There’s a tendency to focus on the winners in sport. With good reason. Winners bask in the glory and adulation of fans and media. But in sport, there are always two sides. With winners, there are losers. Every team has lost a big game at some point. Sometimes it’s a matter of the opponent being better. But there are some losses that are so painful, they crush the soul of the players, coaches and supporters. This series of articles focuses on the deep pain of sport. Bring tissues if your team is featured.
The Houston Astros finally broke the glass ceiling in 2017, winning the World Series for the first time in franchise history. But the road to that championship was long and at times painful.
Beginning as the Colt .45s in 1962, the Astros have had many memorable moments and great players that have donned the orange jerseys. But this series isn’t about happy endings. Only anguish and suffering is allowed. With that in mind, here are the 5 most heartbreaking losses in Houston Astros history.
October 12, 1980. Philadelphia 8, Houston 7.
After years of mediocrity and disappointment, the Astros had a breakout season in 1980. Led by a strong pitching staff, the franchise was on the verge of clinching their first ever postseason berth. Entering the final week of the season, the Astros held a 3 game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West. However, the Dodgers swept the Astros on the final weekend of the season to force a one game playoff. The Astros rebounded with a 7-1 trouncing of the Dodgers to win the Division and earn a place in the National League Championship Series.
Awaiting the Astros were the Philadelphia Phillies, a team that had come very close to championships the last four seasons but had fallen short. Some observers were starting to label the Phillies as chokers. They desperately wanted to change their reputation.
The Astros, as mentioned earlier, had an outstanding rotation in 1980. Nolan Ryan, who came over as a free agent from California, led the team and was second in the National League with 200 strikeouts. Knuckleballer Joe Niekro reached the 20-wins mark and finished in a tie for third in the NL with 11 complete games. Vern Ruhle enjoyed a terrific season in which he went 12-4 with a 2.37 ERA.
But the main man on the mound was J.R. Richard. The imposing right-hander who stood 6’8 emerged as the ace on the Astros staff in 1976 and early in the season, showed he was a leading candidate for the NL CY Young award. Armed with an overpowering fastball and a deadly curve ball, Richard was named the toughest pitcher in baseball by the likes of Johnny Bench and Dale Murphy. Richard led the majors in strikeouts in 1978 and 1979 and was on pace to do the same in 1980. But tragedy struck.
On July 30 1980, Richard was playing catch prior before the Astros game against Philadelphia. Suddenly, Richard collapsed on the field and was rushed to the hospital. Doctors determined that Richard suffered a stroke that was caused by a blood clot in his right arm. Emergency surgery saved Richard’s life but not only was his season over but his promising career came to an end.
The Astros surged on as manager Bill Virdon went with a four-man rotation for the series. They would need all the pitching as the Phillies were known for their lively bats. The Phillies were second in the NL with a team .270 batting average, second in runs scored with 728 and third in home runs with 117. No one had a better season than third baseman Mike Schmidt. The 1980 NL MVP led the majors with 48 homers and 121 RBIs and was the proverbial straw that stirred the drink in the City of Brotherly Love. The Astros knew they had to silence Schmidt’s lethal bat if they were going to have any chance to win the series.
The series began at Veterans Stadium with the Phillies sending their ace, 1980 NL Cy Young Award winner Steve Carlton against serviceable right-hander Ken Forsch for the Astros. A potential Carlton vs Ryan matchup was squashed when Astros manager Bill Virdon wanted to keep his rotation intact and it wasn’t Ryan’s turn. Forsch held his own, hurling 8 innings of solid baseball. But a two-run homer by Greg Luzinski along with Carlton and closer Tug McGraw allowing only 7 hits was the difference as the Phillies took Game 1.
Ryan did start Game 2 and was effective, scattering 8 hits over 6 1/3 innings, striking out 6 while only walking one. But he wasn’t involved in the decision as the game required extra innings. The Astros exploded for four runs in the 10th inning to send the series back to Houston all even.
