Astros clinch division with authority
11-year playoff drought ends
Box Score   Play-by-Play

The celebration begins after the last out
(c) Houston Astros

September 25, 1997 - The Astros ended an 11-year playoff drought with a convincing 9-1 victory over the Cubs. The clinching game came exactly 11 years after the Astros clinched in 1986 with Mike Scott's no-hitter. The heroes of the game were starting pitcher Mike Hampton and his battery-mate, Brad Ausmus. In a clutch performance that would soon become a Hampton trademark, the Cubs were held to only four hits and one run in the complete-game effort. Ausmus delivered the game-breaking hit with his dramatic, three-run homer in the 7th inning. After the game, many of the 35,000 attending fans ran onto the field in celebration.

The 1997 season was cathartic for many reasons. It had been eleven years since the Astros reached the playoffs, and the team had made several "September fades" over the past few seasons. Not only did this lead to the dismissal of former manager Terry Collins, but it fostered a sense of dread that the team would always fall short of the playoffs and become an expansion-era version of the Chicago Cubs. With the hiring of Astros legend Larry Dierker to manage the team in 1997, both the coaching staff and the entire outlook of the franchise changed almost overnight. Coming from the broadcast booth with no managerial experience, Dierker silenced his critics by raising the pitching staff to a higher level while doing what Collins could not do: keep the team from choking during a pennant race. The NL Central was admittedly a weak division in 1997, but the Astros dominated divisional play that season and earned to right to appear in the playoffs.

Early on, the game was close and hard-fought.
(c) Houston Astros

With the win, the team starts the madcap pile-on
(c) Houston Astros

The fans run wild on the field in jubilation
(c) Houston Astros

McLane gives a soaked victory statement to the press
(c) Houston Astros

Craig Biggio exults in the post-game celebration
(c) Houston Astros

The Associated Press summary of the game:

The Houston Astros raised the championship banner and Jeff Bagwell hit the Astrodome ceiling.

It all happened in a fun night for the Astros, who finally won baseball's worst division with a 9-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Thursday night. The victory was highlighted by Brad Ausmus' three-run homer in a six-run seventh inning.

"This team never gave up," rookie manager Larry Dierker said. "They had a lot of bad games here and there and we had a losing streak or two, but we always held on and never gave up. This team believed in itself. We kept fighting and that's why we're here."

Houston (82-77) reached the playoffs despite going 23-28 since Aug. 1. Second-place Pittsburgh, which dropped four games back going into its season-ending three-game series in the Astrodome, was even worse, losing 18 of its last 29 games.

The Astros, who have been runnersup the past three seasons, aren't counting and neither are their fans, who streamed onto the field following the clinching victory.

Players and fans are just happy to be going to the playoffs.

"This is my fifth season and the first season I've done it (reach the playoffs)," Ausmus said. "It seems like a long time, but it's a great feeling. When I hit it, I didn't know because with me you never know if it's going out."

This time, it did, and the Astros are making their fourth playoff appearance. They were Western Division champions in 1980, they shared the strike-shortened title in 1981 and they won the West again in 1986.

"This team has so much heart," left fielder Luis Gonzalez said. "We finally have a chance to relax and enjoy it. The next three days are going to be fun around here."

Houston led the division since July 18, going 18-5 following the All-Star break.

"They blasted us when we didn't make any trades before the deadline and said the Astros didn't want to win," general manager Gerry Hunsicker said. "But we're one of the teams going on in the playoffs."

The Astros last clinched a title on Sept. 25, 1986, when Mike Scott pitched a no-hitter against San Francisco to ensure finishing atop the NL West.

Mike Hampton (15-10) pitched a four-hitter for his seventh complete game, struck out six and walked one. He retired 11 in a row at one stretch, starting in the second inning.

Bagwell hit the Astrodome ceiling with a popup in the sixth inning. It is believed to be the first fair ball to strike the top since the stadium opened in 1964. The ball appeared to be headed toward third, but pitcher Jeremi Gonzalez (11-9) caught it for an out.

"I had a lot of emotion on that hit," Bagwell said. "Craig (Biggio) had gotten hit in the head in the inning before and I was mad. I put a lot into it.

"I wanted to hit it out of the stadium. When I looked up and saw it hit the roof I was mad I actually hit it. I was hoping that I could knock it right through the roof."

Before a crowd of 35,623, Biggio's RBI double put Houston ahead in the third, and Gonzalez hit a sacrifice fly in the fourth.

