Astros' miracle run falls just short
Club nearly overcame early hole with remarkable second half
HOUSTON -- There were times this season when the Astros were losing so often, and so convincingly that it looked like their loftiest goal would be to avoid last place in the National League Central division.
That they were eliminated from postseason contention as late as after their 159th game of the season spoke volumes about the second half they enjoyed, and about the overall character of a team that didn't give up, even when the general public believed it was time to throw in the towel.
How bad did it get? They spent 49 days in either fifth or sixth place in the division, and for most of the season, they barely registered in the NL Wild Card standings. But it wasn't until Friday night, when the Brewers beat the Cubs, that the Astros' season, playoff-wise, was over.
"I think it's been a successful year, yeah," manager Cecil Cooper. "[Was it] what we wanted? No. Any time you fall short of the postseason, it's disappointing. All in all, it's been a successful year for us. We had some good things happen."
The 2008 season, unfortunately, will probably always be remembered as the year of Ike. The Astros had won 14 of 15 and had shot up the Wild Card ladder when Ike, a Category 2-borderline-Cat-3 hurricane swept through southeast Texas, knocking out power and turning two cities -- Houston and Galveston -- into one unfortunate circumstance.
The Astros were forced to follow two sleepless nights with a quick trip to Milwaukee, where they played two "home" games with the Cubs at Miller Park. They were no-hit and one-hit, dropped five in a row and had lost whatever momentum carried them through a remarkable two-week stretch when they were seemingly unbeatable.
Still, individual players spoke proudly when looking back at a truly streaky season that ended just a couple of games short of another miracle run, similar to those that took them to the postseason in 2004 and 2005 and almost did in '06.
"We ran out of games," Brian Moehler said. "That's what it comes down to. Milwaukee won [Friday]. We played well the last few months. We battled and made it interesting, when people thought we were out of it."
Moehler is one of the feel-good stories to emerge from the '08 campaign. He started the year as a non-roster spring invitee, made the team as a reliever and ended the season as one of the club's most reliable starters.
The list of success stories is extensive. Lance Berkman, despite a subpar September, again put up MVP-type numbers. Ty Wigginton had a career year. Roy Oswalt rectified a bad start with a tremendous two months. Wesley Wright, Geoff Geary, Chris Sampson, Doug Brocail, Jose Valverde and Tim Byrdak formed one of the league's best bullpens.
And Randy Wolf and LaTroy Hawkins ended up being two of the best midseason acquisitions the Astros have ever had.
General manager Ed Wade reflected on the season with pride, but also asking a few, "what ifs?" What if the Astros hadn't started 6-12? What if they hadn't suffered through a 13-29 stretch right in the middle of the season?
"With 13-29, if we had played .500, we'd be standing here today with 92 wins," Wade said. "It's a club capable of winning 92 games. We were playing some teams that were struggling at the time and they beat us. Certainly, if this doesn't work out you live with those types of regrets."
Still, Wade is happy with the way the team, comprised mostly of strangers when the season started, came together.
"Talent rules the day, but character and makeup also play a big part," said Wade. "And from the standpoint of character and makeup, I couldn't be prouder of the way these guys have handled every situation over the course of the year."
Wade pointed to a terrific second half as the high point.
"It's been an incredible run, particularly because there were a lot of points in time that other people thought we should hang it up, and it would have been easy for the players to buy into the hang-it-up mind-set," he said. "They didn't do that. They provided some great moments over the course of the second half of the season."
Darin Erstad, a veteran outfielder who has already re-signed with Houston for '09, said he wasn't surprised that the Astros made it all the way to game 159 before falling out of the postseason race.
"There's definitely a group of guys here that aren't going to just fold up shop and just go through the motions," he said. "There's a lot of pride in this room. There are no points for second place. But at the same time, what they've always had here is they've always been strong in the second half. We'll just try to continue to have successful teams in the future."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.