Biggio Matches Rare Mark In Milestone Win
by Bob Hulsey
Most of the fans who attended that night's game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis left disappointed. They were hoping to witness baseball history. Quite frankly, they witnesses something rare and noteworthy but it just wasn't the event they were expecting.
1998 had become the year of Mark McGwire. The National League had expanded by two more teams (Arizona had joined the circuit while the Milwaukee Brewers had moved over from the American League to maintain an even number of clubs) and, with it, came a lot of pitchers who would have toiled in the minors the year before. Toss in a few other developments and hitting took off like no time in major league history since the 1930s.
By this date, the massive St. Louis slugger had already smashed Babe Ruth's milestone of 60 home runs in a season. He had also eclipsed Roger Maris' peak of 61 home runs - a mark some old-timers refused to acknowledge as the legitimate record since Maris set his marker in a 162-game season while Ruth's was set in a 154-game season. McGwire's season had made that discussion moot.
He stood at 65 homers as the night began with just a precious five games left in the regular season. The country had watched all season as McGwire and Chicago's Sammy Sosa made their run at Ruth and Maris to great attention and applause. Now the Cardinal hopeful came out to root for one man and his achievement since the team's playoff hopes had already been dashed.
The National League division races had been settled by this time. Atlanta in the East, Houston in the Central and San Diego in the West had each already wrapped up their divisions and were working to position themselves for the postseason. What drama remained would be whether Chicago, New York or San Francisco would claim the Wild Card slot.
The Astros had clinched on September 15th in a rather bittersweet way, splitting a doubleheader with the Mets at home, lacking the on-field celebration that had marked other franchise clinchings. This was a team that felt there was more work to be done. They were still fighting the Braves for the best record in the league and the home field advantage as the final week of the regular season unfolded.
One of the reasons the Astros felt they could go deep into the playoffs and possibly make their first trip to the World Series was the acquisition of lefthander Randy Johnson in a July 31st trade with the Seattle Mariners. Houston had surrendered three top prospects to get Johnson who had fought with back trouble to reach an unimpressive 9-10 record as a Mariner. In Houston, however, Johnson had been nothing but spectacular.
The giant 6-10 Johnson entered the game with a 9-1 record and had blown through National League hitters like a tornado, amassing 108 strikeouts in 10 starts. In his final tuneup before the playoffs, Johnson struggled with his control and left after seven innings with six walks and eight hits allowed, including a leadoff homer by Pat Kelly. But that was more than enough for a 7-1 triumph. That concluded his regular season stats since the trade at a sparkling 10-1 record, a puny 1.28 ERA, a breathtaking 10.5 strikeouts per appearance and the confidence of every Astros fan that they finally had the pitching ace needed to sweep through the postseason.
Richard Hidalgo capped a three-run first with a two-run double off lefty Darren Oliver. Craig Biggio singled home Brad Ausmus to tack on another run in the second. A double by Jeff Bagwell followed by three straight singles brought two more Astros across in the third, making in 6-1 early. Houston's victory marked the Astros' 100th win of the season, the first and so-far only time Houston has reached that feat.
Yes, the game that night wasn't full of drama. The Astros quickly established a lead Johnson was unlikely to surrender. The Cardinal faithful watched McGwire fail to get a hit in five trips to the plate, two of which were walks which drew boos from the crowd. They had come to watch Big Mac add to his record and they left unfulfilled.
But the fans did get to see history that had been done only once before in major league annals. In the sixth inning, Bobby Witt was on in relief for St. Louis. Witt was a hard thrower who struggled with control. With two men out, Biggio lined a single to right-center. Taking his normal lead, Craig broke for second on the first pitch and slid safely under Kelly's tag for his 50th steal of the season - a career high.
Few noticed and fewer acknowledged (not even in the newspaper account below) that Biggio had attained at least 50 doubles and 50 steals in the same season. He had reached 51 doubles a few days earlier at Pittsburgh. The only other time this had been done before was by Texas-born Tris Speaker of the Boston Red Sox in 1912 back in baseball's "dead ball era". The future Hall of Famer attained 53 doubles and 52 stolen bases that year. It was the only year Speaker would reach 50 steals although 1912 would not turn out to be his career year for doubles (reaching 59 two-baggers in 1923).
