The Astros surprising season hit a speed bump before the All Star Break. But they are just 1 game back heading into late July, better than anyone’s expectations for 2015. The team remains one of the few organizations to have never won a World Series in their lifetime (which began in 1962 as the Houston Colt .45s.)
And along the way, they have lost some of the most heartbreaking games in baseball history.
Great pitching chances squandered. The winning run stranded on base. Runners being picked off. Odd bullpen decisions. Eight extra-inning losses.
A bounce here in 1980, a carom there in 1986, an extra hop in 1999, a pop up in 2004 or an RBI in 2005 and who knows? The Astros might have a few World Series banners flying.
These are the 15 most painful playoff losses in the history of the team.
The Astros were one game from winning the National League pennant. They built a 2-0 lead and loaded the bases in the sixth inning, knocking out Phillies ace Steve Carlton. Luis Pujols hit a sacrifice fly to make it 3-0, but the umpire ruled that Gary Woods left third too early and was called out on the appeal.
Pete Rose led a go-ahead rally with some clutch hitting and alert base running in the eighth. Terry Puhl tied the game for the Astros in the ninth and was on first base representing the 1980 pennant. Instead, Enos Cabell hit a drive to right field, and Phillies outfielder Bake McBride picked off Puhl going back to first.
In the 10th, the Phillies got a pair of two-out RBI doubles to take the lead for good.
Game 5, 1980 NLCS: Phillies 8, Astros 7 in 10 Innings
The Astros tied the game in the sixth and took a 5-2 lead with a wild seventh-inning rally and were only six outs from the World Series with Nolan Ryan on the mound.
The Phillies got a run and Joe Sambito came in with the bases loaded and nobody out. He got an out but let up a run. Ken Forsch got Mike Schmidt to strike out looking… four outs from the Series.
But Del Unser tied the game with a single and Manny Trillo gave the Phillies the lead on a triple. But in the bottom of the eighth, the Astros rallied off of Tug McGraw and had the go ahead run on third when Denny Walling grounded out.
In the bottom of the ninth, Dave Bergman, Alan Ashby and Craig Reynolds all came to the plate representing the pennant. They went down 1-2-3. Garry Maddox hit a two-out double to give the Phillies the lead for good in the 10th and for good measure caught the pennant-clinching out.
The Astros lost an NLCS where in two different innings they could have won with a single ninth-inning run. The Phillies would go on to win the World Series
Game 3, 1986 NLCS: Mets 6, Astros 5
The Astros had a very simple strategy for winning the 1986 pennant against the favored Mets: Have Mike Scott win his three games and steal another game somewhere else.
When Houston took a 4-0 second-inning lead in Game 3, it looked like they were well on their way to a win. Darryl Strawberry tied the game with a sixth-inning homer, but Ray Knight’s error in the seventh opened up a go-ahead rally for the Astros in the seventh.
In the bottom of the ninth, just two outs away from taking a 2-1 series lead and handing the ball to Scott for Game 4, Lenny Dykstra hit a two-run, come-from-behind, walk-off home run to give the Mets the win.
Game 5, 1986 NLCS: Mets 2, Astros 1 in 12 Innings
Mike Scott did indeed give the Astros a series-tying win in Game 4. Not to be outdone, Nolan Ryan threw a masterpiece in Game 5. Nine innings, 1 walk, 12 strikeouts and only 2 hits. It is a line to win nine out of 10 times.
But one of the hits was a home run by Darryl Strawberry, and the Astros could only get one run off Dwight Gooden over 10 innings.
Houston left runners in scoring position in the second, fifth, eighth and 10th. In the 12th, Wally Backman singled, moved to second on a botched pickoff play and came home on Gary Carter’s walk-off single.
Game 6, 1986 NLCS: Mets 7, Astros 6 in 16 Innings
Without question, one of the greatest playoff games in baseball history. The Astros ran up a 3-0 lead in the first inning and with the specter of Mike Scott looming for a Game 7, looked like they were in control. Bob Knepper was nothing short of brilliant, much like Ryan was the day before.
But the Mets bullpen shut down the Astros after the first and the Mets rallied in the ninth with three runs. Dave Smith let up two 3-2 walks before Ray Knight tied the game with a sacrifice fly.
