AL Sox-ing it to NL

MIKE RUTSEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:45 AM ET

HOUSTON -- If National League executives aren't blushing with embarrassment, they should be.

Not only are their best players getting their butts kicked in the all-star game, but now they're being skunked in the World Series.

For the past two years it has been four and out for the National League champs.

Last year, the St. Louis Cardinals proved they were no match against the Boston Red Sox and now the Houston Astros showed that they weren't ready for the Chicago White Sox.

Houston, a team that had never been to a World Series in its 44-year history, seemed happy just to be there. It looked as if getting into the Series was the goal, not winning it.

After the final game Wednesday, a 1-0 victory by Chicago, a lot of the Astros' post-game comments seemed to confirm that.

"I can't say enough about the resilience of this group," shortstop Adam Everett said. "I'm disappointed but I'm proud."

First baseman Mike Lamb echoed those comments. "As much as it hurts, there's so much more to be proud of," was how he put it.

Craig Biggio has been with the Astros for 18 seasons and he, too, seemed to be content to have finally made it into the Series.

"I waited a long time to get into a World Series," Biggio said. "It was worth the wait. I know what it feels like. It's disappointing to to lose, but this has been a special feeling."

It hardly sounds like a group that's crushed by its failure to come through in the clutch. Maybe the players forgot what it was all about.

For the past two years the Cardinals and Astros have been the top teams in the Senior Circuit and both will be re-tooling during the off-season.

In St. Louis, right-fielder Larry Walker has retired while left-fielder Reggie Sanders probably won't be back. Centre-fielder Jim Edmonds, at 35, isn't getting any younger.

Right-hander Matt Morris also will be leaving via free agency. So they'll have holes to fill.

The Astros proved all season that they have needs offensively and the big question in these parts is whether Roger Clemens will come back for one more season or retire.

The feeling is he'll hang them up, but the Astros are holding out hope.

"We haven't addressed it yet," general manager Tim Purpura told the Houston Chronicle. "We've got to go off his cues but we're certainly hoping we'll get a little earlier read on where he stands than last year.

"With Roger's history, at least with us, the more you try to pin him down the more chance you have of hearing, 'No.' "

Owner Drayton McLane Jr. also wants to keep the payroll in the $82-million US range and that means some players due for a big bump may not be back.

It has been the Cards and the Astros the past two years and with no young teams on the rise, the 2006 National League champs probably will be the underdogs again in next year's Series.

Who knows, maybe they'll even win a game.


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