Monday, October 10, 2005

Ghosts of '86 exorcised?

A full 24 hours after first pitch yesterday and I'm still exhausted. I can only imagine what the team feels like. When Chris Burke ripped a walkoff homer with one out in the bottom of the 18th--18th!--inning to lift the Astros to a 7-6 series-ending victory over the Braves, generations of Astros fans finally exhaled.

It's '86 all over again, only this time the roles are reversed.

In the 1980s, any Astros fan can tell you, the greatest frustration was watching Nolan Ryan pitch phenomenally day-in day-out, leave the games in the late innings with a lead, only to see the bullpen give up just enough runs to lose. That happened in game 5 of the 1986 NLCS, with Ryan striking out 12 and allowing just two hits before the Hated Mets prevailed in 12 innings. That only set the stage for game 6 in the Astrodome, with Bob Knepper throwing eight shutout innings... until Knepper got into trouble in the ninth, and closer Dave Smith blew his save opportunity. After 16 innings, the marathon was over with the Hated Mets on top, 7-6.

Until now, that 16-inning heartbreaker was the longest playoff game in Major League Baseball History. Yesterday, the Astros and Braves shattered that mark, playing 18 innings. That's two whole games. This time, it was the Braves' bullpen that blew the big lead. By the 12th inning, I was getting a sense of deja vu, and started telling myself the game wouldn't end before the 16th inning. It felt like karma. Little did I know that I was three innings short in my estimation.

How epic was it? Roger Clemens pitched relief on two days' rest because there were no pitchers left. Roy Oswalt, the winning pitcher from the night before, was ready to go into the outfield as a position player because there were no position players left on the bench. Why would he have to go in? Because outfielder Jason Lane, who'd never pitched in the majors, was next in line to go to the mound if Clemens (who'd pitched three innings--which is three more than he should have) ran out of gas. Wouldn't that have been an interesting scenario?

Now, it's on to St. Louis. The Cardinals are the best team in baseball, for my money, and the same bunch that knocked out the Astros in seven games last year. But the Cards are banged up (although it didn't show in a sweep of the Padres) and their bullpen is vulnerable. That alone gives me hope that the Astros will finally prevail and reach the World Series.

After all, if they finally managed to out-'86 the '86 series, what other mountains remain to climb?

Now Playing: Christopher Franke Babylon 5


  1. Anonymous9:14 PM

    You know what's cool for me when reading this?

    I'm on the other side, Jayme, being a Queens-born-and-bred Mets fan, and I was actually present at games one and seven of the 1986 World Series. I remember how incredibly cool the final game of the NLCS was, as it went into inning after extra inning.

    The cool part here for me, though, is that I never usually get to hear from the Astros fan side. I heard from a lot of Red Sox fans, since I now live in Boston, but I've never really thought about how that series affected Astros fans.

    Given that the Astros and traditional rivals of the Mets, it's hard for me to say this, but good luck to you and your team. Since the Sox won't be in it this year, my loyalties must lie with the National League.

  2. The Astros are the winningest team to never make the World Series. Not just win the thing, but actually show up. That the Mets have gone there and won the thing several times is particularly frustrating since they were both expansion teams together.

    The '86 series has scarred the psyches of all Astros fans that are old enough to remember it. "Good pitching beats good hitting." Yeah, well the Astros had the best starting rotation in the majors that year. "Game 7" was the buzzword, which would've sent Mike Scott back up to the mound. Money in the bank.

    After the 16 inning exercise in water torture, every Astros fan I know was saying, "They just stole our championship." There was no doubt--none--that the 'Stros would've beaten Boston in the series, and that the Mets would have an easy time with the Sox.

    That series still hurts more than any other playoff--even last year's game 7 against the Cards. Our pitching rotation was a mess, and we were depending on big bats to win, which has never been Astros baseball. To take the Cards to seven games (after actually beating the Braves) was more than I think any Astros fan ever expected. Starting Clemens in game 7 got our hopes up, but we all knew the Cards were the better team.

    Do you remember David Letterman's bet with Kathy Whitmeyer? The "Mookie and the Mayor" pic?

  3. Anonymous6:31 PM

    Hm. I wouldn't have predicted before the 1986 World Series that the Mets would have an easy time with the Sox. In fact, they didn't; game 6 could clearly have gone the other way, if it hadn't been for a wild pitch and Mookie Wilson's legs. (For the record, I believe that even had Buckner caught that ball, there was nothing he could have done at that point...)

    I don't recall the "Mookie and the Mayor" pic. What was it?

  4. David Letterman and Houston Mayor Kathy Whitmeyer had a bet between them, that if the Astros lost, the mayor'd have to display a picture of Mookie Wilson in her office, and if the Mets lost, Letterman would have to display a picture of Nolan Ryan (or some other Astro) on his show.

    Afterwards, Letterman decided to be "gracious" and instead of just a picture of Mookie, he said they were compromising, and presented her with a doctored photo of Whitmeyer hugging Mookie. "Mookie and the Mayor." Angst was so thick in Houston that the mayor's office actually issued a press release insisting the photo was a fake!