Likewise, 1998 would be the only year Craig Biggio would steal as many as 50 bags in a season. And, like Speaker, 1998 would also not be Biggio's peak year for doubles (reaching 56 in 1999). Like Speaker, Biggio would also reach the 3,000-hit milestone, a mark bringing with it Hall of Fame credibility.
Many of you know, of course, that the 102-win Astros of 1998 landed with a thud in the postseason. Randy Johnson lost his two starts against San Diego and Biggio, along with Bagwell, failed again to produce in the playoffs the way they had in the regular season. McGwire's home run record lasted but a few years before Barry Bonds of San Francisco reached 70 then the whole topic fell into doubt as the scandal involving performance-enhancing drugs engulfed both of them. To some, Maris is still the rightful record-holder and, to a few, Ruth is still the rightful record-holder.
But there is no such taint to what Craig Biggio accomplished that season - the first player since before World War I to steal 50 bases and hit 50 doubles in the same year. And only the 50/50 club's second member.
While Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa challenge for one of baseball's most revered individual accomplishments, the Astros reached a team benchmark Wednesday night.
They joined the Century Club.
The Astros won their 100th game of the season with a 7-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals at sold-out Busch Stadium.
The Astros are the third team to reach the 100-win plateau, joining the New York Yankees (110) and Atlanta Braves (103).
Since 1962, only 18 National League teams have won 100 games in a season. Before 1998, the closest the Astros had come was 96 victories, set during the 1986 season.
And in only eight weeks, Randy Johnson (10-1) has accounted for one-tenth of the team's total.
The Big Unit won his seventh straight decision Wednesday, despite allowing a first-pitch home run to Pat Kelly and six walks, which tied a season high. Two were to McGwire, drawing loud boos from the 38,997 in attendance.
Johnson scattered eight hits and struck out eight in seven innings in his final start before next week's Division Series.
Johnson has added his share to the Astros' success since being acquired July 31. His teammates returned the favor Wednesday.
After the Astros were held to five hits in a 4-0 loss Tuesday to the Cardinals, they needed only 10 batters to reach that total on Wednesday.
They knocked St. Louis lefthander Darren Oliver out of the game after two-plus innings with three runs in the first and another in the second as the Cardinals had their six-game winning streak snapped.
Richard Hidalgo was 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and Moises Alou had three singles and scored two runs to pace the Astros offensively.
McGwire fell into a tie for the major-league home run lead with Chicago's Sammy Sosa, who hit Nos. 64 and 65 earlier in the day against Milwaukee. McGwire went 1-for-3 Wednesday with a single and two walks and did not homer in the two-game series with the Astros.
His high seventh-inning pop out was caught on the warning track, and his ninth-inning drive was hauled down just a few feet shy of the fence in center.
McGwire went 1-for-7 with two strikeouts in the series.
The Astros began their scoring with one out in the first inning on consecutive singles by Ricky Gutierrez and Derek Bell, who left the game in the third with a strained neck. Jeff Bagwell hit a sacrifice fly to right, Moises Alou doubled and Hidalgo put the Astros ahead 3-0 with a two-run double to the left-field corner.
Hidalgo is 5-for-8 with two home runs and four RBIs in his last two games.
In the second inning, Brad Ausmus led off with a single and Craig Biggio had an RBI single to center.
Oliver (4-4), acquired from the Texas Rangers on July 31, did not record an out in the third after surrendering a leadoff double to Bagwell and an RBI single to Alou.
Reliever John Frascatore didn't fare much better, allowing consecutive singles to Hidalgo and Sean Berry.
Johnson, who beat St. Louis for the second time in 11 days, improved to 7-0 with a 1.16 ERA in his last seven starts. He has allowed only seven earned runs in the last 54 innings with two shutouts.
St. Louis had the bases loaded twice in the first five innings off Johnson, and at least two runners on base on five different occasions. But each time the Cardinals threatened, Johnson answered.
St. Louis put the first two batters on base in third, and after consecutive strikeouts, Johnson walked Luis Ordaz to load the bases before getting Placido Polanco to fly to right field. It was the same story in the fifth as St. Louis loaded the bases only to strand the runners.
They finished the game 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
Biggio, who had three hits, scored the Astros final run in the ninth on Gutierrez's double.
Jay Powell and Billy Wagner pitched the final two innings to preserve only the Astros' fourth win in 11 games.
After surviving McGwire's home run assault during the last two days, the Astros won't catch a break with a season-ending three-game series with the Sosa-led Cubs at the Astrodome Friday through Sunday.
