10/20/2004 10:16 PM ET
Astros short hops
Club gears for yet another must-win situation
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- Pardon the Houston Astros if this "backs against the wall" thing feels familiar.
The team faces another winner-take-all game on Thursday, this time in the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. It's Houston's first Game 7 in franchise history, but it's the 2004 team's third must-win game in less than a month.
The first was Oct. 3, when the Astros had to beat the Rockies in the final game of the regular season to clinch the NL Wild Card and avoid traveling to San Francisco for a one-game playoff. The second was Oct. 11, when the Astros had to beat the Braves in Game 5 of the NL Division Series to advance to the NLCS.
Now comes Thursday's Game 7. It is the Astros' first, but the Cardinals have played 13 Game 7s in their vaunted past and are 8-4 in those games, including 5-1 at home.
A look at key statistics through Game 6 of the NLCS.
||Bullpen picked up the slack in Game 6 until Dan Miceli gave it up
||Ten hits in Game 6, seven of them singles
|BA w/ RISP
||Missed huge scoring opportunities in the late innings
||Scoring plenty of runs, calling on The Rocket for Game 7
||Games 3, 4, 5, 6 played error-free
||.476, 11 R, 4 HRs, 5 RBIs
||Limited to singles twice in Game 6 because he hit balls too hard off the wall
||.304, 3 HR, 9 RBIs
||Raised average 82 points in Game 6, drove in tying run
||.179, 5-for-28, 2 runs
||0-for-6 in Game 6; not setting the table for Beltran
Behind the numbers
The home team has won every game in this series so far, a trend the Astros need to buck if they want to advance to the World Series. Since going to a seven-game format in 1985, there has never been an LCS in which the home team won every game. It happened twice during the best-of-five era (1982 ALCS, 1984 NLCS). St. Louis is a perfect 5-0 at home this postseason, the only unbeaten team in the playoffs.
The Cardinals led, 4-3, in the bottom of the fourth inning and were looking to pad the lead. Scott Rolen hit a double down the third-base line that glanced off an angled portion of the wall and bounded back toward center field as Albert Pujols rounded third and headed home. Shortstop Jose Vizcaino ran out, recovered the ball and threw off-line to catcher Brad Ausmus, who was able to apply a tag for the inning-ending out. Neither team scored after that until the Astros tied it in the ninth.
Brad Lidge is perhaps having the greatest postseason of any reliever in history, but at what price? He appeared in Games 3 through 5 in Houston and was back on the mound in Game 6, throwing 32 pitches in three dominant innings. Lidge struck out five on Wednesday and has 14 in the NLCS, a series record.
A game of inches
So much went wrong, and right, for the Astros in the third inning. It began with Cardinals shortstop Edgar Renteria making a sensational leaping grab to rob Biggio of a line-drive single. Beltran followed by hitting a laser that smashed into the right-field wall just a few inches from the top, a ball so sharply hit that the speedy Beltran had to settle for a long single.
But then the Astros got a break. Bagwell hit a double to left that glanced off the wall the same way Rolen's did in the fourth inning. Beltran was able to score all the way from first base to forge a 2-2 tie. He set a new single-postseason record for runs scored (20), passing Barry Bonds, who scored 18 runs in 2002.
Neither team has made an error since Game 2 and St. Louis has not made an error in 12 consecutive playoff games dating back to 2002, the longest errorless streak in postseason history.
"[Roger] Clemens has always been tough. Not just to us, to everybody. But this is home, you know? They took three games over there, we took two here, now we're looking to take two [more] over here. Thursday is going to be a big day."
-- Cardinals reliever Julian Tavarez, on facing Clemens in Game 7
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.