The pitcher friendly Astrodome was the site for Game 3 and a pitcher’s duel was on the menu. Niekro was brilliant for the Astros but he was matched pitch-for-pitch by Larry Christenson. For the second straight game, extra innings were needed. The Astros won the game in the eleventh inning as a Denny Walling sacrifice fly cashed in pinch-runner Rafael Landestoy for the game’s only run. The Astros were one win away from the pennant.
But the Phillies refused to go away. For the third straight game, extra innings decided it. This time, the Phillies came out on top, scoring twice in the tenth inning for a 5-3 win setting up a decisive fifth game. The winning run infuriated Astros fans as Pete Rose bowled over catcher Bruce Bochy. Some Houston fans it was a dirty play but no action was taken.
The Astros would have the pitching advantage heading into Game 5 as Ryan would get the call on three days rest. The Phillies countered with lanky right-hander Marty Bystrom who was making his first ever postseason start.
The Astros got to Bystrom in the first inning as Jose Cruz connected on an RBI double to plate Terry Puhl for the game’s first run.
But the Phillies answered in the top of the second as Bob Boone’s two-run single gave the Phillies the lead.
The game then settled into a pitching and defensive battle. Ryan was finding his groove with his trademark 100 mph fastball blowing by Philly hitters. But the Astros bats couldn’t get anything going off Bystrom who overcame early nerves and was looking sharp.
The Astros tied the game in the bottom of the sixth. A Luzinski error led to an Alan Ashby RBI single and chased Bystrom from the mound. Meanwhile, Ryan was still going strong for the Astros.
Phillies manager Dallas Green surprised some by bringing in Christenson to start the seventh. Even though Christenson was terrific in Game 3, he was more used to starting the game rather than coming out of the bullpen for relief appearance. The Astros made Christenson more uncomfortable by scoring three times in the inning, sending the partisan Astrodome crowd into a frenzy.
Virdon decided to keep the Ryan Express in the game to start the eighth inning hoping there was more steam left in the engine. But Ryan was starting to derail off the tracks. The Phillies loaded the bases with nobody out. Ryan faced Pete Rose who was patient yet deadly at the plate. Ryan was too careful perhaps as he walked Rose to force in a run thus cutting the deficit to two. Virdon had seen enough and pulled Ryan for lefty Joe Sambito. With lefty Bake McBride due up, Green opted to go to his bench and use Keith Moreland as a pinch hitter. Moreland grounded into a fielder’s choice which plated a run and the Phillies were within one. The chess game continued as Virdon pulled Sambito for Forsch who like Christenson, was more comfortable in a starting role than a reliever. Just like Christenson in the previous inning, the same result befell Forsch. Del Unser’s RBI single tied the game. Then Manny Trillo who was hitting at a .381 clip in the series, belted a two-run triple to give the Phillies the lead. The Astrodome which was rocking at the start of the inning, fell eerily silent.
However, it was the Astros turn for a comeback. With men on the corners and two outs in the bottom of the eighth, Landestoy and Cruz delivered back-to-back RBI singles to tie the game and bring the noise back to the Astrodome.
After a scoreless ninth, the series would see extra innings for a fourth straight game. The Phillies scored in the top of the tenth as Garry Maddox lined an RBI double that centre fielder Terry Puhl couldn’t handle that scored Unser who doubled earlier in the inning to give the Phillies the lead.
Did the Astros have one more rally in them? Sadly for Houston fans, the answer was no as Dick Ruthven retired the Astros in the bottom of the tenth to give the Phillies the pennant and send an exhausted Houston crowd home in tears.
The one lingering question was would the Astros won if J.R. Richard was healthy? Most Astros fan would say yes and they would make a convincing argument. But Astros pitching, at least the starting pitching was very good in the series. They held Schmidt to a mere .208 average and one RBI in five games. What let the Astros down was a shaky bullpen and some questionable moves by Virdon late in games. The first postseason experience for the Astros was memorable but painful.
