For Biggio, prime time is now
As veteran's playoff fortunes turn, so do Astros'
HOUSTON -- Nothing could be more appropriate that in this, the autumn of Craig Biggio's spectacular career, he has become something of a Mr. October for the Houston Astros.
It is no coincidence that Biggio is on a tear and the Astros are one win away from a second consecutive National League Championship Series berth. And that's precisely where Biggio and the Astros are after beating Atlanta, 7-3, in Game 3 of the NL Division Series on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park.
As Biggio goes, so go the Astros. It has been that way for the last 17 seasons, spring and summer, if not always fall.
On that October score, Biggio is playing like a man making up for lost time. He is attacking this playoffs just as he did last year when he hit .400 in the NLDS. In his latest October installment, Biggio banged out three doubles in Game 3 to tie an NL postseason record (Jim Edmonds for St. Louis in the 2000 NLDS). For the second time in both Astros victories, Biggio was the igniter in Houston's big inning.
As he did last postseason and continued to do in this NLDS, the 39-year-old Biggio has turned the tables on his early postseason struggles and in the process is driving the Astros toward another postseason series win.
"Early in your career you try to do maybe a little too much," Biggio said. "I'm not really doing anything different, my job is to get on and put the pitcher in the stretch and let the big boys do their jobs. That's all I was doing tonight, just try to be selective and get on base. I think we had a lot of quality at-bats tonight up and down the lineup."
But it was Biggio who got things going. No one was happier for him than his old friend and longtime teammate, Jeff Bagwell.
"I think it's satisfying for us because we don't have that much time left," Bagwell said. "There's only a certain amount of [postseason] series we have left. Back in 1997, both of us were in the prime of our careers. This is not the so-called prime of our career time, we know it's not going to last forever. To see him getting this now and getting us this opportunity tomorrow, that's great to see."
Before last October, Biggio heard endlessly about his postseason problems. His October struggles were hard to miss, especially compared to his outstanding regular season production. His fall slide was dramatic: He hit .083 in the 1997 NLDS against Atlanta, .182 in '98 against San Diego, .105 in '99 vs. the Braves and .167 against them in 2001.
Add it all up and in his first four postseasons -- all Houston first-round exits -- Biggio hit a combined .130 (7-for-54) with no homers, one RBI and four runs scored.
The Astros had never won a playoff series until beating Atlanta in the 2004 NLDS, and Biggio also ended his playoff futility by hitting .400 with his first postseason homer and stolen base to go along with four RBIs.
Turns out he was just getting started.
The 3-for-5 night Saturday against the Braves gave Biggio six hits in 12 at-bats for a .500 batting average. Only Atlanta's Andruw Jones (.636) has a higher batting average in this series. Biggio has scored a series-high five runs.
"Craig is doing what he does, that's getting on base, hitting doubles, scoring runs, and now we're winning baseball games," Bagwell said. "That's great to see but it can't be all on Craig. He deserves a lot of credit for getting on base and setting the table. That's what Craig does. That's why he's a [future] Hall of Famer."
Counting his three-double night against the Braves, in his last two postseasons Biggio is hitting .313 (20-for-64) with two homers, six RBIs and 13 runs scored.
Biggio moved back into the leadoff spot the final week of the regular season when Astros manager Phil Garner decided he wanted Biggio's veteran bat at the top of the order. Biggio has resumed the role as if he never left. The switch also helped previous leadoff man Willy Taveras, who is hitting .455 in the series.
"I understand the situation because I've done it half my career," Biggio said. "If I'm not getting on, Willy's got to get on."
So far in this series, Biggio and Taveras have been on a base a combined 14 times.
"We're winning this series and we played well last year because Craig is a huge part of our offense," Bagwell said. "When Craig does well, we tend to score runs."
The evidence is overwhelming that Biggio's fortunes remain inextricably tied with Houston's, as they have been in each of the Astros' six playoff appearances during the last nine years. This fall, however, it's all been good for Biggio and the Astros.
"It's happening at the end of your career, but you learn to take the good with the bad," Biggio said. "If you win, no one really cares what you do."
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.