Tuesday, October 18, 2005

When You Assume...

The cost of a nice 2 week vacation, and returning on the day that your younger brother gets admitted to the Bar, is that you wind up working late when you finally get back to work. How late? I was following the Astros/Cardinals game at work, via computer.

I was scanning along, eventually coming to terms with the fact that I wouldn't get home in time to catch any part of Andy Pettitte's starting performance, when Lance Berkman hit his big three run shot in the seventh inning, putting the Astros up, 4-2. Houston has a pretty lights-out bullpen, so I left the office thinking that the Astros/White Sox World Series matchup was a done deal.

Man, was I wrong.

The question is, can the Astros come back from losing after being a one strike away from the World Series, at home? Over at ESPN, Bill Simmons thinks not. Simmons thinks that this is the kind of blow from which the Official 2005 Playoff Team of the Weblog That Derek Built cannot possibly recover, because the psychological damage from losing after being one strike from the World Series is too much to overcome. His words:
Sadly, the rest of the Astros-Cards series seems predictably depressing (unless you're a St. Louis fan). Not only are the Cardinals back at home, not only have they been handed a second life, but out of every sport, baseball hinges on emotion and momentum more than anything else. In the NBA, teams can lose the most devastating game possible and bounce back two days later as a completely different team (like the Nets after Game 3 of the 2002 Boston series). That doesn't work in baseball. Once you have the momentum, the other team has to take it back. And they can't do that when they're reeling on the road and wondering what the hell just happened. That's why I believe the Astros are finished, just like that '86 Angels team was.

Now, he's got a great point about the disadvantage the Astros face going back to St. Louis. The 'Stros were just 35-46 outside of the Juice Box this year, while the Cards maintained twin 50-31 records at home and on the road this year. So the Cardinals are very much alive in this series, and have a shot to beat out Houston for the pennant. But at the same time, I don't give much credence to all this talk of momentum, much less Simmons' unsupported theorem that momentum matters more in baseball than any other sport.

Sunday night, the Astros had all the "momentum." The Cards had not just lost and put themselves on the brink of elimination, they had fallen apart, with LaRussa and Edmonds getting ejected from the game, the team making mistakes in the field.

Houston's momentum lasted just shy of 24 hours, until the Cardinals finally managed to put a couple of people on base for the most dangerous hitter in the National League. That's all that really happened. Giving up a big fly to Albert Pujols is not the same creature as allowing a homer to Scott Podsednik (or Bucky Dent). But when we talk about "momentum," that is all we're talking about--a bad pitch to a really good hitter.

In other words, to quote Earl Weaver, "Momentum is tomorrow's starting pitcher." And here, the Astros have the decided advantage, bringing to the mound a 20 game winner (Roy Oswalt) and the guy who won the ERA title (Roger F'ing Clemens). Against this, the Cards have their sometimes-achy #2 starter, Mark Mulder, and a couple of decent-to-good guys, Jeff Suppan and Matt Morris.

So the chances of the Cards' "momentum" lasting through Thursday seem quite distant.

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