Thursday, September 29, 2005

Another HUGE win for the Astros tonight. Tonight's was the best yet, as we banged up the Cardinals' best pitcher for six runs and beat their dominant closer in the ninth.

This win was a statement -- to the Phillies, who remained 2.5 games behind with a blowout win tonight but are quickly running out of time. To the Braves, who clinched the division yesterday for the (yawn) 14th straight year and who we'll face in the NLDS when we clinch the wild card. But most importantly, to the Cardinals, who had their best lineup and best pitcher on the mound and couldn't win.

Chris Carpenter was gunning for his fifth win of the year against us. He had been 4-0 against us, allowing all of THREE earned runs in 33 innings over four starts. In fact, entering this two-game series, the Cards had won 11 of 14 meetings this year and were on the verge of becoming this year's only ballclub with 100 wins.

But we swept the two-game set: the only time all year St. Louis has been swept. Sure, they'll say it doesn't really matter... that the team has already clinched and is just trying to get ready for the second season. Besides, it was only a two-game series anyway. Doesn't really count.

Well that ain't what we're saying.

We showed the Cardinals what it's gonna take to beat us this year. We don't have nearly as much firepower, but it can be explosive. . We can hit the long ball, as Lance and Lamb displayed in the fifth. We can maufacture runs like we did in our two-run rally in the sixth. We can pitch through their best hitters, which Russ Springer did with ease in the seventh. We can come back, a major problem we had in last year's postseason. Down 6-4 with twelve outs left, we scored three runs on five hits in the last four innings.

And we can win ballgames without our best pitching. Backe was not inspiring in his last regular season game, giving up five earned in 4 1/3 innings. He handled the middle of the order fairly well, but wasn;t sharp against the Cardinals' less feared hitters. Like Reggie Sanders, who hit one of his two bombs tonight off Backe. Or Carpenter, who hit his first two major league doubles and scored both times.

But Backe wasn't all that bad. He walked two in the first inning but none after that, a good sign that his control is under control. He gave up hits early in innings and for the most part was able to limit the damage. Really, Backe only gave up three runs on his own accord. Gallo came in to face Walker in the fifth with runners on the corners and one out, giving up a sac fly. Strickland then relieved and promptly served up Sanders' second homer.

These were surprising moves by Garner. And by surprising I mean dumb. Garner, an old-fashioned kind of guy, seems to love Gallo and the old lefty-versus-lefty matchup. The fact of the matter is, Gallo is not one of our top five relievers. I'd rank Burns and Springer ahead of him along with Qualls-Wheeler-Lidge. And Scott Strickland? You've got to be kidding me! I don't care if it's the fifth inning, in a tied game with playoff implications and the Wild Card on the line, we need our best pitchers out there. And Strickland ain't one of them.

Elsewhere, the San Diego Padres won the West with a win over the Giants. And finally climbed back to .500 at 79-79. I almost hope they end the season under .500. It is kind of a joke. I mean, half of the teams in the NL are better than the Padres. Still, they'll be no pushover for the Cardinals, who lost four of seven to the Pads this year. Their starters aren't great after Peavy -- Eaton, Lawrence, Astacio, Williams and Chan Ho aren't exactly aces. But their lineup is powerful, patient, and most importantly, balanced.

I've wondered: Is it really a good thing to send a bunch of bench players out there after you've clinched the division? Don't you want to end on a hot streak? I can understand resting your starters, but the Braves today sent all their bench warmers out there and got creamed by Colorado. Maybe Bobby Cox, like Billy Beane, isn't a playoff-style manager. He can generate long-term winning seasons with excellent pitching, well coached hitters, and the Joneses, but has a hard time winning short series.

Jack and I talked about Jim Edmonds today. People say he's having a down year this year. His OPS is .919. In fact, Jack tells me his last five years for the Cards is historic. Like, Willy Mays good. His OPS the past five years: .994, .974, .981, 1.002, 1.061, .919. And as one of the best defensive centerfielders in baseball. He's got 331 career homers and will knock in his 1000th RBI if he gets three more this year. But I think the most amazing thing he does each game is play hard all day every day. When he strikes out, like he did against Springer in the seventh, he got mad at himself. Pissed. And when Lane popped a blooper up to center in the seventh, Edmonds gave it his all and dove full out to try and nab it. He hurt his wrist going for it, too, which wouldn't have been the best outcome, but that just shows you what kind of player he really is. As much as he's killed us over the years, I have utmost respect for him as a ballplayer.

Now then: down to business. We're back home, where we are a whole new team. Everyone hits better. Pettitte, Oswalt and Backe all pitch better. Win two of four and we're in. Let's go ahead and win them all:

Thursday vs. Cubs, 8 p.m. EDT: Wandy vs. Rusch
Friday, 8 p.m.: Pettitte vs. Zambrano
Saturday, 4 p.m.: Clemens vs. Williams
Sunday, 2 p.m.: Oswalt vs. Maddux

Meanwhile, the Phils have an off day before heading to D.C. to play the Nats. Good thing for them... they'd hear a TON of boos from their own fans once they get eliminated.

Let's go Stros!

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