Astros' playoff moorings slip away against Braves Finding selves in 0-2 hole, even Houston's players don't like their chances

October 03, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

HOUSTON -- "Our chances are slim and none." (Houston outfielder Thomas Howard)

"We're backed into a corner with our hands tied and a blindfold on." (Houston catcher Brad Ausmus)

"As long as they've got a heartbeat, they're alive." (Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones)

Astro odds?

Astronomical.

If a sweep of a team that has won 103 games this season can be accomplished by a team that has won 84, the baseball season of the Houston Astros can continue.

Otherwise, their National League playoff series with the Atlanta Braves could end today, as could the first Astros championship season in 11 years.

The way they played in Atlanta?

L "It was embarrassing," general manager Gerry Hunsicker said.

Their task here in Houston?

"Herculean," said Ausmus.

You could throw in Xena, and the 'Stros still might not be strong enough.

An anticipated 50,000 fans will swarm into the Astrodome -- not a sellout, but a big crowd for this building -- to try to help.

Will the Killer Bs be joining them?

The 1-2-3 batting punch of Craig Biggio, Derek Bell and Jeff Bagwell will bring a .040 series average (1-for-25) into today's game against John Smoltz, a 15-game winner and last year's Cy Young Award winner.

Bagwell has an odd theory -- that of Atlanta's four aces, Smoltz is the one who can be beat.

"At least with Smoltz, we'll see more fastballs," Bagwell said. "I'm not saying it'll be easy. I'm saying maybe against John, we'll have more of a chance."

By the way, Bags:

Didn't you say before Game 1 in Atlanta that without a split there, the Astros would be "dead"?

Bagwell: "Well, we're not dead. But you know what our backs are against.

"Maybe the crowd will help. None of us has ever played here with a packed house."

The team's owner, Drayton McLane Jr., has been trying to pull everybody together, walking around pumping hands and telling his men: "Keep charging."

Shane Reynolds gets the unenviable assignment of stepping out of the pod to fix the Astros' spacecraft.

The right-hander was supposed to be on a par with Darryl Kile as the staff's stopper. Reynolds even outdueled Smoltz, 2-1, on opening day.

He got a rich contract. But he hurt a knee, had arthroscopic surgery and sat out a month, so McLane didn't even get 10 wins from Reynolds for his money.

Leaving the Astros to cry out:

Come back, Shane, come back.

"I'll be pitching the biggest game of my career," Reynolds said.

To overcome the 0-2 disadvantage, Houston will have to catch every break. It has to sweep Smoltz, Denny Neagle and Greg Maddux, who have 54 victories combined. They would need to bring back Kile on three days' rest for Game 4. And they have to stop getting nuttin', honey, out of the Killer Bs.

Luis Gonzalez, who bats cleanup, wishes everybody would lighten up on the guys ahead of him.

"Obviously, they're the focal point, but I don't think it's fair to put it all on them," Gonzalez said. "They're the horses that have pulled the wagon all season long, but the rest of us have to carry our share of the load, too."

Gonzalez is batting .375.

Behind him, Richard Hidalgo and Bill Spiers are batting .000 and Ricky Gutierrez .167.

No wonder that Ausmus, who caught Game 2 and got two hits, said of Houston's situation: "It's not hopeless, but it's bleak."

Pub Date: 10/03/97

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