April 5th, 1978
Brandon Backe Born
Well, that's certainly the most alliterative title I've had in these three something months. Despite being on a team that featured a surefire Hall of Famer (Roger Clemens) and a damn good pitcher (Roy Oswalt), the best starting pitcher for the Houston Astros in the 2004 NLCS was a man who had pitched the previous two seasons for baseball’s worst franchise, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. In fact, Backe had posted ERAs of 6.92 and 5.44 in small parts of two seasons for the Devil Rays.
Backe did not exactly pitch a huge amount in Houston either, starting just nine games and posting an exactly league average ERA. Despite this, after the Astros required five games to dismiss the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS with Oswalt and Clemens starting Games Four and Five respectively, and with Andy Pettitte long since lost to surgery the only options were Backe and Peter Munro. Backe was frankly unimpressive in Game One, going just four and two-third innings, giving up three runs before giving way to Chad Qualls who allowed a fourth of Backe's runs to score in a game the Astros would lose 10-7 with Qualls getting the loss.
Backe redeemed himself in Game 5 however. The game was a crucial one with the series tied 2-2 and the last of the series at Minute Maid Park. If the Astros lost, they would have had to win two straight games at Busch Stadium in Saint Louis. Backe however pitched a gem, allowing no runs and just one hit in eight innings to a team that had averaged more than a five and a quarter runs per game during the season. Backe was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning, and the Astros' brilliant closer Brad Lidge pitched the ninth inning and received the victory when Jeff Kent hit a walk-off home run.
The Astros, of course, would go on to lose the next two games at St. Louis, without Backe throwing a pitch. His numbers for the series then were a 0-0 record but an impressive 2.84 ERA in twelve and two-third innings. No Astros pitcher threw more innings and only two, Lidge and Dan Wheeler, had a lower ERA. Backe is back in the Astros' rotation in 2005, probably as the fourth starter behind Clemens, Oswalt and a recovered Pettitte. Having lost Kent and Carlos Beltran, it is unlikely the Astros will repeat their success of 2004 this season. If Backe can find his form of the NLCS and extend it across a full season, it will do a lot towards pushing the Astros back to the playoffs.