It's already the 15th inning when I check on the Astros / Braves game. Oddly enough, I've been hungry for baseball after the Sox lost--any baseball playoff. I haven't come close to wearing out my allotted stamina for postseason baseball, of course--not after I'd braced myself for another sleep-deprived October.
I started rooting for the Astros last year when I heard the story of Brandon Backe, a native of Galveston who grew up a die-hard Astros fan, idolizing Jeff Bagwell (himself a native of Boston) and Craig Biggio. They would both wind up being his teammates, and the idea of this hometown kid leading his team to their first victory in a postseason series ever, playing alongside his childhood heros...who can beat a story like that?
In the bottom of the 15th, after a perfect sacrifice bunt by Roger Clemens to send Craig Biggio to second base, with Chris Burke at the plate, Morgan Ensberg stands on deck--no one's driven in more runs for the Astros, according to the announcers.
The guy on second base--Craig Biggio--no one's scored more runs for the Astros.
The light-hitting Burke walks, but Ensberg grounds into a double play, and we're coming up on being tied, inningswise, for the longest postseason game in history - 16 innings (it's long since blown by last year's ALCS Games 4 and 5, at 12 and 14 innings respectively).
The Astros played that game, too--in 1986, against the Mets. And they lost. Something you don't have to explain to Boston fans...
Today, Backe started the game. Last year, he was on the mound for their clinch, also against Atlanta, and today, he took the ball for his hometown club again, and put up the following line:
Lance Burkett picked up Backe with a grand slam in the bottom of the 8th against Kyle Farnsworth to make it 6-5.
Brad Ausmus homered off the Farns in the bottom of the ninth to send it into extra innings.
Once he was lifted for Mike Gallo in the fifth, Backe never left one spot on the dugout fence, where he screamed, chattered rapid-fire, and chewed his gum for all he was worth. Brandon Backe. You can't beat a story like that.
Here we are in the 16th, and Roger Clemens, slated to be tomorrow's starter, comes on in relief. His first hitter, Julio Franco (the only player on the field more senior than Roger), thinks he has ball four on the Rocket, but it's called strike three. Franco goes nose to nose with the umpire, but is pulled away by a teammate, and not ejected.
Roger strikes out rookie phenom Jeff Francoeur swinging, and gets Ryan Langerhans to fly out to right center. Old age and treachery will beat youth and skill.
Last year, by the time the 'stros were losing to the Cardinals in an epic NLCS, I was totally consumed in other matters, as you may imagine.
Today, with my newfound free time, once the Patriots were done playing, I turned this game on.
Until today, I was still undecided about who I'll root for hardest in the rest of the baseball postseason--the only other time I've had to choose that, it's been a no-brainer: the Florida Marlins in the 2003 World Series, which I didn't watch, anyway. This year, I think it's the White Sox' year, but do they then need another person on the bandwagon? Rooting for the Angels is kind of a no-brainer, since they're playing the Yankees, but I want to pick a team I can root for all the way, and if they beat the Yankees, I'd be done with them.
Roger's second inning of relief opens with a quick groundout and then a double for Brian Jordan. It ends with a swing and a miss by Marcus Giles on a 3-2 count.
Plus, rooting for the Angels just because they're playing the Yankees in the first round is...it just seems petty, and frankly, I'm sick of the Yankees, I'm sick of thinking about them, I'm sick of arguing with their fans, I'm sick of hearing about them.
Watching the National League has been much more relaxing--because I don't give a crap, basically. Last year I went with the 'stros; this year they're easy to pick back up (especially since I got nary a glimpse of the Padres, and the Braves and Cardinals aren't really my style). Backe's still there, still as charming as ever (even if he's fairly mediocre in the actual pitching department). I still think Roger's an asshole, but he's easier to take out of pinstripes, he's one of the greatest of all time, and I've got to admit there's a part of me that's never forgotten how much I adored him when he played for Boston. I never had as much of a personal problem with Andy Pettitte as other Yankees, and the two of them, out to pasture in the country after their years in the Big City, the way they're totally hetero life partners, is kind of cute.
As we head to the eighteenth, the announcers are saying that in both minute-by-minute time and innings, it's the longest postseason game ever.
Essentially, even though this series will have another game left if the Astros lose, it's a Game 6 in 1986 situation--the Astros must win this game today. They have home field advantage right now, and after their insurgence in the later innings, they must close the deal. The longer this game goes, the more the Astros wear down their pitching staff and position players, the more this becomes certain.
The Astros looked weak in the 17th. Atlanta may yet walk away with this arm-wrestling match; it would be huge for them.
Atlanta threatens in the top of the 18th when Andruw Jones gets on after backup stortstop Jose Vizcaino one-hops a throw to first, where Raul Chavez (their backup catcher) boots it, but they go nowhere.
In the bottom of the 18th, Chris Burke, a .239 hitter this season, hits a Boone-like game-winning walkoff against the Braves' Joey Devine, making Roger Clemens the winner while Minute Maid shakes and shudders with the cheers of the crowd and the pile of men in their maroon shirts jumps in unison on the plate.
Is this what baseball's like for, you know...normal people? Hooray for the Astros. Good for the Astros. And that's all there is to it. If this had been a Red Sox game, I'd be ready to sleep for a week. This game was great, to be sure, but I'm also starting to think about what else is on TV tonight, my work week ahead...In some ways, this is nice.
They interview Roger at the end of the game, but he ducks out of it quickly, moving away from the blonde reporter and pointing to Burke, almost young enough to be his son.
"How bout the kid, huh?" he says.
P.S. 'stros resources I'll be following:
- Official Site
- ESPN Clubhouse
- Houston Chronicle
- The Crawfish Boxes (SportsBlog Family, same as Over the Monster)
- Plunk Biggio
- The Juice Box