Friday, December 19, 2008

Flight 45

The Houston Astros' all-time leader in games pitched, Dave Smith, died this week at age 53. Smith, a two-time all-star who also is second on the Astros' career saves list, apparently died of a heart attack on Wednesday. He is remembered by those who played with and against him as a fierce competitor, and by teammates and friends for his generosity and zest for life. Giants third base coach and former big leaguer Tim Flannery, who also served on the Padres' coaching staff with Smith from 1999 to 2001, called him "...the most giving, unconditionally compassionate man anyone ever came across..." and fondly remembers him "...reaching into his pocket and pulling out $100 to give to someone selling newspapers for a quarter".

Personally, I remember Smith for the part he played in what I recall as the most exciting baseball post-season I've ever witnessed. During my sophomore year in college, I was part of a group of haters who rooted passionately against the 1986 Mets of Gary Carter, Keith Hernandez, Lenny Dykstra and Ray Knight, even going so far as to cheer for the Red Sox in the World Series.

Somewhat ironically, I no longer am the typical New Yorker who loves his team and despises their crosstown rivals, but 1986 is still one of the primary reasons I hate the Red Sox to this day. That is, the one time I rooted for them...well, you know what happened. Despite the fact that the '86 Astros were essentially a one-man show, and broke my heart by nearly toppling the vaunted Mets, I still have a soft spot for them, for the valiant effort they put forth against a team they had no business believing they could beat.

Smith didn't pitch very well in that LCS, most notably blowing game three by yielding a 9th inning game-winning two-run home run to Lenny Dykstra, and ruining the Astros' chances of going up 2-1 on the Mets with Mike Scott--the aforementioned one-man show--throwing the next day. However, he was as much a part of that team as Billy Hatcher, Glenn Davis, Charlie Kerfeld and Alan Ashby. Actually, as I peruse the box scores of that series, I realize that he was probably the biggest reason his team lost, but I love the '86 Astros, and Dave Smith was loved by his teammates.

Rest in peace, Flight 45.

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