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Leadership and the Astros

Replace agony with joy: the Astros are going to the World Series. One year after losing 1/3 of their offense through free agency (Beltran, Kent) and injury (Bagwell). Five months after starting the season 15-30. Somehow they patched a team together and turned in baseball's best record after that to barnstorm into the World Series.

How? One ingredient is obvious: pitching pitching pitching. They are loaded with it. They also have a good statistical record defensively, although watching Taveras track a ball or Everett line up a throw gives me heartburn. So while they have trouble scoring runs, on a good night it is very tough to score against them.

But there is another aspect. Baseball is a funny game which sequentially combines essentially individual contributions. Contrast it to football or soccer, where synchronous teamwork is essential - every player must be simultaneously engaged with the game. In baseball, most every player is either sitting on the bench or standing around in the field watching the pitching matchup, and springing into action only if the ball is put in play, and then getting seriously engaged only a fraction of the time. The sense of team is more mental than physical. In that environment it is easy to quit. But the Astros didn't quit, even though they had every excuse. At 15-30, most teams would have just played out the string.

The key ingredient for the Astros was leadership: Biggio and Bagwell, Clemens and Pettite. All are well known to be hard workers, guys who lead by example, and deflect the credit to others who contribute. And it didn't hurt to be managed by a likeable character nicknamed "Scrap Iron." They're a talented but not great team, and they keep bringing their lunchpail to work.

The Astros were counted out by much of the media after Pujols' blast on Monday. They were expecting the Astros to quit, but that was foolish. The Astros knew, as did Earl Weaver, that "momentum is tomorrow's starting pitcher."

Enter Roy Oswalt (Wow!), and play some ball. Enter the World Series. Yeee hah!!!