In the ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th, a single run would have won the game for the Astros. Sixteeen batters came to the plate, each with the ability to win the game. Fifteen of them were retired.
The Mets scored in the 14th, but Billy Hatcher tied the game with a home run with the Astros two outs from elimination. Then five more batters came to the plate with the ability to end the game between the 14th and 15th. All were retired.
The Houston bats didn’t come to life until the Mets took a three-run 16th-inning lead. The Astros scored twice and had the tying run on second and the winning run on first. Jesse Orosco struck out Kevin Bass to end the marathon.
Mike Scott never did get that third start despite two games where the Astros had a ninth-inning lead and another game where an ace threw a masterpiece.
The Mets went on to win the World Series.
Game 1, 1998 Division Series: Padres 2, Astros 1
The 1998 Astros won 102 games and with newly acquired ace Randy Johnson were not just happy to win the division. They had a pennant on their mind.
Johnson pitched well, going 8 innings with 9 strikeouts and 1 walk. But the Padres were also renting an ace. Kevin Brown went 8 strong with 2 hits and an amazing 16 strikeouts.
Down 2-0 in the ninth, the Astros faced relief ace Trevor Hoffman and rallied. Moises Alou tied the game with a hit and an error by Ken Caminiti. Carl Everett represented the winning run at the plate but flew out to center field to end the threat.
The Padres would win the series and go on to win the National League pennant.
Game 3, 1999 Division Series: Braves 5, Astros 3 in 12 Innings
The Astros had a chance to take a 2-1 series lead with a Game 3 win. And with Tom Glavine looking wild in the first inning, Houston’s chances looked good. But Glavine settled down and eventually the Braves took a 3-2 lead.
In the seventh, the Astros tied the game but left the bases loaded. In the ninth inning, where a single run could have won the game, the Astros went 1-2-3.
Then came the 10th… one of the most underrated innings in terms of team agony. The Astros loaded the bases with nobody out. John Rocker got one out with a force at home. Then Tony Eusebio hit a grounder up the middle that looked destined to go into center field for a walk-off hit.
Veteran Walt Weiss dove for the ball but still had to make a play. He threw a strike home getting Ken Caminiti at the plate for out No. 2. Rocker got out of the inning.
In the 11th, the Astros left another runner stranded before the Braves put up a pair of two-out runs in the 12th. Kevin Millwood, on one day’s rest after throwing a complete game in Game 2, got the save for Atlanta.
The Braves would close out the series the next day and eventually go on to win the National League pennant.
Game 2, 2001 Division Series: Braves 1, Astros 0
The Astros had home-field advantage throughout the postseason for the first time since 1980 and looked to overturn the Braves in the Division Series.
After blowing a 3-2 eighth inning lead to lose Game 1, they looked to even the series in Game 2. Dave Mlicki went up against Tom Glavine and held his own with five innings and no earned runs.
Unfortunately for the Astros, there was an unearned run thanks to Julio Lugo’s error on a Julio Franco grounder.
Nothing went right for the Astros as Brad Ausmus missed a home run by less than a foot in the fifth inning and in the eighth, Marcus Giles made a diving play to stop an Astros rally.
In the ninth with a runner on base, Lance Berkman faced John Smoltz as the winning run. He hit a line drive that Julio Franco turned into a back-breaking double play.
The Braves would go on to win the game and sweep the series.
Game 2, 2004 Division Series: Braves 4, Astros 2 in 11 Innings
It was Braves vs. Astros for the fourth time in the Division Series in 2004. The Braves won the previous three match ups. The Astros took Game 1 of the 2004 series and looked to bring a 2-0 advantage back toTexas.
Jeff Bagwell and Raul Chavez homered to put Houston up 2-0 with Roy Oswalt on the mound.
But Braves infielder Rafael Furcal had ulterior motives for a Braves comeback. He was arrested for DUI and was sentenced to a short stint in prison. The one catch was his time would start when the Braves were eliminated.
So facing the clink, Furcal singled home the first Braves run in the seventh. The Braves tied it off of Brad Lidge (and after there was some controversy over whether the bullpen phones at Turner Field worked).