Mike Hubbard pulled the Cubs to 2-1 with an RBI single in the seventh, but Houston pulled away in the bottom half. After Ausmus' homer, Derek Bell had an RBI double, Ramon Morel forced in a run by walking Richard Hidalgo and Bill Spiers singled in a run.

Bagwell tripled home a run in the eighth.

Notes: Lance Johnson went hitless after getting 10 hits in 13 at-bats the previous three games. ... Hampton is 10-2 in the Astrodome in 16 starts this season. ... Houston fielders got their 167th double play, topping the team record set in 1975. .. Hampton became Houston's first left-handed 15-game winner since Jim Deshaies in 1989.

Jeff Bagwell gives owner Drayton McLane the "Shower of Champions"
(c) Houston Astros

Box score

     Game of 9/25/1997 -- Chicago at Houston (night)
     Courtesy of Retrosheet

  Chicago            AB  R  H RBI    Houston            AB  R  H RBI
Johnson L, cf         3  0  0  0   Biggio C, 2b          1  2  1  1
Glanville D, lf       4  0  0  0   Bell D, rf            5  1  1  1
Grace M, 1b           4  0  0  0   Bagwell J, 1b         4  2  2  1
Sosa S, rf            4  0  0  0   Gonzalez L, lf        4  0  1  1
Hernandez J, 3b       3  1  2  0   Hidalgo R, cf         3  0  0  1
Hubbard M, c          3  0  1  1   Spiers B, 3b          3  1  1  1
Cairo M, 2b           3  0  0  0   Gutierrez R, ss       2  2  0  0
Morel R, p            0  0  0  0   Ausmus B, c           4  1  1  3
Alexander M, ss       3  0  1  0   Hampton M, p          3  0  1  0
Gonzalez J, p         1  0  0  0
Stevens D, p          0  0  0  0
Tatis R, p            0  0  0  0
Sandberg R, 2b        1  0  0  0
                     -- -- -- --                        -- -- -- --
                     29  1  4  1                        29  9  8  9

Chicago          000 000 100 --  1
Houston          001 100 61x --  9

  Chicago              IP  H  R ER BB SO
Gonzalez J (L)        6.1  4  5  4  4  6
Stevens D*            0.0  1  3  3  1  0
Tatis R+              0.0  1  0  0  0  0
Morel R               1.2  2  1  1  2  1

  Houston              IP  H  R ER BB SO
Hampton M (W)         9.0  4  1  1  1  6
  * Pitched to 3 batters in 7th
  + Pitched to 1 batter in 7th

E -- Spiers B, Sosa S 2
DP -- Chicago 2, Houston 1
LOB -- Chicago 3, Houston 7
2B -- Hernandez J, Biggio C, Bagwell J, Bell D
3B -- Hernandez J, Bagwell J
HR -- Ausmus B
SB -- Biggio C 2
CS -- Hernandez J
SH -- Hampton M, Gonzalez J
SF -- Gonzalez L
HBP -- by Gonzalez J (Biggio C), by Stevens D (Bagwell J)
T -- 2:42
A -- 35623

Play by Play

Game of Thursday, 9/25/97 -- Chicago Cubs at Houston Astros (night)
Courtesy of Retrosheet

Starting Lineups:

   Chicago                       Houston
1. CF L.Johnson                  2B C.Biggio            
2. LF D.Glanville                RF D.Bell              
3. 1B M.Grace                    1B J.Bagwell           
4. RF S.Sosa                     LF L.Gonzalez          
5. 3B J.Hernandez                CF R.Hidalgo           
6.  C M.Hubbard                  3B B.Spiers            
7. 2B M.Cairo                    SS R.Gutierrez         
8. SS M.Alexander                 C B.Ausmus            
9.  P J.Gonzalez                  P M.Hampton           

L.Johnson grounded out (R.Gutierrez-ss to J.Bagwell-1b)
D.Glanville grounded out (B.Spiers-3b to J.Bagwell-1b)
M.Grace struck out
0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Cubs
0, Astros 0.

C.Biggio walked
D.Bell grounded into a double play (M.Alexander-ss to M.Cairo-2b 
  to M.Grace-1b) [C.Biggio out at second]
J.Bagwell was called out on strikes
0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Cubs 0, Astros 0.

S.Sosa grounded out (B.Spiers-3b to J.Bagwell-1b)
J.Hernandez hit a ground rule double to third base down the line 
M.Hubbard struck out while J.Hernandez was caught stealing third
M.Cairo grounded out (J.Bagwell-1b to M.Hampton-p)
0 R, 1 H, 1 E, 1 LOB.  Cubs 0, Astros 0.

