Saturday, September 29, 2007

Biggio relives old times behind plate

Retiring star returns to catching, collects two hits; today's his last game

The catcher's mask did a good job hiding the far-reaching emotions that figure to be on full display today when Craig Biggio methodically tapes his wrists, puts on his uniform and runs onto the field.

For the last time.

Biggio's 20-year career, one which should take him to the Hall of Fame, comes to an end today when the Astros wrap up a disappointing regular season against the Atlanta Braves.

But before No. 7 says goodbye in front of another adoring sellout crowd, Biggio used Saturday's 3-2 win over the Braves at Minute Maid Park to take himself and the fans back to where his career started — behind the plate.

Two innings and back 2B

Biggio started at catcher for the first time since Oct. 5, 1991, and caught two innings before playing six innings at second base, the position where he became a star after breaking into the majors in 1988 as a catcher.

"I enjoyed it," Biggio said. "Walking out to the bullpen and everybody down the right-field line was standing up, everybody in the outfield and bar area were saying so many nice things. I'm just glad it went well.

"I forgot what that side of the game was like, when you're just calling pitches and figuring out how to set hitters up."

At the plate, Biggio went 2-for-4 with a single, stroked career double No. 667 and scored a run. That's 3,059 hits.

"Pretty special player right there," Astros manager Cecil Cooper said. "I'm just tickled to say I had a chance to manage a Hall of Famer."

Biggio, who wore a specially designed catcher's mask, spent the top of the ninth sitting on the bench with sons Conor and Cavan, who will throw out the first pitch today. He got choked up after the game talking about his sons.

"It was hard walking out (onto the field) after the game with my boys," he said. "It kind of caught me in the moment. We'll see how (today) goes."

With Biggio behind the plate, starter Brandon Backe (3-1) won his third consecutive start, giving up four hits and one run in six innings. It was Backe's fifth start after missing most of the year because of elbow surgery.

"He did real well," said Backe, who shook off Biggio's signs a few times. "It was awesome. There's no other words to describe the feeling I had pitching to my childhood idol. It was a very special night for me, and I wish it didn't end."

Berkman, Backe homer

Lance Berkman scored Biggio in the first with a homer into the upper deck in right, and Backe hit his second career homer in the fifth with a shot to right-center that made it 3-1.

"Since I've (hit a home run) before, I guess pitching to Biggio was probably the best (moment)," Backe said. "I'm very proud of myself for hitting a home run, obviously, and to able to pitch to Bidge and for him to catch me is unbelievable.

"I'm going to cherish this moment for the rest of my life."

The Braves put the leadoff man on base in the first two innings, but Biggio never had to make any throws to the bases.

"He came in after the first (inning) and said, 'Let's do it again,' " Cooper said.

Cooper spoke to Braves manager Bobby Cox before the game about not running on Biggio, who says he probably doesn't have the arm strength to reach second base from the plate.

"They got the memo," Biggio said.

The other Astros player who was out of position to begin the game was Brad Ausmus, who started at second base and then switched positions with Biggio in the third. It was Ausmus' first start at a position other than catcher since his sophomore year in high school.

"I thought Bidge did alright," said Ausmus before poking fun at his friend. "Catchers like him are the reason catchers like me played more than 10 years."

The Braves scored off Dennis Sarfate in the seventh to get within 3-2, but Chad Qualls pitched a scoreless eighth and Brad Lidge worked the ninth for his 150th career save.

"Brad was real efficient, and hopefully that will be something positive for him," Cooper said.

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