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10/20/05 1:00 AM ET

A new chapter written in Astros history

NLCS victory marks Houston's first trip to World Series

ST. LOUIS -- Roger Clemens really knew the Astros were going to the World Series when he looked over and saw the tears welling up in Craig Biggio's and Jeff Bagwell's eyes.

"That's when I knew this was real, to see Bags and Bidge get emotional, that's when you knew we'd just made history," Clemens said. "The World Series is coming to Houston, it's great to say that, it really is."

On a beautiful October night in this river city, the Astros put together perhaps the biggest victory in Houston sports history.

The Houston Astros, National League champions, are heading to the World Series.

Let the party begin.

"This is something you dream about when you're a kid, and after a while, sometimes you wonder if it will ever happen," Bagwell said. "It's unbelievable, really unbelievable."

With Roy Oswalt doing what he usually does, pitching a masterpiece in a convincing 5-1 win over the Cardinals, the resilient Astros did what their doubters said they couldn't do: make it to the World Series for the first time in the 44 years since the franchise began play in 1962.

"People that thought we would be down or flat after [the loss in Game 5] don't understand this team at all," third baseman Morgan Ensberg said. "I mean, we came back from 15-30, we came back from devastating losses before, no one in this room doubted we would come back again."

The Astros were so confident that they had their chartered flight waiting on the tarmac to go back to Houston following the game. They had checked out of the Westin Hotel on Wednesday morning. Game 7? They weren't even thinking about the possibility.

"This might be the loosest team in baseball history," Ensberg said. "I think it's a credit to the guys in this room. We never quit, we never get down, and when we lose a game ... we come back the next day and give it our best shot. And when you have a guy like Roy, who wins 20 games even though we didn't score any runs for him, you have to like your chances."

Oswalt, just as he did in the Wild Card-clinching game the Astros had to win to reach the playoffs, once again came up huge in the most important game in franchise history.

"Roy was unbelieveable," a champagned-drenched Biggio said. "He was outstanding, as usual. Everybody came out focused and did their job and we got it done. That's what this team has done all year, everybody contributes."

Brad Ausmus, playing despite feeling ill, banged out three hits.

"I thought he might collapse, he's probably in the back right now sick," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "I told him he couldn't die on the field, he'd have to wait until after the game to die."

The only thing that perished on this field was the Cardinals' chances to repeat as NL Champs.

As per Ausmus' directive, the Astros didn't let up until they recorded the 27th out.

The Astros had come in 0-5 in games where if they had won they would have clinched a World Series berth, including a crushing defeat just 48 hours earlier when they were unable to close out the series after getting to within one strike of advancing.

This time, there would be no improbably rally, no last-inning comeback to doom Houston. The heartbreaking NLCS losses of 1980, 1986, and 2004 will from this day forward be pushed aside.

With one superlative effort, these most resilient Astros at long last salved the pain their long-suffering fans have endured for these many years. For them, the playoffs have meant painful endings and associations that need little explanation, like Garry Maddox in 1980, Gary Carter in 1986 and Jim Edmonds in 2004.

This time, the Astros wouldn't get stopped with the dream in sight.

"It's very gratifying," pitcher Andy Pettitte said. "One of the things I've always wanted was a World Series in Houston, that's one of the reasons I came home to play for the Astros. Now that it's happening, I couldn't be more thrilled."

GM Tim Purpura brought the National League trophy to Bagwell first, then Biggio. Then each member of the team got a chance to have his picture taken with it.

"Bags and Bidge, after all they've done for this organization, all the work, sometimes with lousy teams, they earned it," Purpura said.

Bagwell and Biggio have played on more talented Houston teams, but none that made it to the World Series. This resilient team had the character and doggedness to stay the course and realize a dream.

This is an overachieving team of which not much was expected, and yet they did what none of their more illustrious Houston predecessors were able to do. This was for their fans, but also for all the great Astros who never made it this far, like Nolan Ryan, J.R. Richard, Mike Scott, Cesar Cedeno and Dave Smith.

"This team has a lot of character," Garner said. "And as someone who has lived in Houston a long time, I know how long our fans have been waiting for this and how much it means to them. They've earned it."

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