October 15, 1986. NY Mets 7, Houston 6.
After a six-year absence, postseason baseball returned to Houston and the franchise and the fans hoped the agonizing lessons they learnt in 1980 would pay them dividends in 1986.
Similar to 1980, the Astros pitching was the catalyst to their success in 1986. Nolan Ryan was still throwing 100 mph fastballs while posting a 12-8 record with a 3.34 ERA and 194 strikeouts. Bob Knepper led the NL in shutouts with 6. Jim Deshaies set a team record for wins by a rookie with 12 victories.
But the rotation revolved around Mike Scott. The right-hander was having difficulty finding consistency early in his career. In 1985, Scott visited with former Astros pitching coach Roger Craig who was the manager of the San Francisco Giants at the time. Craig to a liking to Scott and during the offseason, invited him to one of his pitching camps. It was there that Craig taught Scott the split-finger fastball a pitch frequently used by the likes of Jack Morris and Bruce Sutter. Scott began to add the splitter to his repertoire and started to find success. Scott won 18 games in 1985 but found even greater success in 1986. A second straight 18-win season was only the beginning. Scott led the majors with 306 strikeouts while posting a minuscule 2.22 ERA. His greatest day was September 25 when he tossed a no-hitter ironically against the Giants with Scott’s mentor Roger Craig looking on from the dugout. That game clinched the division for the Astros and setup a matchup against the New York Mets in the NLCS.
The Mets entered 1986 as favourites to win the World Series and were playing that role to a tee. They easily topped the NL East, finishing 21½ games ahead of second place Philadelphia. A strong batting order combined with good pitching made the Mets prohibitive favourites in the series.
This was also going to be a battle of contrasting styles. The Astros were clean-cut, disciplined and avoided controversy as much as possible. The Mets were wild partying bad boys who savoured attention and the New York nightlife. Four Mets players were arrested in Houston during the season after engaging in a fight with off-duty police officers. Astros manager Hal Lanier was calm, even-keeled and pragmatic. Mets manager Davey Johnson was emotional and a risk-taker.
Johnson made waves prior to the series as he accused Scott of doctoring or scuffling the baseball, especially when he threw the splitter. Scott and Lanier denied these accusations but the stage was set for what would be a bitterly contested series.
Game 1 was expected to be a pitchers duel between Scott and Mets ace Dwight Gooden. It didn’t disappoint. Glenn Davis hit a solo home run in the bottom of the second accounting for the game’s only run. Scott pitched a complete game, five-hit shutout striking out 14 Mets hitters. Gooden went 7 innings allowing one run on seven hits, with 5 Ks.
The Mets rebounded in Game 2, chasing Nolan Ryan by scoring 5 runs in 5 innings. Meanwhile, Bob Ojeda spun a complete game for the Mets allowing 1 run on 10 hits.
The series shifted to Queen’s for Game 3 where the Astros knew they had to get off to a fast start to quiet the rowdy Mets supporters. It seemed to work as the visitors jumped out to a 4-0 lead after two innings. But the Mets roared back and won the game as Lenny Dykstra crushed a walk-off, two-run homer off Astros closer Dave Smith in the bottom of the ninth.
The Astros were down but not out. Scott returned to the mound for Game 4 and was brilliant yet again as he allowed one run on only three hits in a complete game effort while Alan Ashby and Dickie Thon homered to supply the offence as the Astros evened the series.
Game 5 was the most controversial game of the series. In the top of the second inning, the Astros had men on the corners with one out. Gooden who was on the mound for the Mets, induced a double play ground ball from Craig Reynolds. Or did he? Replays showed that the foot of Keith Hernandez was off the first base bag which would have made Reynolds safe and a run would have scored. The Astros furiously argued with first base umpire Fred Brocklander but the call stood.
The Mets went on to win the game as Gary Carter’s RBI single in the bottom of the tenth, spoiled a brilliant pitching performance from Ryan who allowed only one run on two hits over nine innings with 12 strikeouts.
