ATLANTA -- Astros president Tal Smith has been in the game for 46 years and was the architect of Houston's first playoff team in 1980.
Smith knows Houston's disappointments in the postseason as well as anyone, so he appreciated Houston's 12-3 National League Division Series-clinching win on Monday night at Turner Field as much as anyone in the organization.
"It's been a long time coming, but this was set and match point, and we finally converted. And it's very, very satisfying, and I'm so happy and pleased for everybody," Smith said. "It's been a great run, and I think that makes it even makes it more magical when you look at it from Aug. 15 to this date. Just really fantastic."
The Astros are 39-12 since Aug. 15, and for the first time since the franchise was formed in 1962 have won a postseason series. Unlike previous near misses, this one wasn't a nail-biter after the Astros broke it open with eight runs in the seventh and eighth innings.
"It's not as dramatic as winning 4-3 or 3-2, but it's certainly more satisfying, because you can relax and enjoy instead of sweating every pitch," Smith said. "We've done enough of that over the years."
Astros owner Drayton McLane was doused with champagne by his players and was overjoyed to finally have advanced to the next round. He was especially thrilled for longtime Astros Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. Bagwell hit .318 with two homers and five RBIs in the series, while Biggio contributed a .400 average and scored five runs.
Jeff Bagwell / 1B
Weight: 215 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
"I felt they have been such an important part of this organization, they have been the heartbeat of this team and they have been for the 12 years that I have been here," McLane said. "Everybody looks up to them. People look at it in perspective, and it's so important that they played a key role in this unprecedented win for this franchise."
Like Smith, McLane didn't rest easy until Jason Lane caught the final out. But McLane was grateful for the breathing room and proud of the team for the way they came through.
"I'm excited for our fans. I really am," McLane said. "They have been so supportive. They were the ones that encouraged me not to trade players in June and July. Remember, we were below .500. They stuck with us and we're going to stick with them."
The Astros have reached the playoffs five times in the eight years Gerry Hunsicker has been general manager, but this is the first time they have advanced out of the first round.
Craig Biggio / CF
Weight: 185 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
"I'm really happy for everybody and I am really proud of this team, as proud as I've ever been," Hunsicker said. "We overcame so much to get here. It was extra special that Craig and Jeff both had terrific games under difficult circumstances. I was thinking of all they had on their minds with [the death of former teammate Ken Caminiti on Sunday]. They played through all of that and they got the monkey off their backs with very good Division Series."
For Hunsicker, it was clearly "the biggest night in franchise history, no question about it."
"Last night, I was concerned, because I thought we really let a terrific opportunity pass by. And after losing Game 2, to do it a second time in a five-game series, I thought that would really come back to haunt us," Hunsicker said. "We had them on the ropes and we let them up. But this team showed in a big way in this series what they're capable of doing."
They will soon find out. Up next is the St. Louis Cardinals, the team with the best record in baseball.
The Astros will think about the Cardinals on Tuesday. For one night, this was a night for management to savor a long-sought victory.
"From Drayton's ownership on down it's been a fantastic job from everybody, not just the players but everybody from the clubhouse people to the player development staff," Smith said. "On the field it was contributions by so many different people. Carlos [Beltran], Craig, Jeff Kent's defense, the job Phil Garner and his staff did. This was just the result of effort by an entire club, everybody."
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com based in Houston. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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