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The Astros' first five NLCS games, as they happened

The Houston Astros have rarely made things easy in their 43 years of trying in vain to reach the World Series, so it's no surprise they didn't wrap things up against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game Five.

Instead they headed back to St. Louis with a 3-2 game lead in the best-of-seven series, which is exactly what happened last season. And you might remember how those two games went last year in Busch Stadium.

Our deadline came well before Game Six, so we don't know as we write this how things turned out. But here are some excerpts from Houston Press writer Richard Connelly's online journal for the first five games: Game One: Jesus Ain't My Homeboy Tonight

The Astros, as anyone who follows the team knows, are a religious bunch. Guys like Lance Berkman, Craig Biggio and Morgan Ensberg wear their faith on their sleeves, trotting out God at every opportunity in order to butter up the Big Man. ("The Big Man" being not God but owner and fellow Bible-thumper Drayton McLane. Although Astros employees sometimes confuse the two.)

The über-est of the über-Christians is pitcher Andy Pettitte, who's written a book about it all. Unfortunately, it appears God was watching the Angels-White Sox game last night. (And rooting -- strangely enough -- against the Angels, if umpire Doug Eddings's bizarre call is any indication.)

Pettitte took the mound last night as the Astros' ace. If he asked "What Would Jesus Do?" like a good Christian does, apparently the answer came back "Jesus would pitch like shit."

…Question of the night: At what point in the evening does Cardinal manager Tony La Russa take off his sunglasses? He probably thought he looked like a rock star. Someone should tell him he looks like Grandpa with astigmatism.

Game Two: The Lone Gunman Comes Through

America's sports media loves nicknames, especially when it comes to baseball. ESPN's Chris Berman has made a career out of such things as Wade "Cranberry" Boggs and Bud "Paint It" Black.

So why doesn't anyone call the Astros' best pitcher Roy "Lee Harvey" Oswalt?

Yes, it's pronounced "OZE-walt," but big deal. It's a nickname that you can really use. "He's hitting the corners like they were JFK's skull!" or "And you thought his namesake had good aim!" If he didn't have his good stuff and the manager had to come to the mound to take him out, the announcers could say, "Uh-oh. Looks like someone let Jack Ruby into the parking garage."

Maybe not. At any rate, Lee Harvey had his Mannlicher-Carcano of a right arm in fine form last night…

…Here's one for all the gals (and gays) out there: Anyone thinking All About Eve when it comes to Oswalt? The night before, at batting practice, he lines a shot off Andy Pettitte's knee and Pettitte goes on to stink up the joint; Oswalt comes in and earns raves. Look out, Margo -- it's going to be a bumpy night, indeed. (We now return to our regularly scheduled manly programming.)

Game Three: He Walks Among Us

Saturday, October 15, dawned with most Astros fans in a hopeful mood. Most, admittedly, were hopeful that the team would take Game Three and get a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Others, perhaps a not-large minority, were hoping the team would be able to do it without Roger Clemens being declared an actual deity.

That second, smaller group had its hopes dashed pretty early, when they picked up the Houston Chronicle's special Astros section, saw the headline "Simply the Greatest" and then read this dreck of a lead from columnist John P. Lopez:

"Mama called, and Roger Clemens had to listen -- that's just how Houston boys are brought up. Mama was the city he called home. And Mama was the woman whose warm hug and spitfire inspiration helped carry Clemens to places he never imagined."

Yikes.

And Mama also told him he was too big a star to travel with the team when he didn't feel like it, we guess.

Quote of the day: Former first lady Barbara Bush saying she and her husband had rushed to the park after coming in from Kennebunkport. "We have not even been home yet," she declared.

"We wanted to stay in the Astrodome on a cot, since that's worked out so well for all those black folks, but unfortunately it's no longer open," she didn't add.

Game Four: The Bee Thing

Is Tony La Russa still arguing? Because we've seen UN debates that have been cut off sooner than he was in the fourth game.

…The relative serenity of the crowd meant that the home viewers got the full effect of the single most annoying stadium sound effect ever: the "buzzing bee" sound whenever an Astro comes up whose last name begins with a B. Apparently the hope is that the opposing pitcher is allergic to bees, or had a traumatic experience as a child when he threw a baseball into a hive. So far, however, no pitcher seems to have taken notice.

The whole Killer B thing, we're afraid to say, is inutterably lame. Signs and banners are great, but when you start dressing up like bees -- when you start dressing up helpless infants as bees -- the rest of the country isn't saying "What great baseball fans," they're saying "Who dresses up in costume for a baseball game?"

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