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Charmed run for Series falls short10/21/2004 9:34 PM ET
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- The Houston Astros had been over that "we're just happy to be here" euphoria for quite a while. In fact, as soon as they won a couple games in the Division Series, they were as hungry as any other team in the playoffs to get to the World Series. That's why getting this close and missing it by inches hurt. A team so flawed for so much of the year, riddled with injuries and written off by the masses, made it to Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. But they lost, 5-2, to a St. Louis Cardinals team that was just simply better when it needed to be. Defensively, the Cardinals were superior. Offensively, they were a little luckier. And that's why they're going to the World Series, and the Astros are going home.
It's a small consolation, but the Astros didn't lose because they pitched poorly or made errors in the field or bad decisions on the base paths. And for a while, Roger Clemens looked as if he was going to carry the Houston team on his back, as he had done countless times this year.But then the sixth inning arrived, and a previously baffled Cardinals lineup appeared to figure things out, tagging Clemens for three runs in what would be enough to send the Cardinals to their first National League pennant since 1987. Clemens held the Cardinals to one run through the first five frames, allowing only a successful squeeze bunt from Jeff Suppan in the third. In the sixth, however, the heart of the Cardinals order came to life, sparked by an RBI double by series MVP Albert Pujols and a two-run homer by Scott Rolen, giving the home team a 4-2 lead. In the box score, that's the inning that will stand out as the turning point. But to the Astros, the momentum shifted in the Cardinals' corner when Jim Edmonds made a sprawling catch on a Brad Aumsus fly ball that was sure to be a two-run double in the second. Instead of having a 3-0 lead with a runner on second and one out, the Astros had only a 1-0 advantage and few chances to score off Suppan for the next four frames.
"If anyone thinks that play Jim Edmonds made didn't turn the game around a little bit, [they weren't] really paying attention," Jeff Bagwell said. "There's two runs right there. They make the plays. That's why they're so good. They make guys put the ball in play and they let their Gold Glove guys take over.""We came close and everybody in this clubhouse is disappointed," said Craig Biggio, who hit his first career postseason leadoff homer. "I don't think we did anything to lose. We just got beat by a little bit better of a team. I was talking to Gary [Gaetti, hitting coach], 14 balls we hit hard right at guys. You can't do anything about that. We had good at-bats, quality at-bats." The Astros reacted to the abrupt end of their season with a variety of emotions -- disappointment, surprise, sadness and finally pride as they looked back on two of the most improbable months a Major League team could experience. Four games under .500 and all but written off on Aug. 15, the Astros strung together a run of 36 wins against 10 losses to leapfrog over five teams and win the NL Wild Card. They didn't clinch the title until the final game of the season, and even then it was hard for them to comprehend what they had done. "It just came together," Bagwell said. "There was just a tremendous energy from our club. Every day we took the field, the energy level was just amazing the last two months of the season. I don't know how you bottle that. I don't know how you capture that. I don't think you can. If we could, everybody would be doing it." Of the five playoff teams Bagwell has been on, the 2004 club was by far the most unforgettable, even if it wasn't the most talented, on paper. "It's definitely the best team I've played on, as far as belief in each other, picking each other up," he said. "Guys didn't care about personal numbers. You've got Brad Lidge, who has pitched a thousand innings. [Roy] Oswalt's coming in relief. It goes on and on with this club. That has been the best I've seen."
General manager Gerry Hunsicker repeated his earlier statement that he's never been more proud of a club than he was of this one."It was an unbelievable year, an unbelievable run," he said. "To think of what they overcame this year, to fight back and get on a roll that they got on to finish the season ... it just hurts a little bit worse when you get this close. It's so hard to get to where we got. It'll sting for a while." Jeff Kent praised the organization for its "patience, resilience and determination," but admitted there was no comfort in the knowledge they lost not because they played badly, but because the other team was just simply better. "There's no comfort in losing," Kent said. "That's the bottom line for players. We strap it on to win. You can make excuses for why you didn't win, but the bottom line is you didn't win. We gave it our best shot today. We believed in ourselves, continually. We had to have a team show us that they were better than us. That's what they had to do." Manager Phil Garner, who certainly did everything he needed to in order to remove that "interim" label from his title, summed up the season when he told his players immediately after Thursday's loss, "without question, this was one of the greatest runs in the history of the game." "I would hope that everybody in our organization -- this just makes us more determined -- the whole organization, to make that next step and get to the World Series, and have a little taste of this now," Garner said. "It was a fantastic run. Our veteran leadership definitely took charge, and that was the reason that we played the way we played.
"We fell one game short of getting to the World Series, but we're very proud of what our players accomplished."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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