The series returned to Houston for a critical Game 6 that had the feeling of a Game 7. The Astros had Scott waiting in the wings for the seventh game and they were very confident that their ace would be the trump card in a deciding game. The Mets knew that and were desperate to end the series in six and avoid the unhittable Scott in the seventh game. Game 6 turned out to be a classic and one of the greatest games ever played at the Astrodome.
The Astros started quickly, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first. Phil Garner got the ball rolling with an RBI double. Davis followed with an RBI single. After a walk, Jose Cruz capped the inning with an RBI single.
It looked like the lead would hold as Bob Knepper was spinning a masterpiece on the mound for Houston. The crafty left-hander allowed only 2 hits without conceding a run through 8 innings. Lanier allowed Knepper to start the ninth inning instead of going to his closer Smith. But the Mets found their bats. Dykstra led off the inning with a triple. Mookie Wilson drove Dykstra home with an RBI single, ruining Knepper’s shutout bid. After Kevin Mitchell grounded out, Hernandez nailed an RBI double to pull the Mets to within one. The Astrodome crowd became very nervous as Lanier pulled Knepper for Smith to close the game. Smith set a club record during the season with 33 saves but he blew a save in Game 3 thanks to the Dykstra walk-off homer. How confident was Smith coming into this situation? Even more so, how much confidence did the Astros have in Smith? He didn’t start the inning as Lanier wanted to keep Knepper in as long as possible. Did that create doubts in Smith? It sure looked like it did. Smith looked shaky in walking Carter and Darryl Strawberry to load the bases. Ray Knight stepped up and delivered a sacrifice fly to score Hernandez and tie the game. Smith did get out of the inning with the game tied but the Astros were reeling.
The game went into extra innings as both teams bullpens took charge. Neither team could get anything going offensively as the tension rose. There was no scoring until the top of the fourteenth inning. The Astros sent out veteran right-hander Aurelio Lopez to the mound. Lopez had postseason experience as he was an effective reliever for the Detroit Tigers in 1984 en route to a World Series title. But Lopez couldn’t get the job done for Houston. Carter singled and Strawberry walked to start the inning. After a Knight sacrifice bunt to advance the runners, Wally Backman punched an RBI single to score Carter and give the Mets the lead.
The Astros looked doomed when they came up to bat in the bottom half. The Mets sent their closer, Jesse Orosco to slam the door on the Astros. But Billy Hatcher had other ideas. With one out, Hatcher crunched an Orosco fastball off the left field foul pole for a solo home run to tie the game. The Astrodome went bonkers as Hatcher rounded the bases. It was so loud that the ABC cameras were shaking from reverberation coming from the crowd noise.
The game remained deadlocked until the top of the sixteenth inning. Lanier kept Lopez in as the Astros were running low on pitchers. Strawberry started the inning with a double and was immediately cashed in by a Knight RBI single. Lopez was replaced by Jeff Calhoun who walked Backman, then uncorked two wild pitches that allowed Knight to score. Dykstra scored Backman with an RBI single giving the Mets what seemed to be an insurmountable three-run lead.
But the Astros still had some fight left in them. With their season on the line, Houston mounted a rally in the bottom of the sixteenth. A one-out walk to Davey Lopes was followed by a Bill Doran single. Hatcher came through again, this time with an RBI single to score Lopes. After Denny Walling hit into a fielder’s choice, Glenn Davis stepped up to bat. The Astros first baseman led the club with 31 homers and 101 RBIs during the season and he was the biggest threat in the Astros lineup. Everyone inside the Astrodome stood up, hoping for Davis to deliver the big blow. Davis managed to muster up an RBI single to score Doran and move the tying run into scoring position and put the winning run on base. Kevin Bass was the next hitter for Houston. The switch-hitting centre fielder also had some pop in his bat, swatting 20 big flies in 1986. Bass also hit .311 during the season which made him a difficult out. But Orosco worked the count full then threw a devastating curve ball that Bass swung on and missed to end the Astros season in heartbreaking fashion.
