THE HOUSTON ASTROS gave us another pennant race to remember. That they hadn’t won half their games when the winning streak began hardly diminished the excitement; they tantalized us right up to the last day, the last out. But in the end, our hopes and expectations were too great a burden for a modestly talented squad to bear. Now looms a winter of uncertainty for Astros fans: Was the run for the pennant the last gift of the team that a year ago brought a World Series to Houston after 44 years of famine—or the promise of even better days ahead? Must we prepare ourselves for Roger Clemens to ride into the sunset, having made the case that he is the greatest pitcher of all time? Can we stand the thought that the beloved Craig Biggio, only seventy hits shy of three thousand, is near the end of the line? Or shall we count our blessings instead? Lance Berkman achieved superstar status, Roy Oswalt proved himself a Cy Young contender, young slugger Luke Scott played with the aplomb of an all-star, and fleet Willie Taveras was born to roam the vast pastures of Minute Maid’s center field. And then there’s always the comfort of knowing that there are worse fates than rooting for a team that is eliminated on the final day of the season. The Texas Rangers, 256 miles up Interstate 45, also fell short on their last day, failing to avoid their second straight losing season by a single run. Manager Buck Showalter took the fall, though the real fault—as always—lies with ownership for not assembling a pitching staff. At least they haven’t brought A-Rod back. Yet.