Tuesday, October 11, 2005

You can't quantify heart.

Jack and I are normally all about the stats when it comes to baseball. If your guys put up the best numbers over the course of a 162-game season, you're going to have a successful year.

But come playoff time, statistics don't mean squat. It's us versus them, and whoever performs best and comes through with the big hits at the right time will move on. Statistically speaking, I didn't think we had enough to beat the Braves. And I didn't think we'd have enough to make it past St. Louis. But this team has shown its ability to play beyond what all the statisticians and analysts say.

Many of our players would still be in the minor league systems of all the other playoff contenders. No way Luke Scott or Chris Burke gets called up for the Yankees or Angels, much less cracks the postseason roster. Palmeiro and Lamb would be last-resort pinch hitters, not starters. But these guys battle, and battle hard. They know what it takes to win, and more often than not this season, have performed well enough to do so.

I said down the stretch this summer that this club has one ability that last year's team lacked: the ability to come back late in ballgames. It's easy to give up on a three- or four-run deficit late in the game. It's easy to say, "Man, I got two hits already... too bad our pitchers gave up those home runs..." But no, these guys won't give up. We were down 6-1 with five outs left. But there wasn't one player in the dugout or the bullpen that didn't think we still had a chance at winning.

It seems we play our best when the situation calls for it. Luke Scott working a hard-earned walk. Berkman smacking a home run. Ausmus putting all the energy of his 36-year-old body into a swing and pounding a ball two inches over the yellow line. Lidge and Wheeler working out of jams in virtually every inning. Clemens coming making his first relief appearance in 21 years and absolutely destroying the Braves' bats. And Chris Burke hitting the biggest home run he'll ever hit.

This team has heart, which is why I think they have a shot at the mighty Cardinals. St. Louis has a beast of a lineup and very good pitching that has shut us down on numerous occasions this season. But we have three amazing pitchers who can simply dominate. We have Berkman and Ensberg, who can drive in runs left and right. We have a lightning quick Taveras and a powerful slugger in Lane. We have the game's smartest catcher, the game's nastiest slider, and one of the game's best gloves at short. We have the game's most prolific tandem -- one still playing near the top of his ability while the other must sit and wait for his chance to strike. We have ol' Scrap Iron, who's squeezed just about every ounce of talent out of this club. We have the young guns: Burke, Scott and Bruntlett, who might all have their heads so far in the clouds that they can't truly comprehend just what they're doing.

But most importantly, the Houston Astros -- all of them -- have heart.

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