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Volume 71, Issue 149, Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Sports

Astros again limp into mid-summer classic

Sports Guy

Eli Jabbe

It was a moment that would be permanently ingrained in every Astros fans' memory. Seconds after Astros closer Brad "Lights Out" Lidge unleashed a slider that didn't slide, St. Louis superstar Albert Pujols took a huge swing and crushed the ball deep into left field. This pivotal home run, of course, was the big blow that allowed St. Louis to come back late in the game and win Game 5 of the National League Championship Series at home, spoiling the Houston fans' night. This moment is also important because it seems to have been the beginning of Lidge's downfall. 

Friday night, the Astros led 6-4 going into the ninth inning. Veteran starter Roger Clemens had pitched a solid game, and Houston only needed three more outs to seal the deal and win the second game in a row against St. Louis. But just like in the NLCS, pesky shortstop David Eckstein started off a rally for St. Louis, who would tie the game and force extra innings. 

In extra innings, Pujols would again terrorize Houston fans with a crucial home run, this time off of All-Star pitcher Roy Oswalt, who came in the game to pitch relief. The Astros would lose by one, and while Oswalt gave up that run, the blame still lies on Lidge for blowing the lead. As if that wasn't bad enough, Lidge would again give up crucial hits, this time on Sunday night when he gave up a crucial two-run double in extra innings, leading to another disappointing Houston loss. 

The Astros now limp into the All-Star break with a three game losing streak. Just like the past three years, they enter the break hovering around the .500 mark, this time with a 43-46 record. The good news is that they are only six games out of first place in the NL Central. The bad news is that some of their key players have been very disappointing as of late. 

Third baseman Morgan Ensberg, an All-Star last year, is hitting only .236 this season. His fly-out on the first pitch with two runners on base in extra innings Sunday night epitomized his poor season. Willy Taveras, who was once a spark at the top of the lineup last season with nearly 200 hits, has had a huge sophomore slump, hitting .253. He hasn't even been able to generate the measly in-field hits that he had plenty of last year. 

As far as pitching, besides Lidge, the biggest disappointment has been Andy Pettite's 7-9 record and, more importantly, his suprising 5.28 ERA. The Astros have the second half to turn it around, just like they have done the past two seasons. Until then, fans can sit back and enjoy the All-Star game today, which will feature star Lance Berkman, who leads the National League in RBIs, and Roy Oswalt.
 

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