The 2007 season could actually be summarized in one day. That day was June 28th. Everything leading up to that day seemed to build to that climax. Almost everything beyond that day was an afterthought to the season.
In reality, Craig Biggio's 3,000th hit did not represent the entire season but it felt like it. Needing 70 hits when the season began, the 41-year-old infielder pushed himself for almost three months like a marathoner trying to finish the final mile. Indeed, it was the final leg of a 20-year big league career, all of it in a Houston uniform.
Biggio entered June 28th with 2,997 hits. Against the Colorado Rockies, he singled in his second trip to the plate then legged out a grounder to third in the fifth to approach the milestone. In the seventh, against Aaron Cook, Biggio lined a two-out single to right center which tied the game. Craig was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a double but, throughout Minute Maid Park, the party had started. A large "3,000 hit" banner unfurled. Biggio's family and friends soon spilled onto the field. A ceremony ensued. Craig thanked his wife, his kids, his teammates, Jeff Bagwell, owner Drayton McLane and the Houston fans.
Then he went back to work.
He smacked another single in the ninth then, trailing 5-4 with nobody on and two outs in the 11th, beat out another infield hit for his fifth of the game, eventually setting up a dramatic walk off grand slam by Carlos Lee for an 8-5 Hollywoodesque triumph.
If only the rest of the season had gone so well. The Astros could not muster a winning month out of the first three, reaching July 1st at 34-47. Although they played .500 ball through July and August, McLane had seen enough. On August 27th, with his team .001 away from the division cellar, McLane fired Manager Phil Garner and General Manager Tim Purpura. Bench Coach Cecil Cooper was named the new manager, the first African-American to hold that title in the team's history. Tal Smith became interim general manager, soon replaced by Ed Wade, a former partner of Smith's.
The Astros finished the season in fourth place with a 73-89 record. It was their worst showing since 2000 and a major shakeup was soon in the offing.
National League champions just two years before, how did the Astros fall so far so fast? Start with hurlers Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens who took their circus act back to New York after a three-year stay. Purpura tried to compensate by trading three players to the Rockies for righthander Jason Jennings and signing 40-year-old righthander Woody Williams.
Neither lived up to expectations. Jennings (2-9, 6.45 ERA) struggled with elbow problems and Williams (8-15, 5.27) was inconsistent. Even staff ace Roy Oswalt (14-7, 3.18) looked mortal at times, such as while notching his 100th career win in a 9-6 victory on April 13th. Wandy Rodriguez (9-13, 4.58) and Chris Sampson (7-8, 4.59) provided a mediocre middle to the rotation.
The starters were betrayed as often as they were helped by a shaky bullpen. Brad Lidge (5-3, 3.38, 19 saves) was moved in and out of the closer role due to injury and inconsistency. Dan Wheeler (1-4, 5.07, 11) and Chad Qualls (6-5, 3.05, 5) also faltered when the pressure rose. By year's end, all would be traded.
Almost from the moment he arrived, Clemens had lobbied for another big hitter in the lineup and, with Clemens and Pettitte leaving, McLane could now afford one. The Astros signed left fielder Lee to a six-year $100 million deal. "El Caballo" delivered with a .303 batting average, 32 homers and a team-leading 119 RBIs. What he lacked was teammates who followed his example.
While Lance Berkman (.278, 34, 102) finished strong, he slumped noticeably while the team was still in contention. Besides these two, the only offensive bright spot was outfielder Hunter Pence (.322, 17, 69) who might have been Rookie Of The Year in the National League had he not lost almost a month of the season to a wrist injury.
Luke Scott (.255, 18, 60), Mike Lamb (.289, 11, 40) and Mark Loretta (.287, 4, 41) did admirably in limited roles but it was not enough to offset the presence of Morgan Ensberg (.232, 8, 31), Adam Everett (.232, 2, 15), Brad Ausmus (.235, 3, 25), Chris Burke (.229, 6, 28), Jason Lane (.178, 8, 27) and even Biggio (.251, 10, 50) sprinkled throughout the lineup.
By September, the call-ups had arrived and they began stealing the headlines. Outfielder Josh Anderson went 5-for-5 with six times on base in a September 16th spanking of the Pirates. Four days later, catcher J.R. Towles drove in a club-record eight runs during an 18-1 drubbing of the Cardinals.
As for Biggio, he would celebrate announcing his retirement with a grand slam homer then finished his career by returning behind the plate to catch an inning (it was the position where he started it all back in 1988). Craig would end up 20th all-time in hits (3,060) and fifth all-time in doubles (668), the most of any right-handed batter in major league history. His marathon finally over, Biggio could now await the likely call to Cooperstown sometime in the next decade.
It was a good time for him to retire as the roster received an extreme makeover during the off-season.By Astro Daily
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