The Houston Astros are one win away from advancing to their first-ever NLCS after defeating the visiting Atlanta Braves on Saturday afternoon, 9-5, at Minute Maid Park.
The Astros have not won a playoff series in their 42-year history and have been eliminated by these very same Braves in 1997, 1999, and 2001.
Despite that playoff futility, the red-hot Astros have other plans this season as pre-trade deadline acquisition Carlos Beltran is trying to launch his team to the next round by hitting his second homerun of the series, a two-run homer in the third inning, to give Houston an early 2-0 lead.
"I was praying to be in this kind of situation, where every game means something," Beltran said. "Being around so many good players in the clubhouse has helped me to become a better player."
Houston pulled away, 8-2, after seven innings with Morgan Ensberg adding three RBI. The Astros rode the back of young right-hander Brandon Backe, who pitched six solid innings, while allowing just two runs on five hits. Some Giants fans may infamously remember Backe for trying to hit Barry Bonds in a game last month in San Francisco.
The Astros opened the series by winning the first game in Atlanta, 9-3, on Wednesday. The Braves fought back in Game 2 by winning, 4-2, in 11 innings on the strength of Rafael Furcal's walk-off homer to even the series.
"I'm not jumping up and down right now," said Jeff Bagwell, who has seen his share of postseason failures. "I'm very proud of this club. But we have a tough Braves team to beat tomorrow. The Braves are not going away. They didn't go away the other day and they're not going to go away tomorrow. It's nice to be up 2-1, but there is still work to do."
Roger Clemens will try to bear the majority of the work by pitching on three days rest on Sunday afternoon, in hopes of eliminating the Braves in Houston. The Braves will start former Giant Russ Ortiz, who is 8-3, with a 3.61 ERA on the road this season.
Yankees set for rematch with Red Sox:
If you are going to watch one playoff series in this Giants-less postseason, be sure to catch the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees square off for the ALCS, beginning on Tuesday at storied Yankee Stadium.
The Red Sox did their part in joining the "Big Dance" on Friday when they swept the bumbling Anaheim Angels in three games. The "Party Boys" from Beantown got their wish on Saturday when the Yankees came from behind for the third time in the series, winning 6-5, to eliminate the Minnesota Twins.
For the second consecutive year, the Twins ended their season at home in the "Homerdome" at the hands of the Yankees in the ALDS.
"We gave them a scare over there," Corey Koskie said. "I thought this was the year that we could beat them."
It is a bit difficult trying to beat a team with so many weapons. The newest member of that lethal arsenal the Yankees employ, Alex Rodriguez, beat the Twins with more of his speed than his bat.
A-Rod opened the decisive 11th inning with a double down the left-field line, and then stole third base when pitcher Kyle Lohse forgot about him at second. Rodriguez later scored on a wild pitch by Lohse, manufacturing the go-ahead and eventual winning run by himself.
"I've never been around so many guys that believe in themselves," Rodriguez said. "We have so many guys with big, big hearts."
Not to mention big, big paychecks. The comparably high payroll of the Red Sox will feature their own high-profile acquisition of this past offseason, Curt Schilling, to open Game 1 of the ALCS against the Yankees, who will counter with Mike Mussina.
Lima Time for Dodgers, not yet done:
Stop the presses! Stop the presses! The Los Angeles Dodgers won their first playoff game since winning the World Series in 1988, 16 years and three U.S. Presidents ago.
The Dodgers pulled off the once-in-a-generation feat on Saturday evening when they actually won a game against the St. Louis Cardinals, the powerhouse of the National League, 4-0, at Chavez Ravine.
Los Angeles rode the coattails of the highly animated Jose Lima, who pitched the game of his life, going the distance in a complete-game shutout of the Redbirds.
Lima and the Dodgers got some help from home plate Umpire Chuck Meriweather, who called Lima safe on a sacrifice bunt attempt in the bottom of the third. Replays showed that the ball Lima bunted bounced back off the ground and hit his bat, which would have resulted in an out. The Fox telecasters called it a "horrible" call. Instead, two outs and two batters later, the Dodgers scored two runs on a double by Steve Finley to take a 2-0 lead.
The Bums added two more runs in the later innings for good measure, but Lima did not need the runs more than he needed to tame his theatrics, pumping his fist several times, pounding his chest, and pointing to the hometown crowd to show his emotion. "He's always been like that," Reggie Sanders said. "One thing, on our part, you can't get too hyped up or too caught up on that. Lima has always been Lima. He tries to get you caught up in his world. He did tonight."
The Cardinals hope to bounce back on Sunday against the Dodgers. St. Louis still leads the best-of-five series, 2-1, but they will have to face Odalis Perez, who is nearly unbeatable at home (9-1, 3.08 ERA). The Redbirds will counter with Jeff Suppan, who is equally impressive on the road (10-1, 3.55 ERA) and will have to win if they do not want to send the series back to Missouri.
Around the Majors:
A rumor circulating around the Hot Stove League had the Kansas City Royals acquiring Sammy Sosa from the Chicago Cubs for Mike Sweeney, among others. Royals' GM Allard Baird shot down such rumors stating, "That sure created a buzz, but how can anything happen when the two clubs involved haven't talked about it?" Sosa was fined $87,400, one game's pay, earlier this week by the Cubs for leaving early in the team's season finale against the Braves.
Phil Delacruz was a transplanted Giants fan, buried in the Southland. After four strenuous years in College, studying (read: partying), he's back in the beautiful "City by the Bay" – San Francisco. Do you think he should move back to LALA land? Or do you like him where he is now and appreciate the good reads? Either way, send him an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org to air out your frustrations or, more likely, songs of praise.
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