© 2005 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

10/27/05 3:30 AM ET

Astros' magical season ends

Houston's bats go quiet one last time, spoil Backe's gem

HOUSTON -- As the White Sox rushed the field on Wednesday after beating the Houston Astros, 1-0, in Game 4 to sweep the World Series, Mike Lamb, along with many of his teammates, watched with overwhelming sadness.

A few moments later, Lamb popped out of the dugout and saluted the fans. He waved. He tipped his cap. He waved again.

The fans, watching the White Sox frenzied celebration in frozen silence, suddenly noticed Lamb's gesture and began to applaud.

Lamb was near tears as he expressed his emotions after the Game 4 loss that sealed the World Series for the visiting White Sox.

"Losing hurts," Lamb said. "But that was a very emotional moment to me -- saying goodbye to the fans, saying thank you.

"Losing is part of it. But these fans have been so good to me, so good to this team. These two years, I've never experienced anything like it. Just, 'Thank you.'"

Soon after the last out was in the books, the Astros retreated to the clubhouse, where manger Phil Garner said a few words to his team. Garner then urged the players, if they were up to it, to go back onto the field and say goodbye to the fans. Almost everyone obliged.

"We all owe it to our fans to show them the respect," Craig Biggio said. "They came out and supported us. These fans just went crazy. That was the least we could do.

"What I'm most proud of is I think we were more known as a football city. But now, we're known almost as a baseball city."

The Astros were relatively upbeat following Wednesday's loss, considering they were coping with the sting of not winning a single game in the Fall Classic.

They pointed to a season that began with a 15-30 record through late May -- a time when everyone, including some inside the clubhouse walls, assumed 2005 would be a wasted year.

The Astros defied every odd imaginable. They started the season with an all-rookie outfield, were without their best hitter for a month, and eventually lost another slugger to shoulder surgery.

Rookies were asked to perform like they'd been here before. Pitchers were forced to be no less than perfect.

Undoubtedly, this team peformed way beyond expectations. Eventually, it caught up to them -- in the World Series.

"The lack of experience probably hurt us in the World Series," Lamb said. "But starting 15-30, everybody writing us off, playing all these one-run games ... these are men. All these rookies, 22-, 24-year-olds, they grew up this year. That is going to be invaluable.

"I'll stop short of a guarantee, because that's a tricky word to be throwing around. But the next time the Houston Astros get into the World Series, it's going to be different."

Unfortunately, on Wednesday, it was much of the same. The Astros, shut out 17 times in the regular season, ended their campaign much like they started it -- with a terrific pitching performance and no offensive help whatsoever.

The Astros never could have imagined that Jason Lane's RBI double in the eighth inning of Game 3 would be the last time they would score in 2005. They played the final 15 innings of the season without plating a run.

"I guess it's fitting," Biggio said. "I mean, how many times did we get shut out this year? And then we get shut out in our last game."

The game was scoreless on both sides until the eighth, when Jermaine Dye singled up the middle to score Willie Harris from third. Harris began the inning with a base hit off reliever Brad Lidge, moved to second on Scott Podsednik's sac bunt and to third on Carl Everett's grounder to second.

The bright spot was Brandon Backe, who threw seven scoreless frames. He struck out five of six batters in the fourth and fifth innings, as part of a string of 11 consecutive outs.

It was reminiscent of Backe's nearly flawless peformance in Game 5 of the NLCS last year, when he threw eight shutout frames against the Cardinals in a game won by Jeff Kent's walk-off homer.

Backe drew comparisons between the two outings.

"That's what drove me to do so well," he said. "To be out there, so focused and in the zone; there was no breaking me.

"It was great to be back in that state of mind that I was in for Game 5 last year in the NLCS. As a ballplayer, as an athlete, as a pitcher, there's no better place to be than in that zone, and feel 10 feet tall and be only 6-foot-1."

Backe looked weary, but content, when he talked about the Astros' season.

"I'm going to go home a little tired, a little upset tonight," he said. "But when I look back on it, I'll see it was a great run. We just fell short."

That was the overwhelming sentiment among the Astros' players. They weren't embarrassed by blowouts. They didn't bumble and fumble in the field. They just, simply, lost. They were outscored by six runs in four games.

"There's two teams that go to the World Series," Brad Ausmus said. "I think we should be very proud of the fact that we came back from 15 games under .500 to be National League champions. We lost the World Series.

"Frankly, we didn't do anything wrong. They beat us. They were close games. We weren't out of any games. We didn't give up. I don't think anyone was nervous. They just beat us."

"As I told the team, I thought we won as a team, we lost as a team," Garner said "Everybody in our clubhouse had something to do with us getting here and it's a pretty good story, a doggone good story. I'm proud of those guys.

"We had great veteran leadership and we had players that never gave up -- no quit in us at all. And it got us here. And I'm proud of that."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.