L.Gonzalez struck out
R.Hidalgo was called out on strikes
B.Spiers was called out on strikes
0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Cubs 0, Astros 0.

M.Alexander struck out
J.Gonzalez grounded out (R.Gutierrez-ss to J.Bagwell-1b)
L.Johnson flied to L.Gonzalez-lf
 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Cubs 0, Astros 0.

R.Gutierrez walked
B.Ausmus struck out
M.Hampton out on a sacrifice bunt (M.Grace-1b to M.Cairo-2b) 
  [R.Gutierrez to second]
C.Biggio doubled to center field 
D.Bell grounded out (J.Hernandez-3b to M.Grace-1b)
0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB.  Cubs 0, Astros 1.

D.Glanville grounded out (M.Hampton-p unassisted)
M.Grace struck out
S.Sosa flied to D.Bell-rf
0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Cubs 0, Astros 1.

J.Bagwell doubled to right field [J.Bagwell to third (error by S.Sosa-rf)]
L.Gonzalez lined out on a sacrifice fly to D.Glanville-lf
R.Hidalgo reached on an error by S.Sosa-rf [R.Hidalgo to third]
B.Spiers popped to J.Hernandez-3b in foul territory
R.Gutierrez lined to S.Sosa-rf
0 R, 1 H, 2 E, 1 LOB. Cubs 0, Astros 2.

J.Hernandez grounded out (B.Spiers-3b to J.Bagwell-1b)
M.Hubbard struck out
M.Cairo struck out
0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Cubs 0, Astros 2.

B.Ausmus popped to M.Cairo-2b
M.Hampton singled to left field
C.Biggio was hit by a pitch [M.Hampton to second]
D.Bell grounded into a double play (J.Hernandez-3b to M.Grace-1b) 
  [M.Hampton out at third]
0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB.  Cubs 0, Astros 2.

M.Alexander singled to center field 
J.Gonzalez out on a sacrifice bunt (B.Ausmus-c to C.Biggio-2b) 
  [M.Alexander to second]
L.Johnson walked
D.Glanville grounded into a double play (B.Spiers-3b to C.Biggio-2b 
  to J.Bagwell-1b) [L.Johnson out at second]
0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB.  Cubs 0, Astros 2.

J.Bagwell popped to J.Gonzalez-p
L.Gonzalez popped to M.Cairo-2b
R.Hidalgo struck out
0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Cubs 0, Astros 2.

M.Grace lined to D.Bell-rf
S.Sosa flied to D.Bell-rf
J.Hernandez tripled to right field 
M.Hubbard singled to center field [J.Hernandez scored]
M.Cairo flied to R.Hidalgo-cf
1 R, 2 H, 0 E, 1 LOB.  Cubs 1, Astros 2.

B.Spiers walked
R.Gutierrez walked [B.Spiers to second]
B.Ausmus homered to very deep left-center 
M.Hampton popped to M.Hubbard-c in foul territory
C.Biggio walked
C.Biggio stole second 
C.Biggio stole third 
D.Bell doubled to center field 
J.Bagwell was hit by a pitch 
L.Gonzalez singled to pitcher [D.Bell to third, J.Bagwell to second]
R.Hidalgo walked [D.Bell scored, J.Bagwell to third, L.Gonzalez to second]
B.Spiers singled to left field 
R.Gutierrez flied to S.Sosa-rf
B.Ausmus flied to L.Johnson-cf
2 R, 4 H, 0 E, 3 LOB.  Cubs 1, Astros 8.

M.Alexander grounded out (M.Hampton-p to J.Bagwell-1b)
R.Sandberg flied to R.Hidalgo-cf
L.Johnson flied to L.Gonzalez-lf
0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Cubs 1, Astros 8.

M.Hampton flied to D.Glanville-lf
C.Biggio walked
D.Bell struck out
J.Bagwell tripled to right field 
L.Gonzalez grounded out (J.Hernandez-3b to M.Grace-1b)
0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB.  Cubs 1, Astros 9.

D.Glanville popped to J.Bagwell-1b in foul territory
M.Grace lined to R.Hidalgo-cf
S.Sosa grounded out (R.Gutierrez-ss to J.Bagwell-1b)
0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Cubs 1, Astros 9.

Final Totals      R   H   E  LOB
 Cubs             1   4   2   3
 Astros           9   8   1   7