10 memories from Astros' pennant-winning 2005 season
HOUSTON -- Many former Astros returned to Minute Maid Park this weekend for "Legends Weekend," including several members of the 2005 team who were on hand to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the organization's lone National League pennant.
The celebration included a Legends Luncheon in Union Station, where players took a trip down memory lane to recall several famous moments that made the 2005 season unforgettable -- the 15-30 start, the dramatic comeback and the Game 6 win in St. Louis that clinched the pennant.
It's hard to whittle down the top moments to just 10, but here's our stab at it, in chronological order:
1. Without Lance Berkman, who was out for more than a month after offseason knee surgery, the Astros had one of their worst starts in history at 15-30. They had a total of two wins on the road through May 24. The Houston Chronicle printed a picture of a tombstone and declared the Astros dead for 2005.
"When that tombstone article came out and we were 15-30, I told [manager Phil] Garner, 'We'll win 50 before we lose 50,'" said Doug Mansolino, who coached third base that season. Garner's response: "Are you crazy?"
2. May 25: The Astros ended a seven-game losing streak with a 5-1 win over the Cubs in Chicago, their third road win of the year. The win presumably helped to at least start to push what Garner described before the game as the "900-pound gorilla" off their backs, and the Astros walked off the field a little more elated than they would normally be after a May win in Chicago.
"We're all like, smiling," Morgan Ensberg said after the game, before retreating into the clubhouse. "And I don't know what to do."
3. June 29: Craig Biggio was plunked by Byung-Hyun Kim in Colorado to surpass Don Baylor for the modern-day hit-by-pitch record. The Hall of Fame asked for Biggio's arm pad. A bandage company sent Biggio a lifetime supply. Biggio attributed his dubious record to "fearlessness and stupidity."
4. Sept. 7: Down by one run with two outs in the ninth, the Astros beat their closest Wild Card nemesis when Biggio launched a three-run homer off former teammate and Phillies closer Billy Wagner. The game seemed well in hand for the Phillies, who had gone ahead in the eighth on a game-tying two-run homer by Bobby Abreu and a Shane Victorino run-scoring single, but Biggio ended up handing the Phillies a gut punch that pushed them 2 1/2 games behind the Astros in the Wild Card race.
Legendary Phillies announcer Harry Kalas appropriately summed up the home team's angst.
"All the runs are unearned," he bellowed. "But so what."
5. Sept. 16: Jeff Bagwell, who was out most of the season after undergoing what he was hoping was career-saving shoulder surgery, pinch-hit in the ninth in a home game against Milwaukee and singled home the winning run. The win allowed Houston to maintain a one-game lead over Philadelphia in the Wild Card race.
"It's been a long road back here, a lot of questions about whether I was going to be able to make it," Bagwell said after the game. "[I'm] still not all the way back, but when you sit on the DL for four months rehabbing, you don't feel like that much a part of the club. Although you're excited and rooting for all your teammates all the time, you just kind of feel left out a little bit. Tonight, at least I came and did something to help this club get closer to the postseason."
6. After the 15-30 start, the Astros finished up the year 74-43, a historic pace, and won the Wild Card the same way they won it the year before -- on the last day of the season, Oct. 2.
7. NLDS Game 4, Oct. 9: The Astros and the Braves played a five-hour, 50-minute game that lasted 18 innings and set a Major League record for the longest game in postseason history. Chris Burke homered off Joey Devine to win it, sending the Astros to the NLCS for the second year in a row.
Brandon Backe, who started that game, recalled the home run in self-deprecating manner during a question-and-answer session with season ticket holders Saturday.
"Everyone remembers Chris Burke's homer, but I don't think anyone remembers that I gave up a grand slam earlier in the game that set [Burke] up to be able to do that," he quipped.
8. NLCS Game 4, Oct. 16: In the ninth inning, the Astros turned an improbable 4-6-3 double play (Eric Bruntlett to Adam Everett to Lance Berkman) to barely nab a sprinting John Mabry and seal a 2-1 win. With Larry Walker running from third and representing the tying run, Everett's throw to Berkman beat Mabry by mere inches.
"That double play, during a regular-season game, might get turned one out of every 100 times," Berkman said during Legends Weekend. "Because the way the ball was hit, Bruntlett had to go so far to his left, it wasn't hit that well, the pivot -- Adam's got to make a perfect throw, handle the ball cleanly, throw a laser beam and it was bang-bang. You go from the brink of saying, 'Oh, they have a runner on third, one out, and they're probably going to tie this game,' to, 'Game over.'"
Recalled Everett: "Mabry jams the heck out of it and I'm going 'OK, the game's going to be tied, Brunt's just going to throw it to first.' The next thing you know, the ball's coming at me, I turn it and the game's over. We're just like, 'Oh my gosh. We've got a 3-1 lead.' In a matter of seconds, just like that. It was so memorable because it was a ball that shouldn't have been turned by either one of us and we did.
"I'm just screaming as loud as I can and then Bruntlett comes over and he gives me a big bear hug and he almost knocks me out. He forearm shivers me across the face. It was a lot of fun."
9. NLCS Game 5, Oct. 17: One out away from clinching the pennant, the Astros' 4-2 lead over the Cardinals evaporated in gut-punch fashion when Albert Pujols launched a three-run homer off Brad Lidge. That pushed the NLCS to Game 6 in St. Louis.
10. NLCS Game 6, Oct. 19: Roy Oswalt pitched a gem, and the Astros won the pennant with a 5-1 win over the Cardinals. The subplot to this story, however, became almost as famous as Oswalt's performance, which earned him NLCS MVP honors.
Before the game, Astros owner Drayton McLane promised he'd buy Oswalt a bulldozer if he won Game 6. He made this promise a couple of hours before the game, when Oswalt was deep in thought in the clubhouse preparing for the game. Most people in baseball know not to talk to the pitcher the day he's starting. Most people -- except McLane.
"I'm watching video of some of the [Cardinals] hitters in the middle of the lineup, figuring out what I wanted to do," Oswalt said. "Drayton comes in, upbeat as usual, talking to me about being a champion.
"I was trying to be respectful but I was also trying to focus on what I'm trying to do. He's still talking and says, 'You know, if we win tonight, we've got that bet on the line and I'll buy you that bulldozer.' We shook hands.
"The sixth or seventh inning, I'm walking off the field thinking, 'I just won a bulldozer.'
McLane made good on his promise, presenting Oswalt with a shiny new yellow Caterpillar D6N XL tractor just before Christmas.