Game played September 23, 1998 (N) at Busch Stadium HOU N 3 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 - 7 15 0 STL N 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 - 1 9 0 BATTING Houston Astros AB R H RBI BB SO PO A Biggio 2b 5 1 3 1 0 2 1 1 Gutierrez ss 5 1 2 1 0 0 0 1 DBell rf 2 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 Everett cf 3 0 0 0 0 0 4 0 Bagwell 1b 4 1 1 1 0 0 4 1 Alou lf 5 2 3 1 0 0 3 0 Hidalgo cf,rf 4 0 3 2 0 0 1 1 Berry 3b 4 0 1 1 0 1 3 0 Bogar 3b 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Ausmus c 4 1 1 0 0 0 11 1 RaJohnson p 2 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 DClark ph 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 Powell p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Wagner p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Totals 39 7 15 7 0 6 27 5 BATTING - 2B: Hidalgo 2 (14,off Oliver,off Witt); Bagwell (32,off Oliver); Gutierrez (24,off RKing). SH: RaJohnson (3,off Oliver). SF: Bagwell (5,off Oliver). Team LOB: 7. BASERUNNING - SB: Biggio (50,2nd base off Witt/Marrero). St. Louis Cardinals AB R H RBI BB SO PO A PKelly 2b,ss 5 1 1 1 0 2 3 2 Tatis 3b 5 0 1 0 0 2 0 7 McGwire 1b 3 0 1 0 2 0 9 0 Jordan cf 4 0 2 0 1 1 3 0 Gant lf 4 0 1 0 0 1 2 0 Marrero c 3 0 1 0 1 1 6 0 Ordaz ss 2 0 2 0 1 0 0 2 DeShields ph,2b 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 Oliver p 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 Petkovsek p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Polanco ph 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Frascatore p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 McEwing ph 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Witt p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Croushore p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Mabry ph 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 RKing p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Little rf 4 0 0 0 0 3 4 0 Totals 34 1 9 1 6 11 27 12 FIELDING - DP: 1. Tatis-Kelly-McGwire. BATTING - 2B: Ordaz (4,off RaJohnson). HR: PKelly (4,1st inning off RaJohnson 0 on 0 out). Team LOB: 12. BASERUNNING - CS: Jordan (5,3rd base by RaJohnson/Ausmus). PITCHING Houston Astros IP H R ER BB SO HR RaJohnson W (10-1) 7 8 1 1 6 8 1 Powell 1 0 0 0 0 2 0 Wagner 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 Totals 9 9 1 1 6 11 1 St. Louis Cardinals IP H R ER BB SO HR Oliver L (4-4) 2 8 6 6 0 2 0 Petkovsek 1 2 0 0 0 1 0 Frascatore 2 1 0 0 0 1 0 Witt 2.1 2 0 0 0 1 0 Croushore 0.2 0 0 0 0 1 0 RKing 1 2 1 1 0 0 0 Totals 9 15 7 7 0 6 0 Oliver faced 2 batters in the 3rd inning Umpires: HP - Larry Poncino, 1B - Mike Winters, 2B - Gary Darling, 3B - Steve Rippley Time of Game: 3:05 Attendance: 38997
Play by Play
Starting Lineups: Houston Astros St. Louis Cardinals 1. Biggio 2b PKelly 2b 2. Gutierrez ss Tatis 3b 3. DBell rf McGwire 1b 4. Bagwell 1b Jordan cf 5. Alou lf Gant lf 6. Hidalgo cf Marrero c 7. Berry 3b Ordaz ss 8. Ausmus c Oliver p 9. RaJohnson p Little rf ASTROS 1ST: Biggio was called out on strikes; Gutierrez singled to shortstop; DBell singled to center [Gutierrez to third]; Bagwell lined out on a sacrifice fly to right [Gutierrez scored]; Alou singled to shortstop [DBell to second]; Hidalgo doubled to third [DBell scored, Alou scored]; Berry struck out; 3 R, 4 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Astros 3, Cardinals 0. CARDINALS 1ST: PKelly homered; Tatis struck out; McGwire walked; Jordan singled to third [McGwire to second]; Gant popped to third; Marrero singled to center [McGwire out at third (center to first to third), Jordan to second]; 1 R, 3 H, 0 E, 2 LOB. Astros 3, Cardinals 1. ASTROS 2ND: Ausmus singled to center; RaJohnson out on a sacrifice bunt (third to second) [Ausmus to second]; Biggio singled to center [Ausmus scored, Biggio to second (on throw)]; Gutierrez flied to center; DBell flied to left; 1 R, 2 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Astros 4, Cardinals 1. CARDINALS 2ND: Ordaz doubled to first; Oliver