Notes: RISP struggles of no concern
Astros' series lead enough to forget woes in RBI situations
HOUSTON -- A lot has been made of the Houston Astros' abysmal 2-for-31 mark with runners in scoring position in the first four games of the National League Championship Series.
Perhaps that statistic is receiving so much attention because, despite the .065 average, the Astros entered Monday's Game 5 with a 3-1 edge over the Cardinals in the best-of-seven series.
And as expected, the general consensus among Astros players following Game 4 was, "2-for-31 ... who cares?" Everyone knows pitching and defense wins championships.
"Usually, the postseason teams have good pitchers, which generally means lower-scoring games," Brad Ausmus said. "But frankly, I don't care about any posteason statistics, except for wins and losses."
"It's playoff baseball," Jason Lane said. "You're going up against the best. They're going up against the best as well. They're not scoring a lot of runs, either, and we're coming up on top. It's not like it's easy. We're facing great pitchers, they're facing great pitchers."
Manager Phil Garner agreed with his players, but he also acknowledged the 2-for-31 mark for what it is.
"Typically, it is a little bit lower in the postseason," Garner agreed. "But 2-for-31 is rotten. It's bad. It's bad, no matter when you're playing. It's not very good.
"But, we're in good position. We still won three ballgames. Tell me how that happened. It happened because we have great pitching, we've had some great defensive plays and we've managed to come up with a run when we've needed it. The glass is half full."
On second thought... Those who are acquainted with general manager Tim Purpura always knew that he is a smart baseball man with a knack for evaluating talent. But after the way the club began this season, it was easy to blame Purpura for all things Astro, right down to the six-inch puddles that form in some areas around Minute Maid Park on a rainy day.
Purpura, through the ups and downs, always took criticism in stride, and now he can laugh about the more interesting backlash he received from Houston fans.
He was on a local radio show early Monday morning and a caller popped in with an apology for the general manager.
"He called in to apologize to me, becuase in May he called my show and called me a moron," Purpura said. "He called to tell me I was no longer a moron."
Royal treatment: Ah, the perks of being a winner. Purpura walked into a Suger Land Starbucks on his way to work Monday morning and was not only greeted with a round of applause, but he was also treated to a cup of coffee, on the house.
"[Club president] Pam Gardner goes to Starbucks on West Gray, and they applaud her everytime she goes in," Purpura laughed. "This was my first time."
Diversion: One element of Garner's world that is helping him maintain some sort of normalcy is his family. He and his wife, Carol, have three children, Eric, Ty and Bethany, all of whom are in town for the playoffs. The crew also includes two daughters-in-law and two grandchildren.
"It's fun for me to have all the family around," Garner said. "Their whole lives have been baseball, and they get to share in this. It's fun."
Garner spent Monday morning shopping for a Halloween costume for his 2-year-old granddaughter, Marilyn, who will be dressed as a bumble bee when the big day arrives.
"She's been saying, 'BIG-GI-O, BIG-GI-O,' nonstop," Garner said. "I bet every kid in Houston's doing that."
A few of the kids who live in Garner's neighborhood have been showing their support by decorating his garage with letters that spell, "We BEE-lieve!" They've also lined the streets with Astros pennants.
Prior to Monday's game, Garner had little interest in talking about the whatifs. But he did acknowledge how much he wanted to be part of the team that brings a World Series to Houston.
"My sister called me the other day and said people were taking off work so they could watch the ballgame," he said. "There's water-cooler buzz. People are talking about the Astros everywhere they go.
"If the sports teams are not playing well, everybody's doing their thing. There's no commonality. Some may be talking about football. Some may be talking about baseball. Some may be talking about golf. It's just not this one thing.
"If we win and go [to the World Series], it'll be electric. As far as you can drive a car on a tank of gas, there will be excitement."
Ryan Express: Nolan Ryan, who is in the second year of his five-year personal services contract with the Astros, has been spotted in the GM's booth during several postseason games. Having the Hall of Famer next to him has been somewhat therapuetic for Purpura, who has sweated through these nailbiters as much as the fans.
When John Mabry hit the grounder to Eric Bruntlett at the end of Game 4, Purpura and Ryan said simultaneously, "Oh, [no].
"Then they made that great play, and we were all high-fiving," Purpura said, adding that Ryan isn't nearly as intimidating as he seems.
"The hard thing with Nolan is, if you don't know him, it might take time to get to know him. I've seen him with players and I've seen him with staff," Purpura said. "They're intimidated because he's Nolan Ryan. But once they get through that and feel comfortable with him, he jokes around and talks to guys, making fun of them and doing the little stuff that you just do."
Odds and ends: Win or lose Game 5, Oct. 17 will always stand as a significant date in Astros history. On Oct. 17, 1960, Major League Baseball awarded Houston with a National League franchise. The Houston Colt .45s began play two years later, and in 1965 they became the Astros. ... Former President George Bush and his wife, Barbara, attended all three NLCS games at Minute Maid Park. During the first two, Bush's Secret Service agents urged the former First Couple to leave in the seventh inning, as they do during regular-season games. "I'm not leaving," Bush informed them. The Bushes stayed until the very end of both wins. ... Governor Rick Perry attended Game 4.
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.