Despite losing the series, Scott was named MVP of the NLCS for his brilliant work on the mound. Years later, Jeff Pearlman wrote a book entitled “The Bad Guys Won” documenting the Mets 1986 World Series triumph. In it, Scott confessed to doctoring baseballs to give him an unfair advantage while he was on the mound. It didn’t change the result nor did the feeling of agony for Houston fans.
October 20, 2004. St. Louis 6, Houston 4.
The 2004 National League Championship series is largely overlooked by most baseball fans. Those same fans recall the American League Championship Series that year in which the Boston Red Sox overcame a 3-0 series deficit to eliminate their hated rivals, the New York Yankees.
However, the 2004 NLCS also provided some heartstopping baseball that is well-remembered in Houston and St. Louis.
It looked like October baseball was not coming to Houston at the All-Star break. Sitting with a .500 record the Astros made a bold move, firing manager Jimy Williams and replacing him with former player Phil Garner. The move worked as the Astros went on a tear in the second half of the season, going 48-26 down the stretch to earn a wildcard berth. The Astros strong play continued in the postseason as they upset Atlanta in the division series which setup a best-of-seven against the Cardinals.
St. Louis enjoyed a terrific season in 2004, winning 105 games and finishing atop of the NL Central, 13 games ahead of the Astros. The Cardinals were considered top World Series contenders and announced their intentions that they were going for the biggest prize when they acquired outfielder Larry Walker at the trade deadline from Colorado. The Cards eliminated Los Angeles in the division series as their playoff run started.
The Cardinals would have home field advantage and it proved to be extremely important. St. Louis took Game 1 as a six run sixth inning was the turning point. The Astros hit four home runs in a losing cause but their pitching couldn’t contain the Cardinal bats.
The Cardinals grabbed Game 2 as Scott Rolen hit two homers for the Redbirds. Carlos Beltran belted his second long ball of the series and was a bright spot in two losing efforts for Houston.
The series shifted to Houston for Game 3. Unlike its predecessor the Astrodome, Minute Maid Park was a very friendly place for hitters. Home runs were hit with a high frequency rate and the Astros built their lineup to suit the park. The Astros responded with three home runs in Game 3 including Beltran swatting his third of the series. Meanwhile, Roger Clemens silenced the Cardinal bats with some help from closer Brad Lidge as Houston took the third game.
The Cardinals got off to a strong start in Game 4 by scoring three runs in the first inning off Roy Oswalt. But the Astros came back and won the game 6-5 as Beltran’s fourth homer of the series in the seventh, proved to be the difference.
Game 5 was an anomaly in the series. A low-scoring pitchers duel took place. Astros starter Brandon Backe had a perfect game through four innings and only allowed one hit in eight innings. Cardinals starter Woody Williams was excellent as well, allowing no runs on one hit through seven innings. The game was settled in the bottom of the ninth as Jeff Kent slammed a three-run homer over the left field wall to put Houston one win away from the World Series.
Game 6 was set at Busch Stadium with the Astros on the verge of history. Pete Munro was starting for the Astros. Some thought the Astros would go with Clemens on three days rest but Garner decided to save The Rocket for a possible Game 7 thus handing the ball to Munro. The right-hander was a surprise addition to the rotation for the postseason. Munro went 4-7 with a 5.15 ERA during the season and didn’t pitch in the division series against Atlanta. Munro started Game 2 and only lasted 4 2/3 innings, giving up 3 runs on 6 hits. The Cardinals went with 15-game winner Matt Morris who was starting to establish himself as a top pitcher in the Cardinals rotation.
The Astros threatened in the top of the first and came away with a run thanks to a Lance Berkman sacrifice fly. The Cardinals responded in the bottom half as Albert Pujols clocked a two-run homer into the bullpen in left-centre field.
The Astros tied it in the top of the third as Jeff Bagwell’s RBI double cashed in Beltran who singled just prior to Bagwell’s at bat. But the Cardinals had an answer in the bottom half as Edgar Renteria’s two-run single chased Munro and forced Garner to go to his bullpen early.