The Astros blew a scoring chance in the 10th and in the bottom of the 11th, Furcal hit a walk-off homer against Dan Miceli to give the Braves life and prolong his own freedom.
Game 4, 2004 Division Series: Braves 6, Astros 5
After a Game 3 win, the Astros seemed poised to win their first ever playoff series and finally beat their tormentors, the Braves. With a 5-2 lead in the third and Roger Clemens on the mound, the clinching seemed inevitable.
But manager Phil Garner inexplicably lifted Clemens after only five innings. Reliever Chad Qualls coughed up a game tying homer to Adam LaRoche in the sixth inning and suddenly it turned into a battle of the bullpens.
In the eighth inning, Garner did not double switch when he brought in relief ace Brad Lidge into the game. As a result in the bottom of the eighth in a crucial situation with the go-ahead run on third, Garner had to replace Lidge after only 2/3 of an inning with pinch-hitter Orlando Palmeiro. He grounded out on a close play at first base that prevented the go ahead runner to score.
Reliever Russ Springer was scored upon, giving the Braves the lead. In the bottom of the ninth, the Astros rallied and the tying run on third and the run that could clinch the series at first with only one out and Jeff Kent on the mound. But Smoltz got him to hit into a game ending double play and send the series back to Atlanta.
There the Astros won Game 5 handily for their first ever postseason series win. The next year the Astros beat the Braves again, highlighted by the 18-inning marathon and Chris Burke’s homer. Houston had finally gotten past Atlanta. But there would be other dragons to slay.
Game 6, 2004 NLCS: Cardinals 6, Astros 4 in 12 Innings
For the third time in their history, the Astros were in the NLCS. And, as was the 1980 and 1986 series, it was a classic series for the ages.
The home team won each of the first five games, including a 3-0 thriller in Game 5 when Jeff Kent ended a scoreless tie with a walk off three-run jack.
The Astros were one win from the World Series when starter Pete Munro was knocked out of the game in the third inning. Phil Garner had to go to his bullpen much earlier than he wanted, and that would come back to haunt the Astros.
The Cardinals took a 4-3 lead into the ninth inning and closer Jason Isringhausen was one out away from sending the series to a seventh game. But Astros slugger Jeff Bagwell got a two-out RBI single to tie the game at 4.
A double steal by Carlos Beltran and Bagwell put two runners in scoring position for Lance Berkman and a chance to put the Astros ahead going into the bottom of the ninth was 90 feet away. But Lance Berkman struck out.
Now Garner had to bring in his closer Brad Lidge to keep the Cardinals at bay. He responded with a perfect 9th, 10th and 11th. But the Astros, looking to win the pennant with a run and a scoreless bottom of the inning, couldn’t get on base.
Finally, an exhausted Lidge was lifted and Dan Miceli came in to pitch the 10th. Pujols walked and with one out, Jim Edmonds launched a walk-off shot to tie the series up.
The Cardinals would come from behind the next game and clinch the National League pennant.
Game 5, 2005 NLCS: Cardinals 5, Astros 4
The Cardinals were heavily favored in the rematch LCS in 2005. The Astros were coming off another hard-fought Division Series against Atlanta highlighted by the 18-inning marathon. St. Louis was barely challenged by the Padres.
But Houston surprised all the experts by taking a 3-1 lead including a pair of thrillers in Games 3 and 4.
Houston was ready for a clinching party in Game 5. Andy Pettitte and Chris Carpenter both pitched well as St. Louis took a slim 2-1 lead into the seventh. Lance Berkman hit a three-run homer in the seventh inning to give the Astros a 4-2 lead.
In the ninth, Brad Lidge got the first two batters out and Minute Maid Park was going nuts as the pennant clincher was now inevitable. But a single by Eckstein and a walk to Edmonds brought Albert Pujols to the plate.
On an 0-1 count, Pujols hit one of the biggest, no-doubt-about-it homers ever seen. Minute Maid Park became a morgue. The Cardinals were now ahead and Lidge was shellshocked as the Cardinals went on to win.
Two days later, the Astros managed to clinch the pennant in St. Louis with Roy Oswalt earning playoff MVP honors. Dan Wheeler, not Brad Lidge, closed out the series.
