The Houston Astros are set to make their first appearance in the American League Championship Series on Friday night against the New York Yankees. If the franchise’s history in the National League is any indication, there are some thrills in store. Over the course of their 50-year run as an NL team (1962-2012), the Astros reached the NLCS four times and every one stands the test of time…
1980: In the days when this round was best-of-five, the Astros and Philadelphia Phillies went the full five games. Four of them went extra innings. The last two saw multiple lead changes in the late innings.
I watched this series when I was ten years old and the drama still sits in my mind like it was yesterday (yes, I realize that’s an indication I need to get out more often—but also an indication of how good the baseball was). This link has the game-by-game narrative of the greatest LCS ever played.
1986: Everyone remembers how the 108-win New York Mets barely escaped the Boston Red Sox in the World Series this year, thanks to an ill-fated groundball through the legs of Bill Buckner. Not enough people remember the Mets were pushed to the brink by the Astros. Houston’s Mike Scott was coming off a Cy Young season and had dominated to win Games 1 & 4. He was on deck for Game 7, the Astros had a 3-0 lead late in Game 6…and the bullpen coughed up the lead, the game went 16 innings and the Mets survived.
By the admission of the Mets’ players at the time—a group that included Gary Carter, Keith Hernandez and Darryl Strawberry—they knew they couldn’t hit Scott and it’s what drove New York’s desperation in Game 6. This link has the game-by-game narrative to one of the more underrated LCS battles in league history.
2004: A seven-game battle between the Astros and St. Louis Cardinals is overshadowed in the history books by the Red Sox-Yankees ALCS that same year and Boston’s historic comeback. The Houston-St. Louis series was tense all the way through. There were walkoff home runs in Games 5 & 6., one each way. Carlos Beltran was unstoppable. The Astros had Roger Clemens on the mound for Game 7, but came up short.
2005: It was rematch time for Houston and St. Louis. The Astros were a decided underdog, but won three of the first four. In the ninth inning of Game 5, they led 4-2 with closer Brad Lidge on the mound and a home crowd to celebrate. With two men on, Albert Pujols hit one of the longest home runs you’ll ever see. It left the crowd so stunned and quiet that players could recall hearing Pujols’ feet hit the ground as he trotted around the bases.
Fortunately for Houston fans, the Pujols home run ended up in the same historical category as Rajai Davis’ dramatic blast for Cleveland in Game 7 of last year’s World Series—it was thrilling, but it didn’t ultimately change the outcome. Roy Oswalt took the ball for Game 6 back in St. Louis and with the crowd smelling blood, Oswalt silenced everyone and put Houston into the World Series for the first and only time.
The Astros remain on the march for what would be their first championship. If they do it by beating the Red Sox, Yankees and Dodgers (the three teams with payrolls north of $200 million), all in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, it’s fair to say Houston will be America’s Team. But win or lose, if their LCS history teaches us anything, it’s that the excitement is just getting started.