Monday, October 24, 2005

Astros: 0-2 and in the dumps

Here's the question for the Astros, and their play in Houston will decide the answer: is it easier to come back in a World Series after having your hat handed to you, losing close games, or losing heartbreakers?

In 2004, the Cards went home down 0-2 after their pitchers were slapped silly by the Blosax . . . and honked in four without even a whimper.

In 2001, the Yanks came home down 0-2 after two beatings and scraped to three straight wins.

In 1999, the Braves hit road down 0-2 and charged to a 5-1 lead in game 3 . . . choked that up and lost in four.

In 1998, the Padres headed home down 0-2 and led the Yanks in game 3 with their closer on the mound . . . a Scott Brosius bomb later and the Yanks were on their way to the sweep.

In 1996, the Yanks took two beatdowns from the Braves, went on the road down 0-2 and won the series in six -- the first and only team ever to win the World Series in six games after losing games one and two at home.

In both 1987 and 1991 the Twins Metrodome led to a pair of home wins, then the Twinkies lost three straight on the road. (The Twins are 0-9 on the road, 11-1 at home in the World Series -- the home loss was to Sandy Koufax in game 7 of the '65 Series with Koufax pitching on two days' rest).

In 1986, the Mess were down 0-2 and went to Bawstin, but at least they faced weak pitchers in Oil Can Boyd and Al Nipper -- both of whom they smacked around to tie the series.

Patterns? I don't know that I can discern any between the teams that crashed and the teams that revived to play a good Series other than the fact that, outside of the Cards who completely tanked, all had opportunities to win in later games, and the ones who revived cashed in on those opportunities.

But one thing will help the Astros revive: don't be stuck on stupid. Biggest stupidity: yanking Pettitte after only 98 pitches. Look: everyone says Pettitte is a BIG GAME pitcher, and the fact is he was typical Yankees-quality Pettitte last night -- 6 IP, 8 H, 0 BB, 4 K (in the AL, Pettitte had one season where he gave up fewer hits than IP and by a narrow margin, unlike this season where he threw 210+ innings and gave up less than 190 hits). The way the Astros have their rotation set, Pettitte will pitch game 6 on five days' rest. He pitched out of trouble all night. Answer = leave him in with a 4-2 lead in the 7th, let Lidge pick up six outs and don't monkey around.

Instead, Garner puts in the relievers, who cough up four runs and the lead, and then uses Lidge to maintain a tie in the 9th (closers are better at closing than maintaining tie games; just look at Rivera's game logs). The failure is Garner's decision to yank Pettitte and put Lidge in his second-best situation.

The other failure is Lidge letting wiffleball hitter Posednik (0 HR in 500+ AB this season) take one out to right-centerfield (which is a decent shot b/c Chicago's cruddy yard is not particularly homer-friendly and it's harder for the singles hitter to bang one out in the gaps than it is to hook one over the wall just down the line -- see Smith, Ozzie, game 5, 1985 NLDS). All told, however, the Chisax aren't just getting the breaks or getting lucky -- the wags said that about the '99 Yanks who stomped through the postseason at 11-1. At some point there's a combo of better execution, better pitching, better managing that make a better team.

Momentum is tomorrow's starting pitcher; the Astros should be glad that Oswalt will be the man tomorrow.

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