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Backe's brilliance boosts Astros10/18/2004 11:30 PM ET
By John Schlegel / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- Brandon Backe maintains he has a long way to go before he can become one of the Astros' famous Killer B's, in large part because he grew up idolizing charter members Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. But this B was killer Monday night, no question about that. Backe pitched eight shutout innings, allowing just one hit, to set the stage for Jeff Kent's walk-off heroics in a 3-0 victory that gave the Astros a 3-2 edge in the National League Championship Series. Bagwell, one of those original Killer B's, is as amazed as everybody else with Backe's road from converted pitcher to converted starter to postseason hero. "Talk about a great story," Bagwell said. Remember, Jeff, the story begins with a kid from Galveston who thought you Killer B's were the bomb.
"I don't care if he idolizes me or whatever," Bagwell said with a smile. "I'm just happy to have him as a teammate."The entire Astros clubhouse would wholeheartedly second that motion. The victory ended with Kent's walk-off homer, but it began with Backe's brilliant performance. Backe carried a no-hitter through 5 2/3 innings, the longest to begin a game in NLCS history, and he did it against a lineup many -- well, many outside of Houston -- consider the most dangerous in the National League. Even if he's not an official Killer B in his mind yet, the 26-year-old right-hander has definitely made a name for himself. You could hear it rattling the rafters at Minute Maid Park several times during his masterpiece: "Back-E! Back-E! Back-E!" Said Backe: "I could never imagine that could happen to me." His catcher, veteran Brad Ausmus, said pretty much the same thing about Backe's performance Monday night, all due respect to his talented batterymate.
"I'm not going to say I expected him to go eight innings and give up one hit against that lineup," Ausmus said.But that's exactly what Backe did, walking just two in the process. And there was that little detail of taking a perfect game into the fifth and a no-hitter into the sixth. "I was aware when I walked that guy the perfect game went away, and I was aware when they got their first hit," Backe said. "I was aware of everything." For a guy who was an outfielder five years ago and a reliever five months ago, having that kind of mental and physical sharpness on the mound is nothing short of remarkable. Said Astros manager Phil Garner: "You wouldn't have known this guy hadn't pitched in 10 World Series games tonight if you'd been over here watching. He was focused, locked in and wasn't expending a lot of unnecessary energy." With Ausmus deftly mixing up his pitches, Backe gave up the perfect game when he walked Jim Edmonds on five pitches with one out in the fifth. The no-hitter was intact until Tony Womack's two-out single in the sixth. Throughout it all, Backe maintained his composure and conserved his vast energy, helped along by a chat with Astros ace Roger Clemens. The two pitchers talked after Backe's Game 1 start in St. Louis, in which Backe didn't make it out of the fifth inning, and the pupil followed the master's lead.
"I have a lot of energy, and it's obvious to everybody," Backe said. "But he basically just told me to channel it towards the catcher and what I'm supposed to be doing out there. I think I did that today."Ausmus, who held the target for all that energy, concurred. "He's an emotional guy, but he's really done a great job of staying on the task," Ausmus said. "I think the only time I talked with him in the dugout was to tell him he was done." Backe began the night by knocking out a sign beyond the left-field fence in batting practice. He put the perfect capper on his masterpiece by getting pinch-hitter John Mabry to tip a fastball on his 100th pitch, then chase a breaking pitch on his 101st offering for his fourth strikeout of the evening. In between, just one hit, some amazing defense behind him, and a city full of fellow Texans chanting his name. Of that, too, Backe was aware. "I kind of fall back on the crowd, to tell you the truth," Backe said. "They help me out, keep me going."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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