaign.

The Astros came home to Houston on Thursday to open a 4-game series with Bud’s Brewers. Sheets started for Milwaukee; y’all can guess the rest (6-2 defeat).

Oswalt decided Sheets was getting to big for his britches and stealing thunder that rightfully belonged to the Houston staff in Friday’s second game of the series. Roy O tossed the first complete game shutout for the Astros in a bit shy of 17 eons, and the Astros treated fans at Arthur Andersen Memorial Stadium to a 2-0 win. Hidalgo singled home Houston’s first run in the bottom of the first, then tripled and scored Houston’s second and final run of the game in the eighth. Roy’s effort was the NL’s first CG Shutout of the season by about an hour over former Astro Randy Johnson’s blanking of the Padres in Arizona the same evening.

Astros hurlers gave up four long balls to the Brewers on Saturday, two by that pesky Scott Podsednik. But Houston’s offense launched three of their own long balls and was more than happy to take the 10 free passes Milwaukee’s beleaguered staff offered for the taking, and the Astros rolled to a 14-5 rout. Biggio popped a 3-run shit in the fourth and added his eighth double of the season (career #525), Hidalgo had a pair of 2-baggers and 4 RBI (19 for the season), and Mike Lamb hit his first homer and first double in an Astros uni to pace the offense. Brandon Duckworth made his first start for Houston since coming from Philly in the Bill Wagner deal last winter, Brandon Backe picked up his first win as an Astro since coming from Tampa in the Geoff Blum deal, and Chad Harville made his first appearance as an Astro since coming over in last week’s Kirk Saarloos swap.

Houston closed the week out with a 6-1 win over the Brewers on Sunday behind another strong start by Clemens and an offense that ripped 16 hits. Clemens moved to 3-0 on the season with his excellent 7-inning performance, contributing an RBI single in the big 3-run fourth inning. Jason Lane did his best Biggio impersonation by delivering a pair of 2-baggers from the leadoff spot, and Jeff Kent also added two doubles plus a single as the lineup banged out eight extra base knocks to take their third series in a row and pick up their ninth win in the last 11 contests.

INJURY REPORT: Pettitte (left elbow) threw in the bullpen on Thursday and played catch on Friday without any trouble. All signs point to him returning to the rotation as soon as he’s eligible to come off the DL (April 23 at Colorado).

STAR OF THE WEEK: Plenty of candidates to choose from any week you get six strokes in the Dubya column. But there’s little doubt who shined a little brighter than the rest: The Rocket. Clemens picked up a pair of wins, numbers 312 and 313 for his career, allowing just six hits and 4 walks against 10 strikeouts in his 13-2/3 IP. I also doubt this will be the first time we call Clemens’ number this season.

CH-CH-CHANGES: Couple of key roster moves for the Astros last week, including a trade that sent RHP Kirk Saarloos to Oakland for right-handed reliever Chad Harville on Friday. Harville was called up from New Orleans on Saturday with infielder Eric Bruntlett going east in that move. Knuckler Jared Fernandez, who endured a horrible start in Monday’s victory over the Cards, was optioned to NOLA earlier in the week with left-handed reliever Mike Gallo returning to the big league club.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU: Former and present Astros celebrating birthdays this next week include:

Mon (Apr 19): Aaron E. “Hawk” Pointer, OF (born 1942, Little Rock, AR, with Houston 1963, 1966-67, brother of the Pointer Sisters singers) *** Harry F. Craft, MGR (born 1915, Ellisville, MS, died Aug 3, 1995, Conroe, TX; Houston’s first manager, 1962-64)

Tue (Apr 20): James E. Dickson, RHP (born 1938, Portland, OR; with Houston 1963) *** Timothy L. Tolman, OF-1B (born 1956, Santa Monica, CA; with Houston 1981-85) *** James C. Jones, RHP (born 1964, Dallas, TX; with Houston 1991-92)

Wed (Apr 21): Kenneth G. Caminiti, 3B (born 1963, Hanford, CA; with Houston 1987-94, 1999-2000) *** Chris B. Donnels, INF (born 1966, Los Angeles, CA; with Houston 1993-95)

Thu (Apr 22): Carlos Hernandez, LHP (born 1980, Guacara, Venezuela; with Houston 2001-present) *** Becky J. Rogers, Fan (born 1956, Houston, TX) *** William N. Newport, Fan (born 1985, Baton Rouge, LA)

Fri (Apr 23): Thomas E. Dickson, RHP (born 1955, Orlando, FL; with Houston 1977-79)

Sat (Apr 24): Ivan A. Murrell, OF (born 1945, Almirante, Panama; with 1963-64, 1967-68) *** Todd B.G. Jones, RHP (born 1968, Marietta, GA; with 1993-96)

Sun (Apr 25): Charles W. Harrison, 1B (born 1941, Abilene, TX 1965-67) *** William B. Greif, RHP (born 1950, Ft. Stockton, TX; with Houston 1971)

NEXT VICTIMS: The Astros complete their 7-game homestand this week with a 3-game set starting Tuesday (Apr 20) against the Cardinals. Houston then hits the road for six games beginning with a 3-game set against the Rockies in Colorado next weekend (Apr 23-25). Houston then travels to Pittsburgh for a 3-game series against the Pirates (Apr 27-29).

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