The Astros got one back in the top of the fourth thanks to a Mike Lamb solo homer. But Morris and his bullpen held the Astros at bay into the late innings. The Astros bullpen was effective as well, containing the Cardinal bats while giving their hitters a chance to tie the game.
With the score 4-3 in the top of the ninth, Jason Isringhausen was brought on to close the door for St. Louis. Isringhausen led the majors with 47 saves and Cardinal fans could sense a Game 7 coming. But Houston wanted to end the series now and advance to the World Series. Isringhausen hit Morgan Ensberg to put the lead runner on. Eric Bruntlett sacrificed Ensberg to second. After Craig Biggio flied out, Isringhausen intentionally walked Beltran which was the right decision as Beltran’s bat was red-hot. Bagwell stepped up and delivered an RBI single to tie the game and silenced the Busch Stadium crowd.
The game was tied going into extra innings with both bullpens in shut down mode. No hitter reached base in the tenth or eleventh innings. The Astros went down in order in the top of the twelfth setting up the dramatic bottom half.
Dan Miceli came on in the bottom of the twelfth after Lidge pitched three perfect innings. Miceli walked Pujols to lead off the twelfth. After Rolen popped out, Jim Edmonds came up to bat and changed the series with one swing. On a 0-1 count, Miceli threw a high fastball that Edmonds absolutely destroyed well over the right field fence to give St. Louis the win and force a Game 7.
The Astros had little left in the tank for Game 7. Not even Clemens could muster up a performance for the ages. The Cardinals used the momentum off the Edmonds walk-off blast in Game 6 to cruise to a Game 7 win and the NL Pennant.
The loss wasted a brilliant postseason by Beltran who hit .434 with 8 homers and 14 RBIs against the Braves and Cardinals. Beltran was brilliant but the Astros were left wondering what was it going to take to reach the World Series.
October 26, 2005. Chicago White Sox 1, Houston 0
On June 1, 2005 the Houston Chronicle officially pronounced the 2005 Houston Astros season as dead. The sports page even had a tombstone on the front page as the Chronicle gave the obituary to the Astros. While a tombstone seemed harsh, especially with 4 months left in the season, there was no denying the Astros task of reaching the postseason was incredibly daunting.
The Astros were in last place in the NL Central with a 19-32 record, 14 games back of St. Louis. But something happened to the Astros. Whether it was the Chronicle writing them off or that picture of the tombstone that motivated them, the Astros went on an unbelievable run. Houston went on a 70-41 tear since the Chronicle declared the Astros dead and buried. It was the best record in baseball during that stretch. The Astros went from dead last, to the wildcard spot in the NL by season’s end.
The Astros amazing run continued in the postseason. In the division series against Atlanta, the Astros won in dramatic fashion. Chris Burke hit a walk-off solo home run in the bottom of the 18th inning in Game 4, ending the longest game in playoff history.
The Astros were looking for revenge in the NLCS as the team that broke their hearts last season, the St. Louis Cardinals awaited them. It looked like the Astros would finish off the Cards in Game 5 but Albert Pujols hit a dramatic ninth inning three-run homer off Brad Lidge to extend the series. The Astros recovered as Roy Oswalt’s brilliant pitching performance in Game 6, gave the Astros their first ever pennant.
The Astros opponents in the Fall Classic would be the Chicago White Sox who were making their first World Series appearance since 1959. The White Sox finished first in the AL Central, 6 games ahead of Cleveland.
The White Sox made everyone take notice when they swept the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox in the division series. The White Sox then made short work of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, eliminating the Halos in five games.
Game 1 was set for U.S. Cellular Field on the South Side of Chicago. Roger Clemens got the start for Houston but he only lasted two innings, giving up three runs in the process. The White Sox pitching was steady as they took the series opener.
