October 19, 2005 [LINK]

Take two: Astros win pennant

Once again, the Astros' pitching was dominant, but this time there was no heroic ninth-inning comeback by the Cardinals. With Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte both pitching at or near top form, who would have thought that the NLCS MVP Award would go to Roy Oswalt? And what's his secret, anyway? His pitches all look like well-placed fastballs to me, nothin' really fancy or tricky. It gives one a warm, fuzzy feeling that the original "Killer Bees," Bagwell and Biggio, will finally get to play in the World Series, reminding me of when the Padres' veteran Tony Gwynn got that long-dreamed-of chance in 1998. It is too bad that bad umpiring calls played a part in yet another postseason game this year, this time a missed tag at second base that was wrongly called out. That stopped a potential Cardinals rally in the fifth inning. Few can deny that the Astros outplayed the Cardinals, though, and fully deserve a shot at the World Championship. (Part of me cringes at the prospect of yet another wild card team going all the way.) With neither of this year's pennant-winning teams having played in the World Series in most of our memories, this one has the potential to be even more exciting than last year. Anything can happen.

Whereas both league championship series went a full seven games in 2003 and 2004, this year neither one did. It was also striking how little home field advantage mattered; seven out of 11 ALCS and NLCS games this year were won by the visiting team. In last year's NLCS, the home teams won all seven games. Another difference is that only one postseason game so far has gone into extra innings (Braves fans would just as soon forget that one), whereas there were seven such games last year.

Bye-bye to Busch

History will record that the Cardinals lost the last two games they ever played at Busch Stadium (II). Likewise, the Braves lost their final game in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in the 1996 World Series, and the Astros lost their final game in the Astrodome in 1999. Over the course of Busch Stadium's 40-year history, however, there were more than enough playoff and World Series game victories to make St. Louisians happy. Among all the doughnut/cookie-cutter stadiums of the 1960s and 1970s, this one will probably be remembered most fondly.

Fenway renovations continue

Being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs gave the Red Sox extra time to finish the next phase of the multi-year renovation of Fenway Park. The big glass panes enclosing the elite "406 Club" in Fenway Park have been smashed and/or removed, as the first step toward installing new club seats all along the upper level. This will add 1,100 seats to Fenway Park, which will still be the smallest capacity ballpark in the majors. See MLB.com. It's clearly a step forward, but they eventually ought expand the upper level into a normal size deck, with 15 or more rows.

Here's a thought: Many folks blithely assume that the Yankees or Red Sox will routinely make it to at least the league championship series, but that did not happen this year. With the persistent torrential rains suffered by New Yorkers and New Englanders last week, any postseason games up there would have been postponed by several days anyway, throwing the entire postseason schedule into turmoil.