The Astros got off to a miserable start on the year. A win against the Cubs to close out the month snapped a six-game losing streak, the club's longest since May 19-25, 2002. The team's 1-10 road record was the worst in the Major Leagues. If there was a bright spot, it comes with a smudge and that is Roger Clemens finishing the month with a 1.03 ERA but only sporting a 1-1 record in three starts.
Brandon Backe's seventh consecutive win at Minute Maid Park helped the Astros avoid setting a franchise low for wins in May, as they notched their 10th. For most of the month, the Astros couldn't figure out how to win. They lost four or more games in a row three different times during the month. From May 3-24, they were just 4-17. However, things begin to turn around as Houston closes out the month by winning four of their last six, all against National League Central Division foes.
The Astros began turning their season around with their first winning month. Roy Oswalt finished 5-1 with a 1.40 ERA in June, and Morgan Ensberg provided the offense with 28 RBIs, just one short of the club record. On June 24, the club extended its home winning streak to eight games with a 5-2 victory over Texas. On June 29, Craig Biggio was beaned for the 268th time in his career, moving him one past Don Baylor as the most hit-by-pitch batter in Major League history.
The same Houston Astros that were once 15 games under .500 finished July nine games over the mark and leading the Wild Card race heading into August.
The Astros began the month 9-2 heading into the All-Star break, taking three of four from Cincinnati and San Diego, then sweeping the Dodgers for the first time since May 14-16, 1993. Andy Pettitte earned NL Pitcher of the Month honors, going 5-0 with a 0.90 ERA.
The Astros suffered their first losing month since May, but hang in the playoff fray. A 10-0 shellacking of Cincinnati to close out the month puts the team a half-game behind Philadelphia in the Wild Card standings. Willy Taveras emerged as a strong pick for NL Rookie of the Year. He hit .309 in the month, the third consecutive month he batted over .300. He led all rookies in hits, at-bats, multihit games, singles, stolen bases and runs by the end of the month.
Houston players rode an emotional month in search of their second consecutive Wild Card berth. Two gut-wrenching wins highlight the month. The first was Clemens' 12th win of the season, 10-2, over the Marlins at home on Sept. 14, the day his mother Bess Clemens passed away. Just 12 days later, the Astros are on the road in Pittsburgh while Hurricane Rita makes its way towards Houston.
Backe -- a resident of Galveston, Texas, a town caught in the middle of the path of the hurricane -- pitches his best game of the season, giving up just one run on two hits in seven innings to lift Houston to a 2-1 win.
Two home wins over the eliminated Chicago Cubs in the final weekend of the regular season puts the once left for dead Astros in the playoffs, holding off the surging Phillies as the Wild Card winners.
Stephen A. Norris is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less