The Houston Astros first run to the World Series in 2005 could work as a Last Dance documentary.
The mid-2000s were truly a storybook era with the Astros first visit to the World Series. The era that saw Yankees superstars Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte joining their hometown squad with an already powerful rotation led by Roy Oswalt and Wade Miller, this Houston team was destined for greatness.
1/12/2004: RHP Roger Clemens comes out of a brief retirement & signs a $5m, one-year contract with the #Astros. Clemens cites his Houston home and his friendship with Yankee-turned-Astro teammate Andy Pettitte among his reasons for pitching another season. https://t.co/zgZgn9I8do pic.twitter.com/WALzYLz5RC
— Astros Daily (@AstrosDaily) January 13, 2020
The 2004 season will always be remembered for almost getting there in the always-dramatic Astros fashion. With the team going into a tailspin in May following an injury to Pettitte, the ‘Stros brass had manager Jimy Williams hanging on by a thread.
Having fallen 10.5 games behind the Cardinals by the All-Star game, Williams was fired and replaced by Phil Garner, following a barrage of boos for the embattled manager at the 2004 All-Star Game in Houston.
At the end of June, the Astros picked up Carlos Beltran in exchange for Octavio Dotel and a minor leaguer. Beltran would prove to be a major coup for the Astros in the coming months and into the playoffs.
The Houston Astros sign Carlos Beltran.
Beltran had 8 home runs and 14 RBIs with Houston in the 2004 playoffs pic.twitter.com/xsW5YXOCoi
— SportsBlogNewYork (@SportBlogNYC) December 3, 2016
The 2004 season had plenty of milestones as well. Clemens would pitch his way to second place in all-time strikeouts behind other Astros great Nolan Ryan, would get his 329th win and won the Cy Young Award. Craig Biggio would get his 2,500th hit and second baseman Jeff Kent would have a 25-game hitting streak.
After nailing down the Wild Card spot, the Astros would enter the playoffs against their longtime nemesis, the Atlanta Braves. They finally dispatched the Braves in a hard fought five-game series, and then would face off in an epic seven-game series with their longtime division rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals.
After splitting the first four games in their respective homes, the Astros and Cardinals faced off in an epic scoreless battle. Woody Williams and Brandon Backe went toe to toe for seven incredible innings, and Backe ended up going eight scoreless frames.
The ninth inning set the stage for Kent. After getting two men on, Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen threw a slider right in Kent’s kitchen, and the second baseman sent Minute Maid into a frenzy.
However, that proved to be the team’s last win in 2004 with Game Six being decided by a walk-off on the Cardinals side by way of Jim Edmonds. The Astros finally fell to the Cardinals in the seventh game, 5-2. But they would get their revenge.
The 2005 campaign was truly a season for the ages. Having lost Beltran and Kent to free agency, the Astros famously started off the season in a serious funk. Having gone 15-30 in their first 45 games, the Houston Chronicle famously dubbed them dead in the water with this famous cover:
6/1/2005: The Houston Chronicle pronounces the 19-32 #Astros‘ season to be dead and thoughtfully provides the tombstone. The team will finish the season 89-73 and earn the franchise’s first NL Pennant and World Series appearance. https://t.co/8Sqo2BdABk pic.twitter.com/eEV6zivy6E
— Astros Daily (@AstrosDaily) June 2, 2019
After nearly making the World Series the year before, the Astros were falling well short of expectations and into a hole of epic proportions.
But a funny thing happened after that article – the Astros rose from the dead (almost literally) and got to over .500 by the All-Star break and came in as the Wild Card team in the playoffs to face off, yet again, against the Atlanta Braves. The Astros would join the 1914 Boston Braves as the only team to make the playoffs after having fallen 15 games under .500 at any point during the season.
After splitting the first two games in blowouts (10-5 and 7-1 respectively), the Astros won Game Three in convincing fashion behind Oswalt. Then Game Four was a game for the ages.
The Astros quickly fell behind 4-0 behind a grand slam by Adam LaRoche in the third and eventually trailed 6-1 entering the bottom of the eighth. But they would load the bases for the reliable Lance Berkman, who promptly hit an opposite field jack to the Crawford Boxes, making it a 6-5 game.
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The ninth inning saw two quick outs before the light hitting catcher Brad Ausmus stepped up to the plate. Not normally known for his hitting prowess but for his catching acumen, Ausmus hit a deep shot to center field just out of reach of center fielder Andruw Jones and over the yellow line, tying the game up at six apiece.
The teams would face off for another nine innings, trading zeroes in an epic battle. Clemens came in for three innings (and one at-bat) of relief work.
The big blow came in the bottom of the 18th inning. With both bullpens depleted, a young Joey Devine came in to pitch to Chris Burke. The light-hitting utility infielder hit a 1-1 pitch into the Crawford Boxes to send Minute Maid into hysteria again.
This set the stage for another epic NLCS with the Cards. They split the first two games in St. Louis, with the Astros winning their game behind Oswalt’s soon-to-be NLCS MVP performance.
After winning the third game in Houston, the Astros faced some trouble in the ninth inning of Game Four. With men on first and third and one out, facing Brad Lidge was reliable hitter John Mabry. Thankfully for Houston, Mabry was also a bit slow-footed as he bounced into a fantastic double play turned by Eric Bruntlett and Adam Everett.
The Astros were now one win away from the Fall Classic! One more win and they were in. And what better way to do it than in front of their home fans?
A strong start from Pettitte got the team to the ninth inning of Game Five with a 4-2 lead and destined for glory. Albert Pujols had other plans, however, and hit a long go-ahead bomb off Lidge that will forever be in Astros lore and that I’m not sure fell yet. This sent the series to a Game Six in St. Louis with ol’ reliable Oswalt to the bump.
Oswalt cemented his role in history as the NLCS MVP behind a second strong performance en route to a 5-1 victory over the Cardinals, bringing the team to its first World Series.
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The Astros faced off against the AL Champion Chicago White Sox, which proved to be a gritty series. The Fall Classic was finally upon them, but their bats couldn’t do enough to match their pitching prowess to scratch out a win.
All four games were decided by two runs or less, so the Astros definitely had their chances to take victories, but fell just short in every game. Whether it was getting beat by light-hitting Scott Podsednik’s walk-off homer in Game Two or stranding runners at the corners with no outs in the eighth inning of Game One, the Astros just didn’t have it in the 2005 World Series.
A wild Game Three saw the team go up four runs behind Oswalt, but it all evaporated in a 12-inning classic capped by now-Astros broadcaster Geoff Blum hitting a homer in the 12th. The Astros squandered many opportunities to score runs, but the hitting remained a running theme in a disappointing series.
Going down 3-0 in the World Series, the Astros ended up losing the deciding game 1-0, despite a strong effort by Backe, and seemed to be a microcosm for the 2005 season. Power pitching but disappointing hitting.
The Astros wouldn’t sniff the Fall Classic until the 2017 season, but 2005 would always be a memorable one and full of plot twists and turns. With the returns of hometown heroes Clemens and Pettitte, they were sure to be destined for greatness but proved to be another rung in a string of disappointments.