Thursday, September 20, 2001 Volume 67, Issue 21


Astros climb to the top in the NL

The Mendoza Line

Ed De La Garza

Life isn't so trivial that baseball is the great panacea for America's recent tragedy. But it is the one great American symbol the sporting world has
to offer. And it was called on Monday to help people "recover."

Many games took on a greater meaning. Baseball was America. And it hadn't gone anywhere. Some may have questioned why it wasn't back
sooner, but not playing until Monday helped America realize what it lost.

It's corny, but seeing the players -- who until Sept. 11 had been our national heroes -- in the middle of a baseball diamond waving little U.S. flags
made you appreciate this country.

Shame on you if you didn't feel the same way.

Around the bases

It's only right that the New York Mets are a game over .500.

Those 'Mazin Mets, who've spent more time chasing Florida than Atlanta and Philadelphia in the National League East, are suddenly just five
games out of first place with 15 games remaining on their schedule. It's as though some higher power is willing New York through another
miracle comeback.

At 74-73, the Mets are a testament to the city in which they play. Donning "NYPD" caps -- in honor of rescue workers -- Mike Piazza and company
roared out of the break, winning three consecutive games against Pittsburgh. The competition wasn't tough, but playoff-bound teams have to beat
the league's dregs.

The fact that the Mets can even think about the postseason is shocking.

The attacks had more of an affect than just postponing games. Fans have been a bit hesitant to return to the stadiums. Colorado saw its 39,000
paid attendance average take a 50 percent hit. Pittsburgh's homestand (originally scheduled for Shea Stadium) drew less than 10,000 fans.
Montreal saw only 2,000 fans in Olympic Stadium.

Actually, Montreal can't really use the tragedy as a reason. It hasn't been drawing flies for much of the season.

Meanwhile, taking time out to mourn didn't turn the Boston Red Sox into a harmonious family. Disgruntled outfielder Carl Everett was put on a
four-game suspension after arguing with manager Joe Kerrigan, and pitcher Pedro Martinez is done for the season because of recurrent right
shoulder inflammation.

The same goes for the team. It seems like ages ago that Boston and Minnesota were first-place teams.

Root for the home team

Once in a while, you get to a point where winning is expected. Add a dominating rookie pitcher and the Astros have slipped into cruise mode.
They take the field and they should win.

Proud owners of the National League's best record, Houston's Tuesday-night rally against San Francisco helped it whittle its magic number to
14. And it was just that easy. Except for one thing. Those blasted St. Louis Cardinals are doing the same thing -- and with greater ease.

The Cardinals -- even with Mark McGwire hitting below the Mendoza line -- are atop the Wild Card standings. But they're just four games back of
the Astros in the NL Central.

And now that dominating rookie pitcher, Roy Oswalt, is injured. And Pedro Astacio is out for the season. You'd think seeing the Cubs blow their
one magical season so quickly would be great news, but St. Louis is a far bigger headache than Chicago would have been.

This race is obviously rigged.

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