The Houston Astros walk into Wednesday night facing elimination or a championship in Game 7 of the World Series at Dodger Stadium.
Back in 2005, the Houston Astros faced elimination and sent an unlikely steady pitcher to the mound who had suddenly become more reliable than the future Hall-of-Famers in their rotation.
Backe has an interesting story. He was born and raised in Galveston and spent most of his early days as an infielder and became a utility player shifting between the infield and outfield after he was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays. But then the organization shifted him to a pitcher, where he had some experience in high school, and suddenly Backe had a rocket on his back and was sent to the majors less than two years later.
He was traded to the Astros before the 2004 regular season and was part of the rotation by August. Ironically, he was traded for Geoff Blum, who went on to hit a game-winning home run against Houston in Game 3 of the 2005 World Series.
Backe made his mark in the 2004 playoffs as he won his NLDS start and gave up just one hit in eight innings against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLCS.
That game would come to be known more for Jeff Kent's walk-off home run... But it wouldn't have happened without Backe's stellar performance on the mound.
In the following year, with Backe officially joining the Astros starting rotation from the beginning of the season all the way to the end, his personality really shined on the field and he became a fan favorite. At just 27 years old, Backe played with a youthful exuberance that made him stand out among Astros pitchers.
He athleticism allowed him to utilize his glove on the mound and he couldn't help but show emotion after getting big outs. All of this featured prominently in the biggest game of his life when he took the mound for the Astros in Game 4 of the 2005 World Series with Houston facing elimination.
You'll never see a pitcher more dialed in than Backe was that night in Minute Maid Park. He made a great run-saving stab at a liner to end the first inning to probably save a run, then knocked down a line drive to the mound and quickly threw it to first base for the out to start the second inning.
Usually, when a play like that happens, coaches and trainers come out to check on a player. But before anyone could react to what had just happened, Backe waved them off.
I've never seen that happen in any other baseball game, for a pitcher to just wave off coaches, as if to say, "I'm in a groove over here. I'm fine. Stay in the dugout. I've got this."
The Astros offense just couldn't get anything going, as they struggled the whole series. They would threaten by putting men on throughout Game 4 but couldn't drive anyone home.
But Brandon Backe kept the crowd in it with his magic on the mound. At one point, he struck out five straight. In all but one inning, he got the first two men out in every frame, getting the crowd riled up with every White Sox batter that went down.
And Backe's slider was a thing of beauty. It contrasted with his cut fastball so well that over and over again, White Sox batters flailed at balls that kept falling away as they swung over pitch after pitch in a futile attempt to get to the young Astros starter.
On his final out, despite the Astros stranding the bases loaded the previous half inning, the sell-out Houston crowd roared in a way that wouldn't be heard again for quite some time.
Backe was pulled after seven scoreless innings in which he allowed five hits, no walks, and got seven strikeouts.
Houston never scored in the game and the White Sox won 1-0 to finish their sweep of the Astros.
The losers in a World Series are rarely remembered. It takes a lot for a player on a losing team to make an impression strong enough to last throughout history.
Backe's Game 4 performance has mostly been lost except on the Houston fans that were watching that night, and the ones that bought the DVD that the team put out after that season.
And that's why Houston Astros fans are hoping that they can close out this incredible season with their first championship. After games 2 and 5 of the series became instant classics, they'll want to look back on this run with fondness and not wonder what might have been.
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