Heartbreak In Houston

The city of Houston has endured its share of baseball heartbreak and they look poised to add another chapter. Yesterday, after back-to-back home runs gave the Astros a seemingly insurmountable 6-2 lead going into the eighth inning against the Kansas City Royals—and a ticket to the American League Championship Series—the Houston bullpen completely fell part in a 9-6 loss. The series now goes to a decisive fifth game in KC on Wednesday.

Houston’s track record of heartbreak isn’t as long or as well-documented as that of the Cubs, the pre-2004 Red Sox or other star-crossed franchises in other sports, but they’ve had had some tough losses…

*In 1980, Houston was on the brink of closing out the Philadelphia Phillies at least two different times and ended up losing consecutive games at home in the greatest League Championship Series ever played.

*In 1986, Houston had a three-run lead on the New York Mets in Game 6 of the NLCS. The Mets had the series lead, but the Astros had Cy Young winner Mike Scott ready for Game 7 at home and Mets players were open afterward in how much they wanted to avoid Scott—who completely dominated them in Games 1 & 4. New York rallied to tie Game 6 and won a 16-inning epic.

*Even the year Houston made its lone World Series, as a National League team in 2005 didn’t come without putting the fan base through the ringer. They were an out away from clinching at home in Game 5 against St. Louis when Albert Pujols hit a massive home run that landed somewhere in Oklahoma. The series shifted back to St. Louis where most of us were expecting the Cardinals to continue the momentum.

Instead, Roy Oswalt took matters into his own hands and shut down the Cardinal bats in a Game 6 clincher. Will Collin McHugh, a 19-game winner this season and winner of Game 1 turn into Oswalt this year? That’s Houston’s last hope to avoid a bitter memory at the end of a terrific season.

Elsewhere on day-long festival of playoff baseball…

*David Price might have picked up the cheapest win in the history of playoff baseball. Toronto blew Derek Holland off the mound and grabbed a 7-1 lead over Texas. With two outs in the fifth and one man, Price came on in relief of R.A. Dickey, pitched three innings and got the win.

What was interesting is that even though Price would have been in line to start Game 5 on normal rest, manager John Gibbons instead opted for 24-year-old Marcus Stroman. Good for Gibbons. Price has a bad postseason history, Stroman has been great down the stretch and was solid in Game 2 until a blown save cost him the in.

As for Texas, they’ve been here before too. In 2010, they faced Tampa Bay, won the first two games on the road and then lost two straight at home. Cliff Lee bailed them out with a Game 5 win on the road. Cole Hamels, this year’s version of Lee, will get the ball late Wednesday afternoon for the finale.

*The Cubs & Mets opened up offensively in front of home crows to take 2-1 series leads over the Cardinals & Dodgers respectively. I won’t say I was expecting the New York onslaught, but this was definitely their opportunity—the one game where Clayton Kershaw or Zack Greinke won’t be on the mound and a big dropoff to #3 starter Brett Anderson.

Curtis Granderson drove in five runs from the leadoff spot, and Travis d’Arnaud and Yoenis Cespedes each homered early, as the Mets spotted the Dodgers a 3-zip lead and then ripped off ten unanswered runs in the second, third and fourth innings. The final was 13-7, with Los Angeles tacking on three useless runs in the ninth against the back of the Met bullpen.

*The Cardinals solved one mystery, that of Jake Arrieta. They hit the Cubs ace hard, chasing him in the sixth after scoring four runs. But they didn’t solve the mystery of what’s happened to Michael Wacha, who pitched poorly down the stretch and got lit up in Wrigley yesterday. Chicago homered three times off Wacha and three more times off the Cardinal bullpen n an 8-6 win.

St. Louis won all year with pitching, but in Games 2 & 3 they’ve been badly let down by otherwise good starters. It’s the Cards, noted for depth, that are having to push starters to the max as they bring back John Lackey on three days’ rest. Chicago gets a home game today and still has a fully rested Jon Lester in reserve for a potential Game 5 on Thursday back in St. Louis.

The American League travels today, while the Game 4s are played in the National League. Here’s the schedule…

4:30 PM ET (TBS): Cardinals-Cubs—Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo hit for the first time in the postseason yesterday. Can they do it again and trigger a big party on the North Side?

8:00 PM ET (TBS): Dodgers-Mets–New York sends untested rookie Steve Matz to the mound against Kershaw. Matz has been solid in six starts in the big leagues, 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA. It’s reminiscent of the Dodgers-Cardinals NLCS in 2013 when Kershaw had to beat an untested Wacha in Game 6 at St. Louis. That night it was Kershaw that came undone while Wacha became a postseason hero. Can Clayton redeem himself tonight in New York?