walked; Little struck out; PKelly popped to second; Tatis struck out; 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 2 LOB. Astros 4, Cardinals 1. ASTROS 3RD: Bagwell doubled to third; Alou singled to left [Bagwell scored, Alou to second (on throw)]; PETKOVSEK REPLACED OLIVER (PITCHING); Hidalgo singled to left [Alou to third]; Berry singled to left [Alou scored, Hidalgo to second]; Ausmus grounded into a double play (third to second to first) [Hidalgo to third, Berry out at second]; Raohnson struck out; 2 R, 4 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Astros 6, Cardinals 1. CARDINALS 3RD: McGwire walked; Jordan singled to right [McGwire to second]; Gant struck out; Marrero struck out; Ordaz walked [McGwire to third, Jordan to second]; HIDALGO CHANGED POSITIONS (PLAYING RF); POLANCO BATTED FOR PETKOVSEK; EVERETT REPLACED DBELL (PLAYING CF); Polanco flied to right; 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 3 LOB. Astros 6, Cardinals 1. ASTROS 4TH: FRASCATORE REPLACED POLANCO (PITCHING); Biggio struck out; Gutierrez grounded out (third to first); Everett grounded out (third to first); 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Astros 6, Cardinals 1. CARDINALS 4TH: Little was called out on strikes; PKelly flied to left; Tatis flied to center; 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Astros 6, Cardinals 1. ASTROS 5TH: Bagwell flied to right; Alou singled to right; Hidalgo flied to center; Berry forced Alou (shortstop to second); 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Astros 6, Cardinals 1. CARDINALS 5TH: McGwire singled to shortstop; Jordan struck out; Gant flied to center; Marrero walked [McGwire to second]; Ordaz singled to third [McGwire to third, Marrero to second]; MCEWING BATTED FOR FRASCATORE; McEwing lined to left; 0 R, 2 H, 0 E, 3 LOB. Astros 6, Cardinals 1. ASTROS 6TH: WITT REPLACED MCEWING (PITCHING); Ausmus grounded out (shortstop to first); RaJohnson was called out on strikes; Biggio singled; Biggio stole second; Gutierrez lined to right; 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Astros 6, Cardinals 1. CARDINALS 6TH: Little grounded out (shortstop to first); PKelly was called out on strikes; Tatis grounded out (second to first); 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Astros 6, Cardinals 1. ASTROS 7TH: Everett flied to right; Bagwell grounded out (third to first); Alou grounded out (second to first); 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Astros 6, Cardinals 1. CARDINALS 7TH: McGwire flied to left; Jordan walked; Gant singled to center [Jordan to second]; Marrero popped to first; Jordan was caught stealing third (catcher to third); 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Astros 6, Cardinals 1. ASTROS 8TH: Hidalgo doubled to left; Berry grounded out (third to first); CROUSHORE REPLACED WITT (PITCHING); Ausmus lined to center; DCLARK BATTED FOR RAJOHNSON; DClark struck out; 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Astros 6, Cardinals 1. CARDINALS 8TH: BOGAR REPLACED BERRY (PLAYING 3B); POWELL REPLACED DCLARK (PITCHING); DESHIELDS BATTED FOR ORDAZ; DeShields struck out; MABRY BATTED FOR CROUSHORE; Mabry grounded out (first unassisted); Little was called out on strikes; 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Astros 6, Cardinals 1. ASTROS 9TH: PKELLY CHANGED POSITIONS (PLAYING SS); DESHIELDS STAYED IN GAME (PLAYING 2B); RKING REPLACED MABRY (PITCHING); Biggio singled to left; Gutierrez doubled to left [Biggio scored]; Everett lined to left; Bagwell grounded out (third to first); Alou grounded out (second to first); 1 R, 2 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Astros 7, Cardinals 1. CARDINALS 9TH: WAGNER REPLACED POWELL (PITCHING); PKelly struck out; Tatis singled to left; McGwire flied to center; Jordan flied to center; 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Astros 7, Cardinals 1. Final Totals R H E LOB Astros 7 15 0 7 Cardinals 1 9 0 12Box score and play-by-play courtesy of Retrosheet.