ST. LOUIS -- Brad Lidge is in only his second full big league season. He has been a full-time closer for four months. And he's now being compared to the greatest closer in postseason history -- the New York Yankees' Mariano Rivera.
Lidge closed out Games 3 and 4, throwing more than 40 pitches over two innings Saturday, and more than 20 pitches over two innings Sunday. On Monday, Lidge needed only nine to shut down the Cardinals, and he earned the win when Jeff Kent hit a walk-off homer in the bottom of the frame.
In the NLCS, Lidge has nine strikeouts in five innings. He has 15 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings in the postseason.
"He's been unbelievable," Craig Biggio said after Monday's win. "You're not going to win in the playoffs without a closer. Guys like Rivera, you can stretch out a little bit, two or three innings at a time.
"[Lidge] comes in [Monday] after throwing four innings in the last two games, two days in a row up around 60 something pitches. That goes to show how bad he wants it."
Is it too early to consider him among the postseason elite?
"I think he deserves to be placed among the best closers in the league this year, there's no question," manager Phil Garner said. "When you talk about elite closers, those that have done it for several years, it's only because he's emerged in that role this year, and he'll have more of an opportunity.
"But what sets him apart is he's got a blazing fastball, he's got a dynamite slider and he throws strikes. You have to have a special makeup to pitch the ninth inning of the game to close the game out, and I think he's proven that he has that sort of makeup, too."
First things first:The Astros say they aren't looking ahead and insist they are focusing only on the Cardinals at this point. The media, however, were busy Tuesday peppering the Astros with questions about possible World Series opponents, since the team needs only one more win to advance to the Fall Classic for the first time in franchise history.
"I don't care about the World Series, I don't care about the Red Sox, I don't care about the Yankees," Houston catcher Brad Ausmus said. "And I don't even like the questions."
If the Astros advance, ace Roger Clemens would get a chance to face one of his former teams: New York or Boston.
"I haven't thought about any of that," Clemens said Monday. "My focus has been on the task at hand. This series isn't over. We haven't won anything yet."
Woulda, coulda, shoulda: When Jeff Bagwell stepped to the plate with Carlos Beltran on first base in the ninth inning of Monday's game, there's no doubt the sellout crowd at Minute Maid Park would have given anything to watch its beloved first baseman do what Kent did moments later: hit a walk-off homer to win it.
Jeff Bagwell / 1B
Weight: 215 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
Bagwell, a 14-year veteran who has spent his entire Major League career with the Astros, instead flew out to center field and watched from the dugout as the game-ending dramatics unfolded.
Bagwell chuckled when asked about sentimental fans who were surely hoping their longtime franchise player could have had the glorious moment that Kent enjoyed.
"I don't care who hits the home runs, I don't care who gets the singles," he said. "I'm just having a great time watching this team. It's been a heck of a run."
What's that buzz? The nickname "Killer B's" originated in the late 1990s, when Bagwell, Biggio, Derek Bell and Sean Berry were the offensive forces on the dominant clubs of that era. Although years have passed, the Astros have curiously maintained their penchant for employing players whose last name begins with "B."
The first four hitters in the lineup -- Biggio, Beltran, Bagwell and Lance Berkman -- are the new crop of Killer B's, and the Astros' ballpark entertainment staff at Minute Maid Park has come up with a clever new shtick to recognize their accomplishments.
When a "B" player gets a hit, a loud buzzing sound erupts, as if a swarm of bees is desending upon the ballpark.
"When I first heard it, I thought a helicopter was trying to land on the roof or something," Berkman said. "I didn't know what was going on. When the B's are doing good, they're all over the B's. But in the past, we've been called the killer fleas, so I guess you have to enjoy being the B's. It's all good."
Tickets on sale: Standing-room-only tickets, obstructed view tickets and other Major League Baseball ticket releases for potential 2004 World Series games in Houston will begin on Friday at 10 a.m. CT through astros.com.
Fans who previously registered on-line at astros.com on Oct. 14-15 but were not selected in an initial random drawing are eligible for a second random drawing to purchase tickets. Those selected in the second random drawing will be notified via e-mail on Thursday. The e-mail will provide winners with instructions on how to purchase tickets on Friday between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Tickets purchased through the second drawing must be picked up at the Minute Maid Park Box Office beginning Monday, Oct. 25, at 9 a.m. There will be a one-game, two-ticket purchase limit for each winner selected in the drawing, subject to availability. Ticket prices for the World Series, as established by Major League Baseball, are $125-$185 per seat and $45 for standing room only. Ticket purchases must be made with a major credit card (American Express, VISA, Mastercard, Discover). Additional fees may apply.
If the Astros reach the World Series, the team would host games on Tuesday, Oct. 26 (Game 3); Wednesday, Oct. 27 (Game 4); and Thursday, Oct. 28 (Game 5, if necessary). All dates and times are subject to change by Major League Baseball.
For more information, call the Astros Ticket Services Department at (800) ASTROS-2 (800-278-7672).
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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