Houston Astros: Ahead of the Pace

Jose Altuve has provided lots of spark as the Houston Astros leadoff hitter. Photo Courtesy: Rick Leal
Jose Altuve has provided lots of spark as the Houston Astros leadoff hitter. Photo Courtesy: Rick Leal

By Will Martin

When making the move to Texas in 2001 there have been a couple of occasions to go and watch the kids formerly known as the National League champion Houston Astros do their thing.

Seems whenever I picked a day to go attend something special or historic was going on.

To wit:

4/21/01: St. Louis Cardinals in town for a three game set and I am up close and personal with rookie phenom Albert Pujols. Rick Ankiel was on the mound for the Cards and suffice to say his pitching woes continued in light of what happened to him in the 2000 playoffs with the New York Mets.

It was also the 165th anniversary of the San Jacinto Battle with Santa Anna and Mexico. Long before America was stunned by some ‘Stone Cold’ guy the real deal Stephen F. Austin led the Texas militia to upend Mexican forces along the San Jacinto River. It led to Texas getting its independence amongst other events.

The Shell Open was going on down the road and Curtis Strange threw out the first pitch. Houston crushed Ankiel and the Cardinals. Got to see the Astrodome and the beginnings of Reliant Stadium the very next day.

5/17/02: One year prior the whole Enron meltdown hadn’t yet come to fruition. A 42,000 crowd one year ago barely reached 29,000 this time around. Pirates were in town and Craig Biggio cranked out a ninth inning homer to lead the Stros to a 7-4 victory. Later that night I saw Jason Giambi hit a walk-off Grand Slam over the Twins. I then remembered it was an anniversary date for a perfect game thrown by David Wells five years earlier.

6/17/04: As I make the drive south to Houston (about four plus hours from Dallas) I turn on the affiliate station to the Astros AM740 KTRH. The Chicago Cubs were in town and the talk of the day and night was the trade of Richard Hidalgo. Longtime fixture with the Houston squad and now going to the Mets. It was great to hear so many callers with passion about the move-yes or nay. The Cubs completed a four game sweep of the Astros. I even recall Milo Hamilton saying something very heartfelt about the now gone Hidalgo. It was exactly ten years since the OJ Bronco Freeway chase while the Rockets and Knicks were playing the NBA Finals. How’s that for a Houston-New York tie in? I remember Roy Oswalt got touched up for a couple of doubles by Derek Lee and Chicago won 5-4, completing the four game sweep.

I also learned that: Cubbies fans travel incredibly well!

3/31/13: You can blame me. Everywhere I have lived, every state I moved to has been of the American League variety. History was made on this day as the Houston Astros became the FIRST team in National League history to switch over to the American League. Where else to be on Opening Night than in Houston with the Texas Rangers as their opponent?

Proof that time can take you from being a hero to a goat as I saw Rick Ankiel power a pinch hit three run bomb in the middle innings as the Astros won their 4,000th career game 8-1. Also saw a kid named Justin Maxwell crank out two triples in the win. Locally there are still a lot of pissed off fans who cannot believe their team with over 50 years of history now went to the dark side so to speak.

6/28/14: On the 38 year annversary of Mark ‘The Bird’ Fidrych making his first career start on a Monday night against the Yankees (en route to a 19-9 mark and 2.34 era). A crowd of a little less than 26,000 on hand to celebrate Orbit’s birthday as fans received a free Astros jersey (Houston is good about such promotions). All was well except for the finish.

One out away from a second straight win over a defending Cy Young hurler, ex Ranger Ian Kinsler began this road trip earlier in the week in Arlington slamming a solo blast while ‘waving’ to his ex-teammates. Earlier in the game he was robbed of extra bases with the bags loaded on a fantastic catch of a looper by LJ Hoes.

Now trailing in a 2-1 game Kinsler would slam a 2-0 pitch for a three run homer to give Detroit its first lead of the game. Brett Oberholzer and Max Scherzer traded zeroes with exception of the late innings. Jerome Williams made one pitch too many as the Tigers fell 4-3 on Orbit’s birthday.

Ranger fans: Ian did not wave to the Astros bench after connecting, in case you wonder.

The Astros got all three runs off the bat of Alex Presley with a single and homer. Their record currently sits at 35-47. Had they won this date they would have reached the magical 36. That didn’t happen last year until July 31st!

With Alex Presley’s homer, it marked 1300 homers hit by an Astro in Minute Maid Park since its inception in 2000.

Jose Altuve at .343 continues to hit at a torrid pace. In his last eight games Jose has gone 23 for 45. Leads the A.L. in hits (113), infield hits (18), stolen bases (34), and fielding percentage among all second basemen (.998). An absolute spark plug in the leadoff spot.

George Springer indeed made the cover of Sports Illustrated earlier in the week. Once he can get past being the team leader in strikeouts (not Chris Carter as I had thought) his homer and rbi production should become even more impressive.

Dallas Keuchel was a late scratch due to arm irritation. Brett Oberholzer (a player who should remain in the Astros rotation and not shuttled) was called up from Oklahoma City and just pitched his heart out for six and a third innings of five hit ball.

Max Scherzer put on a clinic with 13 strikeouts and a walk in seven innings of work. Incredible display of pitching by Mr. Motown.

Another ex-Ranger Joe Nathan came on to close the book on Orbit’s birthday 4-3.

Jerome Williams explained his strategy with Ian Kinsler post game.

“With Kinsler, I just wanted to attack and trying to get him to roll over a popup,” said Williams. “A cutter was up and he hit it out.

“I can’t blame nobody but myself. I can’t dwell on that. I had the opportunity to go out there and save the game. I take full responsibility for it.”

Bo Porter echoed a true sentiment.

“Any time you’re one out away from a win, it’s a tough loss,” said Astros manager Bo Porter. “I liked the way we battled. We just came up short.”

Coming into play Sunday June 29 Houston sent Scott Feldman (3-5, 4.00) to battle Drew Smyly (4-6, 3.18) to finish out a three game set with the Tigers.

Sunday was the Jose Altuve show. Simply put he placed himself in the record book with a three hit afternoon, more stolen bases. In so doing Altuve became the third player in MLB history to have four straight multi steal games. Prior to June 29 go back to 1917 and Indian Ray Chapman along with Giant Bill Dahlen 1904. Altuve also became the first Astro to steal a base in six straight games.

Six solid innings by Scott Feldman gave Houston a well deserved victory and a series sweep

Earlier in the week the bats were silenced by some fine pitching by the Atlanta Braves as they took two of three 3-2 and 6-0 before Jarred Cosart righted the ship with a 6-1 win. Cosart improved his record to 8-5. The same identical record as Dallas Keuchel.

Upcoming Schedule
6/30     vs Mariners     7:10 p.m.
7/1       vs Mariners     7:10 p.m.
7/2       vs Mariners     1:10 p.m.
7/3       @Angels          9:05 p.m.
7/4       @Angels          8:05 p.m.
7/5       @Angels          9:05 p.m.
7/6       @Angels          2:35 p.m.