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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS / NATIONAL LEAGUE

Killer Bs Looking More Like Drones

Astros: So far in the postseason, Biggio, Bagwell and Bell have been among the least dangerous strains of hitters.

October 01, 1998|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HOUSTON — The Killer Bs are still looking to deliver a postseason sting. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz turned the Bs to Fleas in a three-game sweep by the Atlanta Braves in last year's division series, and Kevin Brown flicked them away as if nothing more than a temporary nuisance as he pitched the San Diego Padres to a 2-1 victory over the Houston Astros in Tuesday's Game 1 of their National League series.

"Bs or Fleas," Craig Biggio said during a Houston workout Wednesday, "we haven't done the job, and we need to get the monkey off our back."

If it doesn't happen today, of course, the Bs could be looking at another three-game extermination.

"Hopefully, after tomorrow we won't have to hear that we can't handle the [postseason] pressure," another of the Bs, Jeff Bagwell, said Wednesday, when the performance of the Bs was the buzz on the TV-dictated day off.

Last year, Biggio (one for 12), Bagwell (one for 12) and Derek Bell (0 for 13) were a combined two for 37 with eight strikeouts.

On Tuesday, they were 0 for 10 with seven strikeouts.

Of course, the Astros totaled only four hits in the opener, only two off Brown during his eight-inning stint.

"You go 0 for 3 against Kevin Brown, it's not big news," Bagwell said. "A lot of guys go 0 for 3 against Kevin Brown, and a lot of guys have problems with Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz."

Bell agreed.

"What Kevin Brown was throwing yesterday was nastier than anything we saw from the Braves last year," he said. "Fortunately for us, he can't pitch every day."

Unfortunately, perhaps, the Astros face another right-handed power pitcher today in Andy Ashby.

The Astros won the tightly contested season series from the Padres, 5-4, but Manager Larry Dierker said before the current series began--and reiterated Wednesday--that the "Padres' right-handed power pitchers match up well against our [basically right-handed] lineup. It's not just the Killer Bs, and it's not just this series."

Ashby (17-9) has a 7-4 record against the Astros and pitched a 5-1 complete-game victory June 4.

Houston led the league in runs and was second in team batting this year, and the Bs were a big part of a lineup strengthened by the additions of Moises Alou and Carl Everett.

Biggio, arguably baseball's best leadoff batter, had a .325 average with 20 homers and 88 runs batted in. He was the second player this century and first since Tris Speaker in 1912 to collect 50 doubles (51 actually) and 50 stolen bases in a season.

Bagwell hit 34 homers and drove in 111 runs, and Bell had his best season: 22 homers, 41 doubles and 108 RBIs.

Brown, who has a vicious sinker, occasionally crossed up the Astros with a rising, four-seam fastball.

"When he throws it up in the zone at 96, 97 miles per hour, it's pretty hard to catch up to," Biggio said. "I mean, he punched out 16 guys. All you can do is tip your cap and move on.

"Any time a Brown, Smoltz or Glavine takes the mound, it's with the capability of shutting a team down. Unfortunately, we're down again, and the story right now is the Bs' 0-fer. That's the way it is in the postseason. Until we turn it around we have to accept the criticism. You have to take the good with the bad, and right now we're taking the bad."

Unfairly, suggested Bell, who said he is not feeling pressure--nor does he think the Astros are in a dangerous position.

"Danger is when you walk in front of a truck," he said. "Pressure is when you wake up in the morning and can't pay your bills.

"You can't put everything on two or three guys. We did a lot to get us here. There's no pressure. You either win and go on or lose and go home."

Batting instructor Tom McCraw met with the Bs and other members of the lineup Wednesday.

"I'm not taking anything away from Kevin Brown," McCraw said, "but we were one of the best offensive clubs in the league this year because we used the whole field, but yesterday we hit only two balls to the opposite field. We were trying to [pull] everything, which is when a guy like Brown sticks it to you by working the outside part of the plate. I was disappointed by our approach. I'm going to remind them about how they had been doing it."

The Bs received a reminder of another type during the late innings Tuesday: a smattering of boos from a crowd of 50,080.

"I'm sure it looks easy from the stands and press box," Bagwell said, "but it's tougher when you're out there. I understand the fans' reaction. We've had two postseason games here the last two years and scored two runs. The fans expect a lot from us and we expect a lot from ourselves. We lost and we care, but I don't consider it a big deal. We're the same team that won 102 games. We're not going to put pressure on ourselves. We go out every day thinking we're going to hit and win."

In a best-of-five series, however, there aren't that many days, and that, too, bothers one of the Bs.

"It's silly, it doesn't make sense," Biggio said. "It should be seven games. Anyone can get hot and win three, which makes losing the first one that much tougher. I mean, they pushed the start of the season up so that it wouldn't be as cold in the postseason. What's a few more days?"

The Bs keepers might ask: What about a few more hits?

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