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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Of surging Astros and sinking Cardinals

They’re baaack.

After being given up for dead, counted out and overlooked more times than a penny in a pig pen, the Houston Astros are right back in the thick of the National League playoff race.

The Astros, who whipped the Pittsburgh Pirates 7-4 on Tuesday night to capture their seventh straight win, are only 1 ½ games behind the sinking Central Division-leading St. Louis Cardinals, who’ve LOST seven straight.

After the Astros had completed their four-game sweep of the Cardinals in Houston on Sunday night, I visited both clubhouses.

The Astros’ clubhouse was filled with a quiet confidence as players mingled about and conducted interviews, stopping occasionally to glance at the New England Patriots-Denver Broncos game being shown on the big screen TV.

It was business as usual for the Astros. You could hardly tell they had just knocked off of the division leaders. To a man, they expressed satisfaction at Sunday’s outcome, but they also acknowledged the difficulty of the task at hand.

The Cardinals’ clubhouse was quite a different place. A full 30 minutes after the final out, players were still sitting around. It was obvious the four-game sweep had taken a heavy toll. Some players had empty stares as they looked across the clubhouse. Others simply glared at the floor. No talking.

And THAT was when they still had a 3 ½-game lead over the Astros. I can only imagine how their clubhouse looked after Tuesday night’s loss.

While the shaken Cardinals are on the verge of a colossal collapse, the Astros continue to work within their comfort zone.

This is the Astros’ time of year. They know it, and the Cardinals know it.

But there’s nothing the Cardinals can do about it. This race was over on Sunday night.


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