Eric: Whatever happens, let's give it up one time for MISTER Roy Oswalt! He's carried these Cardinal hitters around his back pocket like a sproinged plastic comb, like a receipt from A&W, like laundry lint.

Rob: Like a forgotten dead frog. Like a leaky pen. Like a lucky penny. Yeah, he's been fantastic, and let's not forget that, when the season started, we might reasonably have guessed that he -- and not one of the old guys -- would be the Astros' best pitcher. And I think that maybe he actually is.

Eric: Agreed. The drama of Clemens in 7 would have been terrific, but the excellence of Oswalt in 6 has been every bit as impressive.

Rob: Nobody's going to notice or remember, but just quick props for La Russa, who's smart enough to use his closer in a game the Cardinals are losing. I don't know that Joe Torre would figure this one out ... And in the other dugout, I'll bet Garner's absolutely thrilled that he'll be able to bring Lidge into a relatively safe situation. I don't really think Lidge is suffering any crisis in confidence anyway, but if he is, nailing down the Astros' first-ever World Series berth should take care of that.

Eric: Good point about La Russa. I believe he did it the other night in Houston, too. Most dominant pitcher when he's needed most, roles be damned. I like that thinking.

Rob: Well, now Dan Wheeler's throwing up in the bullpen. (And yes, that was for you, Jerry Coleman.) And if Lidge doesn't pitch in this game, I'm definitely picking the White Sox to win the World Series.

Eric: Look at Bags and Biggio. They can barely breathe. They're like clumsy magicians trying not to sneeze on a house of cards. It's painful to watch ...

Rob: Odd that the Astros would finally make it, and neither of those guys would be in the game.

Eric: Agreed. If it's Wheeler, that's a mistake. If it's Lidge, there is no story about Lidge in the Series. If it's Wheeler, reporters for the Whitney Young Daily Cryer are sticking mikes in Lidge's face, making his lower lip quiver ...

Rob: Wow. It's Wheeler. It feels awful strange to be second-guessing the team that's going to the World Series, but I just don't understand why Lidge isn't pitching right now. It's not that it's not a save situation. I see closers summoned to protect four-run leads all the time. The Astros were off yesterday, and will be off for the next two days, so obviously it's not a concern about fatigue, either past or future. Unless Garner has a specific policy that prohibits using his closer to protect a big lead, I just don't get this one. At all. And like I said, I'm picking the White Sox. These two teams are pretty even so you have to look for small things. Being the home team is a small thing in Chicago's favor. So, too, is the possibility that Lidge will spend the next two days doubting himself.

Eric: And doubting his manager. And feeling anything other than elation when/if they wrap this thing up.

Rob: Actually, if I had to bet, I'd bet that Lidge will be just fine. But I also think there's just a chance that he won't be. Which is a small tick mark on the board for the White Sox. ... More than anything else, tonight I'm happy for the Astros and (even more) for their longtime fans. As our colleague David Schoenfield notes, tonight marked the sixth time in franchise history in which a victory would have sent them to the World Series. In each of the first five, they held a lead, and in three of them they were ahead by two runs or more in the eighth inning or later. And until tonight, they'd lost all of them. So win or lose, it'll be great to see this team in the Series next week. I just wish they could wear throwback jerseys in one of the games ...

Eric: Just because they can't wear them doesn't mean we can't. Long Live J.R. Richard! I say. Yeah, congratulations to the Astros, to Garner, Oswalt, Biggio, Bagwell, and company, and to Nolan Ryan and Jose Cruz and Billy Hatcher and Mike Scott. Ladies and Gentlemen, Mike Scott! This sets us up for just a marvelously unpredictable World Series; unpredictable as in, whoda thunk it? And unpredictable as in, who's going to win it? But before we turn to the next series, let me say maybe my very favorite part of tonight is the death of an old, persistent idea about gut-punches and momentum. The mythology about Game 5 in 1986 was that Hendu's homer and the Angels' heartbreaking loss that day sealed the deal, that Boston's wins in Game 6 and 7 were determined before those games were ever played.

And we heard the same nervous chatter these last 48 hours about this series: "Oooooh the Cardinals are heading home," "Oh there's no way the Astros can recover from a blow like that," and so and so on. So when we tally up the things the Astros accomplished tonight, in addition to beating a very good Cardinals team, and lassoing a whole passel full of ghosts, let's not also take time to praise them for driving a stake in the heart of a big, nasty cliche about winning and losing and the hearts of professional athletes.



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