Brandon Backe gets his first chance to build on the surprising run he put together late last season.
After a mediocre first half out of the bullpen and a stint in the minors, Backe blossomed in the second half of 2004. He went 4-2 with a 3.80 ERA in nine starts after the All-Star break to help the Astros rally for the NL wild card.
Houston needed to win its last game of the regular season to avoid a possible one-game playoff with the San Francisco Giants. National League Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens was scheduled to start but came down with the flu. Backe made an emergency start and allowed two runs in five innings to help Houston to a 5-3 victory over Colorado on Oct. 3.
The 27-year-old right-hander also came through in the NL championship series against St. Louis. With the series tied at two games apiece, Backe pitched eight scoreless innings to lead the Astros to a 3-0 victory.
Backe refused to let the success go to his head as he prepared for this year.
“I’m going to go into this season the same way I’ve gone about my career, in the last few years, at least,” said Backe back in January. “Work hard and just give all of my effort into the game and see what happens. I’m not going to set any goals at 15 wins or anything like that. I’m just going to give it my best and hopefully my best will bring me 15 to 20 wins.”
Backe looks to follow up another spectacular outing by Clemens, who allowed one run in seven innings and hit a tiebreaking, two-run single to lead the Astros over the Reds 3-2 Friday.
Clemens, who tied Steve Carlton for ninth place with his 329th career win, allowed a fifth-inning homer to Joe Randa. The third basemen hit his third homer in four games for the Reds, who had a three-game winning streak snapped.
The Astros are one win shy of their longest winning streak in this series. Houston won 10 straight against Cincinnati from April 9 to July 20, 2003.