Thursday, March 01, 2007

State of the Star 2007: Astros Preview, Prologue

I've endured a large handful of hardship from Cardinal fans since I've arrived in Missouri. Permit me to provide some context here: I moved to Missouri weeks after the Carlos Beltran trade in 2004 - the weekend I moved into my apartment in Columbia, I watched the Cubs series on WGN in which Michael Barrett and Roy Oswalt got into it, thus instigating the Stros insane run to win the wild card, coupled with the Billy Goat's collapse. I had gone to the Juice Box for 20 games that summer, yet they decided to catch flames after I moved 850 miles away.

I then was forced to endure a pennant chase surrounded by inane Cardinal fans and their biased banter. Objectivity is not the forte of the casual sports fan, and these people have been no exception. Usually the breadth of most Cards' fans' knowledge is limited to rehashing how 'amazing' Albert Pujols is and explaining the value of Jeff Suppan. That year's NLCS might have been the best 7-game series that nobody ever talks about. The Game 5 showdown between Brandon Backe and now-Astro Woody Williams (i.e., The Jeff Kent Game) was one of the top 5 Astro games of all time. But, no one outside of Texas or Missouri remembers this, because it happened while the Red Sox became a Disney movie in games 4-7 against the Yankees.

Fast-forward to the 2005 NLCS, which, may I remind Cardinal fans, the Astros actually won - in six games, no less! Cardinal fans conveniently forget this fact, as I was told about the Lidge-Pujols moment roughly 78.347,172 times. Like I could ever forget the feeling of my apartment complex shaking in celebration while I watched the most painful sports moment in my entire life. Thanks, guys. By the way, Roy Oswalt closed your generic-ass, musty, bad-parking-poor-sight-lines cookie cutter Astrodome replica 2 nights later. And no, I haven't grown bitter here. Not at all.

Anyway, 2006 seemed like a wash for the Astros from the get-go. Save from Lance, the offense was anemic, with Morgan Ensberg cerca 2005 turning into Morgan Ensberg cerca 2004. Willy T, God bless him, is fun to watch but didn't get on base nearly enough. Add those two to the perennial black holes in the order named Ausmus and Everett, and even our fantasy-league-esque big three of Roy, Roger and Andy couldn't pull us out of the .500 void. That, and Brad Lidge went crazy, or something. More on him later.

Then, for a stretch of about 10 days last September, I was inebriated with feelings of disbelief and on-the-brink euphoria. After a year of lackluster offensive performances and spectacularly blown leads, the Star was surging at just the right time. That, and the Cardinals were in an epic freefall. Their once insurmountable lead crumbled from a dozen, to five, to a single game. I was checking out tie-breaker scenarios and imagining life should this collapse actually happen. I was giddy with dreams of gloating, braggodacio, and visions of rubbing in what would have been the biggest collapse in the history of baseball.

Then we went to Atlanta. Yeah, that Atlanta. The Atlanta that we had buried the past two seasons, but before that, had tortured us through the 90's during Bagwell's premo years. We may have got 6 hits all weekend, and this ended the wet dream in progress. To add further insult to this, the Cardinals beat an overrated Padres team, the pitching-free Mets, and then managed to beat the Tigers to win the World Series. Sen-fucking-sational.

The winter has been a long one, my friends. Everywhere I turn, I'm reminded of the Cardinals' most recent World Championship. The gloating of my peers has been abundant, but I've grown numb to it by now. So alas, my Astrodom has been tested in every way since I've been here, yet my allegiance is unwavering. There will be no fluctuation in my support for the mighty Astronauts, as they go about the annual rituals that take place in Kissimmee, Florida.

An overview of the offseason moves, as well as a look to '07 to come.

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