September 2006

All heart

Capte773f9bc03724bed849680dadb10041acorrThe Astros are playing with a remarkable force to keep fighting for a playoff spot. They fought a 15-inning battle last night, prevailing 7-6 over the Pirates; keeping themselves in short distance of the St. Louis Cardinals (who also won so no ground was gained).

No matter how it ends, We can’t deny this team is playing their heart out and it shows. I already thank them for one of the most inspiring runs in baseball history.

Is it gonna be a long, long time?

R3355435180Several months ago, the Houston Astros set Roger Clemens free. Unavoidably, at least personally, that led us to reflect on the team’s present and near future. They had just reached a World Series for the first time, and it was so close to grabbing an MLB title. Yes, the White Sox swept the ‘Stros on that contest, but please take a look at the box scores and you’ll tell me if those weren’t close games or what.

That December night found us in a Winter League ballpark in Venezuela, and we had the opportunity of watching two prospects: Luke Scott, getting close to become a cult figure for fans down there; and Fernando Nieve. They have both made the grade since then.

It all comes back to us since today Clemens had what could be his final start at Minute Maid Park. The relevance of the moment has diluted because he has kept on threatening to call it quits only to come back a few months later. He always does, but you always wonder what if he really pulls the plug for good, and this is precisely the last hurrah for one of baseball’s greatest players. Ever.

Phil Garner once said Clemens still has a lot of an arm for a few years down the road; and that’s how we saw him today, consistent as he ever is. This is normal for him, and amazing for us, considering he’s past 40.

Scott went yard. And this little thought process we had last December keeps on hanging onto us. No answers have been provided this year. Figures such as Scott and Nieve might be a good foundation for a solid future, but there’s a piece (or two) that do not fit into the puzzle just yet. An unanswered question remains, if you will. Will there ever be someone picking up the offensive pace of this ballclub besides Lance Berkman? Will he be a free agent? How much would it cost?

If this is definitely Clemens’ farewell in Houston (and there isn’t anything that assures us it is), this wasn’t the way we would’ve wanted to see it. It sure would have been great to see him besides Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell (why not?) grabbing a World Series trophy while being bathed in champagne. This is not the year for that, it seems.

I hope I’m not the only one with an incessant loop of Elton John’s Rocket man in his head while asking himself what’s next for the Astros. There isn’t a lot of time in store for solving this riddle; and it’s better not to consider Clemens as part of the equation. If he comes back once again in an Astros uniform, it will be as a welcome bonus.

The right stuff, the wrong stuff

R3702135631 Four games away from a Wild Card berth; and it looks so far away from us.

The Astros haven’t made it any easier for us to see this run for a thing that, until recently, looked so distant. We have seen the best and the worst from the Astros highlighted in this series against the St. Louis Cardinals. The most persistent flaws were there: erratic pitching, most importantly in the final stages of a ballgame. And of course, the scarce hitting was also present.

Taylor Buchholz returned from the Minors, and was literally lit up. Brad Lidge had a new visit from the ghost of Albert Pujols. It looked like a sweep was about to be served.

Then again, the bright spots in this ball club went to the rescue: Roy Oswalt and a consistency that is still amazing us; and Lance Berkman’s power, belting his 40th homer of the season, being this the sixth occasion that an Astros player has reached this plateau (Jeff Bagwell has done it thrice back in 1997, 1999 and 2000; Richard Hidalgo also followed suit in 2000).

Berkman deserves all recognitions (at least locally), in our humble opinion. He has carried the heaviest burden in the roster gracefully. That is the stuff that makes him a leader.

Lance Berkman is a leader, nonetheless. And Roy Oswalt will not lag behind in that category, in the very near future.

Not giving up

Capt9b15959f51c448c2a77b3bcca717de20astrThe Astros know their chances of reaching the postseason are slim, but that’s not a reason to give up altogether. They know they have to keep looking until there’s no more chance to do it. That’s what we saw last night, when Aubrey Huff with a solo shot capped a comeback win 4-3 against the Milwaukee Brewers.

We also saw something we haven’t seen in quite a while: a Morgan Ensberg tater. As he told MLB.com, he must take advantage of each and every opportunity he has in order to prove us he’s not lost all of that great stuff we saw from him last season.

And we saw the usual order of business as well: seven solid innings by Roy Oswalt. What else can we say about him? I’m getting repetitive just by talking about him. He’s one of the best out there. Period. And also one of the most consistent ones, no doubt about it.

Almost perfect

Capt7c2be29453f54b268427b7af3631621bmetsThis latest series between the Mets and Astros was really intense down to the final out. No one can say attendants didn’t get their money’s worth. Three battles fought, and despite the fact the Astros didn’t win the first two contests; we were able to see in the rubber game that there’s no exaggerating in offering Roy Oswalt that contract extension.

While Oswalt flirted with perfection during seven innings, we saw him silence one of the most powerful offenses in baseball effortlessly. He struck out 9, and it wasn’t until a debatable single by Jose Reyes that the Roy-O spell wasn’t over.

Brad Lidge granted a solo homer to Carlos Delgado in the ninth, however, the Astros won by the minimal 2-1. We can’t focus our reporting other than Oswalt’s wizardry, inches away of getting one of the hardest feats in all of baseball.