Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Pretty Girl Says Yes! by Kip Yates

I waited over 25 years for this moment. 25 years of disappointment! Many Octobers were the source of nightmares that would wake me in a cold sweat or leave me tossing and turning, unable to stop thinking about the hit that never came, the wrong pitch or the misplay in the field. For 25 years, it always seemed to be something. But on the night of October 19th, 2005 the waiting ended. The very moment Jason Lane caught the routine fly ball, which was the farthest thing from routine, the waiting ended. The Houston Astros, my Houston Astros, had finally won the pennant. They were going to the World Series for the first time in their 40 plus years of existence.

I had seen the Astros reach the threshold of playing in the Fall Classic many other times before—1980, 1986, 2004. They had come close. So close you could taste it, smell it, but each time they somehow managed to lose it. Monumentally lose it I might add. Three outs away in 1980 before the Phillies stormed back to win the decisive final game of the NLCS. Again three outs away from sending Mike Scott, a.k.a. the Met Killer, to the mound in the 7th game of the NLCS in 1986 only to see the game tied and then won in an epic 16 innings. One win away in 2004, needing one victory in two chances to beat the Cardinals and win the NLCS. They lost both.

In the fall of 2005, the Astros went into game 5 with a 3-1 lead. I let down my guard and believed that a series clinching game at home was possible. But it was also chest numbing. If they lost this game then they would find themselves in the same position as the year before, having to win just one out of two in St. Louis. This was a frightening thought. If you are a Yankees fan, A’s fan or even a Marlins fan, you don’t have many fears when your team is in this position. That is because your team has a history of taking care of business. If they have a 3-1 series lead and playing a series clinching game at home with their closer, one of the most dominating closers in the league, on the mound, then it is never a matter of “if.” It is only a matter of “when” (2004 Yankees excepted). However, Astros fans, much like Red Sox fans (2004 Red Sox excepted) sit in silence waiting for the other shoe to drop.

My wife Jamie had already kissed me goodnight and gave me a “looks like they’re gonna win” boost of confidence. I should have known right then, THEY’RE GONNA LOSE. So it was not a surprise when Albert Pujols launched a rocket 3-run blast that is still traveling through the upper stratosphere to give the Cardinals a game 5 win and cut short the long overdue celebration. To be honest with you, I cannot recall the ball ever landing, perhaps because I had already stumbled back to the bedroom in a stupor to announce, stepford-like in a monosyllabic tone, “It’s happening again!” Jamie talked me down from the imaginary cliff I was standing on with the false hope that they could still win it in the bottom of the 9th. Yeah right! I walked like a zombie back into the living room to watch another post season nightmare materialize.
I did not watch the news, listen to the radio, or read anything sports related for the next two days. I just didn’t want to hear it anymore. Instead, I listened to The Bravery all day long and noted how each song somehow mirrored Astros personnel. (Ed note: See Bravery-Astros players below)

Quite simply, I was going mad.

I waited the two days between games and never once let myself get pulled in until the evening of the game. One of the Astros best pitchers, Roy Oswalt, was on the mound for game 6 and if we lost, Roger Clemens was ready to go in game 7. For the first time since Pujols’ blast, I liked our chances. I admit I did not watch the entire game. My heart would have exploded by the fifth inning if I had. Instead, Jamie called me twice with updates. I knew the Astros were winning because she had promised to call only with good news. I checked the score from time to time but I just could not bring myself to watch. I guess I had seen enough and did not care to see how this one would play out. I cut the strings that had long manipulated my emotions and made me punch newsstand kiosks, cry myself to sleep, and sit emotionless in soul draining stupors over this team. They weren’t going to get me again.

Oswalt pitched superb and the game was closed by Dan Wheeler. The last out of the game landed in Lane’s glove. The ball innocently went up; he got under it and caught the ball with exaggerated joy, the kind of joy I had imagined a moment like this would conjure. Replays show that Lane almost closed his glove too soon, but if you ask me, that pennant winning catch could not have happened soon enough. After a quarter century of waiting, my baseball team won the right to represent the National League in the World Series.

I sit in here in July of the following season watching the Astros and the Cardinals play a meaningful mid-summer four game series. Four games separate the two teams. The Astros were swept in the 2005 World Series by the Chicago White Sox. The hitters still struggle at the plate. Clemens just rejoined the team a few weeks ago. Andy Pettitte is a shell of his former self. Some way, somehow it is different this year. It does not seem to matter as much anymore. I am still a huge fan but a huge burden as a long time fan was lifted by the 2005 team. They played in the World Series. Though they were swept, they were in every single game and a few breaks here or there and they sweep the Sox. The games were not viewed by many but were highly competitive. Well pitched by both teams with bullpens being the difference. The White Sox pen was outstanding and the Astros pen was less than stellar. C’est la vie! The pretty girl finally agreed to go to the dance with you and it didn’t matter if you got lucky that night. What mattered is that you danced. You danced, baby. You danced.

Bravery Songs Astros Equivalent
“An Honest Mistake” Brad Lidge (for his pitch to Pujols)
“No Brakes” Craig Biggio (just put me out of my isery)
“Fearless” Roy Oswalt (this is when I started to “believe”, a term my Mets fan friends overuse in abundance)
“Tyrant” Jim Hickey
“Give In” Jason Lane (for his propensity for striking out)
“Swollen in Summer” Morgan Ensberg
“Public Service Announcement” Lance Berkman
“Out of Line” Roger Clemens
“Unconditional” Adam Everett
“The Ring Song” Jeff Bagwell
“Rites of Spring” (Dear Brad… I love you! Love Albert)

Kip Yates is the father of River and (baby in October) and husband of Jamie. He is a lifelong Astros fan who's dream of watching his team play in the World Series came true last October. Being an Astros fan, Kip understands how important baby steps are for the franchise and hopes that it does not take another 40 years to win the pennant and that when they do, they get that long awaited World Series game win. Is it too much to be crowned champions even? Or will an older River or a yet to be named sibling tearfully place an Astros hat on Kip's grave 60 years from now in recognition that they finally won or “broke a curse.” As Jamie is prone to say out loud sometimes, “Just win the damn thing already.”

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