"I hate to leave the ballpark like this," Backe said. "Walking off the field in the second inning in my last start, it's irritating. I feel like I could have done a lot better."
Backe ends his season with a 9-14 record and a 6.05 ERA. Two years removed from undergoing Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery, and one year from being cleared to resume full-time pitching, Backe fell far short of expectations placed on him when he was loosely considered the No. 2 pitcher during Spring Training.
"There was more weight put on my shoulders from the start of Spring Training -- that was to be good," Backe said. "Obviously, knowing I made it through a full season, knowing I made it to 160-plus innings, I'm satisfied with that. But no way am I satisfied with the performance I put on the field."
The Astros have holes in their rotation that they're hoping to fill this offseason with a free agent acquisition or two, but that doesn't mean they won't have a need for Backe. What the club ultimately decides to do with the 30-year-old right-hander remains to be seen, but he could be a non-tender candidate. Or they could trade him. Or they could give him one more chance and hope he'll be healthier and stronger next year.
"It's out of my hands," Backe said. "Obviously, this is where I'm from and would love to be. The time I spent here has been great and I hope that it's not over. But when reality strikes, you have to put yourself in their shoes and you can't help but think that they're probably thinking about getting rid of me, with the season I had."
Manager Cecil Cooper said it's too early to make assumptions for '09, but he didn't give Backe or lefty Wandy Rodriguez ringing endorsements, either.
"Not what I expected, I'll say that," Cooper said, when asked to assess Backe's season. "I thought he had some high points, just not with the consistency we anticipated. Going into Spring Training, I thought Brandon and Wandy would really step up and be guys we can count on to get us anywhere from 12 to 14 wins and give us a real chance. They both had their high moments, but neither has been as consistent as we would like."
Backe experienced fatigue as August turned to September, which he expected as his post-surgery campaign stretched into the sixth month of the season. He didn't deny he was tired when he took the hill against the Braves on Saturday night, and it showed almost immediately.
He yielded a leadoff homer to former Houston center fielder Josh Anderson in the first, and it was downhill from there. The Braves scored two more that inning thanks to back-to-back two-out doubles by Francoeur and Brandon Jones.
Anderson prevailed again in the second, knocking a two-run homer off Backe, giving the Braves a 5-0 lead. Backe then yielded base hits to Martin Prado and Kelly Johnson before walking Casey Kotchman. Francoeur, facing Cassel, essentially put the game out of reach with his second double, clearing the bases.
"The second pitch of the game, [Anderson's] usually a take guy," Backe said. "I was just trying to get the game started. He took advantage of it and just kept the ball fair on me. The second one was a cutter that was supposed to go in, and just didn't cut. It just stayed right there in the middle for them.
"That's just one thing that I've noticed in my last few starts -- that I just don't have the crispness of each pitch. I don't have the feel for it, I don't have the sharpness of the breaking balls, and definitely the velocity of the fastball is not there, either. It's just kind of gone away."
On the Braves side, starter James Parr wasn't all that good, either. The Astros chipped away at the deficit, plating single runs in the second, third and fourth frames before scoring two in the fifth on an RBI double by Miguel Tejada and a run-scoring single from Geoff Blum.
But the Astros ran out of bullets by the sixth inning, and the Braves piled on two more in the ninth off Geoff Geary to make sure this was truly a blowout win.
"We kept it interesting," Cooper said. "I thought we might have a chance to get it. We've got to give those other guys credit -- we made some mistakes in the strike zone and they put some pretty good swings on some balls. Eighteen hits is 18 hits."