Game 2 was a classic as the White Sox took a 6-4 lead in the bottom of the seventh, thanks to a Paul Konerko grand slam.
The Astros tied it in the ninth inning via a two-run single by Jose Vizcaino. But the White Sox won it in the bottom of the ninth as Scott Podsednik drilled a walk-off solo homer.
Houston would host a World Series game for the first time in Game 3. The Astros jumped out to a 4-0 lead but the White Sox came back by scoring 5 runs in the fifth inning. Houston would tie it in the eighth forcing extra innings. It would stay deadlocked until the fourteenth inning when Geoff Blum hit a solo homer and Chris Widger drew a bases loaded walk giving the White Sox a commanding 3-0 lead in the series.
The Game 4 pitching matchup pitted Brad Backe for the Astros versus Freddy Garcia for the White Sox. The Astros were desperate not to get swept on their home field in their first ever World Series appearance. The White Sox were looking to end a long drought in which they hadn’t won the World Series since 1917.
The game turned into a pitchers duel which was contrary to how the Series had gone. Neither team could get much going as Backe and Garcia had their A stuff. The Astros had a great opportunity to open the scoring in the bottom of the sixth. With one out, Willy Taveras singled and Lance Berkman walked. After a double steal, Garcia struck out Morgan Ensberg and intentionally walked Mike Lamb. Jason Lane stepped up to the plate and the sellout crowd at Minute Maid Park rose to their feet. Lane homered in Game 3 and belted 26 homers in the regular season. But Garcia bettered Lane by striking him out to quash the threat much to the dismay of Astros fans.
The White Sox threatened in the seventh inning as they put men on second and third with two away. But Backe struck out Juan Uribe to end the threat and strand the baserunners.
The White Sox would threaten again in the eighth inning. Backe was replaced by Brad Lidge to start the inning. It was Lidge that served up the massive home run to Pujols in the NLCS. Lidge also gave up the walk-off homer to Podsednik in Game 2. Everyone knew his confidence was shaken.
Willie Harris led off with a single and was sacrificed to second by Podsednik. Carl Everett grounded out to the right side advancing Harris to third. Lidge had a chance to escape the inning unscathed but Jermaine Dye ended that fleeting hope by singling up the middle to score Harris and give the White Sox the lead.
The Astros had a chance to answer in the bottom half of the eighth. Cliff Politte came on in relief of Garcia as the White Sox looked to close the game out. With one away Politte plunked Taveras to put the Houston speedster aboard. Politte then uncorked a wild pitch putting the tying run in scoring position. Berkman drew a walk which brought up Ensberg to the plate. The Astros third baseman led the team with 36 home runs and was the biggest threat in the Astros lineup. Once again, Astros fans rose to their feet anticipating something special would happen. On a 2-0 count, Ensberg hit a fly ball to deep centre field. The crowd briefly thought the ball would leave the yard. But it fell safely into Aaron Rowand’s glove for a loud out. Taveras advanced to third but had to be stopped there. Politte was pulled for lefty Neal Cotts who got Vizcaino to ground out to end the inning.
The Astros had one last chance in the ninth. Lane led off with a single and was sacrificed to second by Brad Ausmus. Burke stepped up to bat hoping to recreate his heroics from the division series. But new White Sox closer Bobby Jenks got Burke to pop out and Orlando Palmeiro to ground out to end the Astros World Series dream.
This would be the last postseason appearance for the Astros as a National League team. In 2013, the team shifted over to the American League.
October 12, 2015. Kansas City 9, Houston 6.
After their 2005 World Series appearance, the Astros went through some very lean years. The Astros finished with the worst record in baseball for three straight seasons. The worst being 2013, their first year in the American League, as the Astros posted a horrific record of 51-111.
Behind the scenes, general manager Jeff Luhnow and farm director Quinton McCracken were slowly putting the pieces together to rebuild the Astros. Through some smart drafting, trades and patience, Luhnow and McCracken were forming the nucleus of a contender. The Astros showed improvement in 2014, winning 70 games.