In many ways, Pujols’ home run was like Carlton Fisk’s homer in the 1975 World Series. His team wound up losing, but the dramatic blast became the single most iconic moment of the 2005 postseason.
Game 2, 2005 World Series: White Sox 7, Astros 6
Finally in the World Series, the Astros lost the opener in Chicago. In Game 2, Lance Berkman doubled home a pair of runs in the fifth to give the Astros a 4-2 lead over the White Sox.
The score remained the same until the seventh when Dan Wheeler got two quick outs but then got into trouble. A full count to Jermaine Dye led to a hit by pitch that looked like it missed him to just about everyone who saw the play.
With the bases loaded, Chad Qualls came into the game in relief. His first pitch to Paul Konerko was deposited into the seats for a go-ahead grand slam.
In the ninth inning with two outs, the Astros rallied, highlighted by Jose Vizcaino’s pinch-hit two-run single that tied the game with Division Series hero Chris Burke sliding under A. J. Pierzynski’s tag.
Brad Lidge made his first appearance since the Albert Pujols homer in the ninth, getting Juan Uribe to fly out in the rain. Then he faced Scott Podsednik, who hit a grand total of one home run in 2005. (His lone homer was in the Division Series against the Red Sox. He had no regular season homers.)
It’s one thing to let up a homer to a Hall of Fame slugger like Pujols. But Podsednik, whose regular season home run total I matched, is a different story. He launched one into center field and everyone on the planet Earth thought “Maybe it is a triple.” Somehow he made it over the wall.
Lidge’s woes continued and the White Sox were up 2-0.
Game 3, 2005 World Series: White Sox 7, Astros 5 in 14 Innings
For a team with a single pennant in their history, the Astros sure have had their share of extra-inning postseason games. And Game 3 of the 2005 World Series was as heart breaking as any game in their history.
For the first time ever, Houston hosted a World Series game and it looked like it was going to be a momentum shifter when they gave NLCS MVP Roy Oswalt a 4-0 lead. But the White Sox erupted for five runs in the fifth, highlighted by A. J. Pierzynski’s two-out, two-run double.
But the Astros responded with two outs and nobody on in the eighth and Jason Lane doubled off of Dustin Hermanson to tie the game. The go-ahead run was on third when Brad Ausmus struck out to end the threat.
In the bottom of the ninth against ancient Orlando Hernandez, the Astros had the winning run on third base with one out. Eventually they loaded the bases and Morgan Ensberg came up with a chance to win it. He struck out, sending it to extra innings.
Two Houston runners were left on base in the 10th and 11th. A lead-off walk was squandered in the 13th. 23 batters came to the plate, all with the ability to end the game with one swing of the bat.
With two outs in the 14th, Ezequiel Astacio let up a solo homer to White Sox reserve infielder Geoff Blum. The homer rattled Astacio who lost all control, loading the bases and walking seldom-used reserve catcher Chris Widger to force in an insurance run.
In the bottom of the 14th, a walk and an error brought the winning run to the plate for the Astros. But Mark Buehrle came out of the bullpen for a rare save and the White Sox were up 3-0.
Game 4, 2005 World Series: White Sox 1, Astros 0
A day after the 14-inning marathon, the Astros hoped to do what the Red Sox did just a year before and come back from an 0-3 hole. And it would be Brandon Backe being the unlikely leader of a comeback(e).
He pitched 7 brilliant shutout innings, letting up 5 hits, striking out 7 and walking none. Freddy Garcia of the White Sox matched him inning for inning. The Astros had runners in scoring position in the first and second and loaded the bases in the sixth.
They couldn’t score.
Brad Lidge came into the scoreless game in the eighth and allowed reserve infielder Willie Harris to single. With two outs, Series MVP Jermaine Dye singled home Harris.
The Astros got two runners on against Cliff Politte in the eighth, but Neal Cotts got out of the jam. In the ninth inning, Bobby Jenks let up a lead off hit to Jason Lane.
With one out and Lane on second, Chris Burke hit a foul ball that Juan Uribe leaped into the stands to catch. Orlando Palmeiro came up representing the winning run but grounded out on a bang-bang play at first.
The White Sox won the World Series, holding the Astros to one run in their final 19 innings.