One very special night in Houston
It didn't exactly go according to script, but Craig Biggio wasted little time, in the Astros first game back in Houston, mixing and pouring the cement and watching it harden to solidify his place in baseball history as one of the greatest of all time. Hit number 2,998 came with Bagwell in the announcers both. 2,999 showed up on a scorers decision after a moment of suspense - it could have been Biggio's 178th time reaching base on an error - but the scorer ruled it a hit. Then, in the 7th inning with the crowd standing and chanting as they did every other time he stepped to the plate, Biggio hit number 3000. Everyone on the planet knew that one was supposed to be a double - one more for the greatest right handed doubles hitter of all time. It would have been his 3000th hit AND his 1000th extra base hit, but Wily Taveras, the former Astro, didn't get the memo. Taveras threw out Biggio trying to stretch hit number 3000 to a double. But that hit did tie the game, and being thrown out allowed the celebration to go on between innings rather than stopping the game. Always thinking that guy is. Biggio came back around in the 9th, leading off the bottom of the inning with the game tied at 4 - and slapped number 3001, just in case someone changed their mind about the ruling on 2999. Biggio got on base to lead off a ninth inning, representing the tying run. That's what he's done for 20 seasons, but it didn't work out to a game winning run in the 9th. Instead the game went to 11 innings, and the Astros fell behind 5-4 and the Astros were down to their final out. Biggio was down to his final strike, but instead of ending the game with an extra-inning loss, he found hit number 3002. The Astros loaded the bases behind him, and Carlos Lee emptied them with a game winning Grand Slam. It was Biggio's 2nd career 5 hit game, and the first time anyone had 5 hits in the game they passed 3000 hits.
It was a remarkably fitting ending to the game - everyone would have loved to see Biggio end the game with a walk-off homer, but that's not really Biggio's game. He can and has won games by himself but he hasn't gotten 3002 hits trying to win every game by himself with home run power. No, he's the table setter - getting on base, and extending the game, to give the power hitters behind him the chance for the rbi - be it Bagwell, Berkman, or Carlos Lee - and making sure those guys have someone on base, someone to drive in as often as he possibly can, even if he has to let the ball hit him 283 times.
Biggio moved into 26th place on the all time hits list last night, but he also moved into a tie for 14th place on the all time runs scored list. That's the real point here - accumulating 3000 hits, or 283 HBPs is a great thing on it's own, but the real point is scoring runs and winning baseball games. Biggio's done that by being on base as much as he possibly can - sort of like having a 5 hit game so you can be on base for that walk-off grand slam, but spread out over a 20 season career. Today is also the 19th anniversary of Biggio's first career hit - in a game in which Orel Hershiser allowed only 2, and shut out the Astros on June 29, 1988. Since then, Biggio has out-hit every guy who put on a major league uniform.
Baseball moves on, after bad games and fantastic ones, and the Astros play again tonight against Rockies starter Josh Fogg. He plunked Biggio on May 11, 2002. It remains to be seen how the Astros will use Biggio now that 3000 is in the books - the talk for weeks has been that he'll see less playing time, but suddenly he's batting .360 over the past two weeks. It also remains to be seen whether or not the race for 288 plunks resumes. Will Biggio put the elbow-pad back on and make it clear he's going to spend his remaining time in the majors taking plunks? Will he leave it off, and still go for the record hard-core style? Will he leave the arm-guard off, actively try not to get hit, and see if the record chase turns into a record that chases him, and if so, can it catch him?
Two years ago today, Byung-Hyun Kim (of the Rockies) gave Biggio the so-called "modern" HBP record, throwing plunk 268, which moved Biggio past Don Baylor. Biggio has also been plunked on this date in 2001 by Ben Sheets, and in 2002 by Anthony Telford.
Once again, Congratulations, Craig Biggio. And some of us still want to see what else you can do in this career. They might not top last night, but surely there's a few more special moments to come. Breaking a certain 104 year old HBP record would be a good choice...