But the breakthrough took place in 2015. With manager A.J. Hinch providing the game day smarts, the Astros rose to heights that Houston hadn’t seen in a decade. The Astros finished 2015 with an 86-76 record which was good enough for the second AL Wildcard spot.
Houston was back in the postseason but they weren’t satisfied with just getting there. They wanted to make an impact. The Astros made their presence felt against the New York Yankees in a one game playoff at Yankee Stadium. Four pitchers, led by 20-game winner Dallas Kuechel, held the Yankees to just three hits while Colby Rasmus and Carlos Gomez homered to send the Astros to the division series while ending the Bronx Bombers season.
The Astros opponents in the ALDS were the Kansas City Royals who were looking to make amends after coming up one run short in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series against San Francisco. The Royals finished with the best record in the American League, posting a 95-67 record, 12 games ahead of Minnesota in the AL Central.
Game 1 took place at Kauffman Stadium but it was the Astros that drew first blood. Home runs by Rasmus and George Springer paced the offence while five Astros pitchers led by starter Collin McHugh and closer Luke Gregerson held the Royals at bay.
The Astros had a great chance to take a stranglehold of the series but blew a 4-1 lead in Game 2 as the Royals fought back to even the series.
Postseason baseball returned to Houston for the first time in 10 years and the fans were geeked. All 42,674 patrons were clad in orange as the Astros were greeted loudly by their loyal fans. The Astros gave their fans something to cheer about as Chris Carter homered while Kuechel threw 7 strong innings with Gregorson getting his third save of the series to give the Astros a chance to advance in Game 4.
The pitching matchup in Game 4 had righty Lance McCullers on the hill for the Astros versus hard-throwing Yordano Ventura for the Royals. Minute Maid Field was electric as they wanted to see their team pull off the upset.
The Royals managed to quiet the crowd in the second inning as Salvador Perez belted a two-run homer to give the Royals the lead.
Houston answered in the bottom half as Gomez swatted a solo homer to bring the crowd to life.
The Astros tied it in the third as Carlos Correa lined a solo home run to left-centre field. The crowd was sensing that the Astros had the Royals on the ropes.
Houston took the lead in the bottom of the fifth as Correa lined an RBI double to plate Springer who walked in the previous at bat.
The bottom of the seventh was huge for Houston. Jose Altuve walked then Correa drilled his second homer of the game a two-run blast. The next batter was Rasmus who hammered a solo home run to give the Astros a 6-2 lead. Minute Maid Park was going crazy as the Astros could smell a series win.
As great as the seventh inning was for Houston, the top of the eighth was a disaster. Will Harris came on to relieve McCullers in the previous inning and Hinch decided to keep him to start the eighth. The first three Royal hitters all singled to load the bases. Lorenzo Cain singled to score a run and cut the deficit to three. Tony Sipp came on to replace Harris and promptly allowed a Eric Hosmer RBI single thus cutting the Astros lead to two. Minute Maid Park was suddenly very nervous as the Royals were gaining momentum. Kendrys Morales was up to bat and he hit a ground ball to the shortstop Correa who misplayed the ball as it bounded into centre field. Two runs scored and suddenly the game was tied. You could hear a pin drop at Minute Maid Field. After Sipp struck out Mike Moustakas, Hinch called upon Gregorson to stop the bleeding. Instead, Gregerson walked Drew Butera to load the bases. Alex Gordon hit a tough ground ball that Altuve did a terrific job in fielding the play and recording the putout. But that was good enough to score a run and give the Royals the lead.
The Royals extended the lead in the ninth when Hosmer blasted a two-run homer to give Kansas City some insurance.
The Astros did get the lead runner on in the bottom of the ninth but couldn’t do anything else as the Royals forced a Game 5 back in Kansas City.
The Astros were emotionally spent as they took the plane to KC and it showed on the field. The Royals easily sped past the Astros in Game 5, ending Houston’s season abruptly. The Astros would have to wait two more years until they could experience complete happiness.