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World Series 2001
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10/13/2001 03:19 AM ET
Astros fail to meet expectations
By Alyson Footer
MLB.com
Bagwell walks back to the dugout after striking out in the eighth.

ATLANTA -- It's going to be a long, long flight back to Houston.

Sure, in actual time, the trip takes only about two hours. But those two hours began what will be four months of "what ifs" as the players, coaches, manager and front office executives try to figure out why the Astros continue to falter in the first round of the playoffs and have not even come close to reaching the World Series.

On Friday, the Astros lost to the Braves, 6-2, suffering their second division series sweep to Atlanta and falling to 2-12 in postseason games since since 1997.

"It's a recurring theme, no question about it," Jeff Bagwell said. "It's tough. We got down in a hole and never dug ourselves out. We had a few chances but we couldn't come up with any big hits.

"Obviously we're very disappointed. Very frustrated. There were a lot more expectations coming into this playoff (series). We thought we were a lot better team than we showed. It's a disappointing day, no question about it. I felt like even when we got here, we could actually pull this thing off. We just didn't have it."

Forgive Bagwell, and his veteran teammates, if they are starting to sound like a broken record. But since their first division championship in 1997, the names may have changed, the cast of characters tweaked a bit, but in the end, it's just the same old story. No LCS, and no World Series.

And they still don't know what it will take to reach that next level.

"I don't know. I don't have an answer for you," Bagwell said. "We get here every year, we have good seasons, we win over 90 games, over 100 games once, and then we have a tough time when we get here. So I don't know what the answer is. I really don't have one for you right now. Hopefully one of these times we can get back in and that all can change for us. We've got a tall order to do that again."

Craig Biggio also has no magic solution that will get the Astros over the hump, and quite frankly, prefers to leave roster issues up to the Astros braintrust.

"It's not for me to make that decision, it's for (owner) Drayton (McLane)," he said. "I'll let him make that decision. All we can do is go out and play the game. I think you saw this year that it's a team game. That's how you win, that's how you lose. That's just the reality of baseball."

For the players who have been with the team since it won the first divison title, patience is understandably wearing thin.

"It gets awfully old to hear the same expression, 'We'll get 'em next year' when every next year ends up as a first round exit," Billy Wagner said. "It gets to the point where it's frustrating to even deal with it. It's tough to be around it right now."

General Manger Gerry Hunsicker, who orchestrated of all four divison-winning teams, agreed.

"It's kind of ironic," he said. "I think a lot of people were rooting against having to play Arizona in the first round. Maybe we would have been better off. The Braves certainly have our number. The cast of characters changes and it doesn't seem to matter. We're just never on the attack. We never put the pressure on the other team."

Many in the Astros' clubhouse tried to maintain an optimistic look toward the future of the franchise, but taking a sunny approach to an otherwise dismal situation was a little easier for the younger players.

"For a lot of us, it's our first playoff experience and if we get back here, I think we'll be better for it, from an experience standpoint," Lance Berkman said. "That's something that the Braves had on us, their main guys have played in the World Series and have played in 10 straight playoffs.

"You win the Central (division) enough, we're going to win one of these series. It's not going to go on like this forever. We had a good team and I think it's great what we accomplished this year."

Berkman hopes that fans don't write the Astros off as a team that never will be able to get to the promised land, although so far, they have done little to help their cause.

"People are going to paint us as chokers, or (say) the Astros choked again and they couldn't get it done," Berkman said. "This series especially -- and you'll just have to take my word for it because I'm in here among these guys every day over the course of a whole season -- there wasn't a man of us that choked. We weren't so nervous that we couldn't take good swings or couldn't play good baseball. It just didn't work out, and that's all I can say about it."

"The season's over, and we won 93 games," Manager Larry Dierker said. "I talked to the guys after the game and I told them that I was really proud of them. To be able to win 93 games with the injuries we had and some of the young players that we played, I couldn't be happier with the way we played in the regular season."

But the postseason is a different story.

"I mentioned before the season even started that I felt like (the Braves) were the best all-around team in the league," Dierker said. "I also said going into the playoffs that I felt like they were a better team than their record shows. I'm sure they feel that way now."

Alyson Footer is the site reporter of astros.com.