Is it sad when fans are more interested in their team’s off-field dealings than what they’re doing on the field? I believe that it is sad, and yet such is how I find myself feeling. Such it will likely continue until this week is over.
Bums, I tell ya! Fire the lot of ’em!
…well, except for Berkman. We like him too much to fire him, even when he is a bum. Same goes for Oswalt. And Hunter Pence… we’d like the chance to like him too much, so keep him around. But the rest! Fire ’em all!
After two nights when the offense resembled competence, if not exactly brilliance, they lapsed back into their old ways tonight. These are the kinds of games I came to love, growing up knowing only the cavernous Astrodome, but of course I liked them better when Houston didn’t draw the short straw. TOUGH loss for Wandy, as he pitched a great game even after his pitch count got alarmingly high early on. Y’know, I could rag on our hitters again for failing to get the job done, but sometimes you just run into a buzz saw. Wandy was great tonight, but Chad Billingsley was brilliant, so my hat’s off to him. A win over the Brewers tomorrow will still put us at 6-4 over the last 10. I’ll take it.
Miguel Tejada is our only everyday player to consistently get on base almost every day so far. Who saw that one coming?
I am somewhat upset with Joe Torre, because this could have been Brad Ausmus’ last chance to ever play in front of the fans that know and love him best. You’d think that should count for something, even this early in April, and Joe’s the kind of guy that should respect that. But I know, Joe is also the kind of guy to try and win every game, so with tonight tough and tight, he didn’t feel he could sacrifice Russell Martin’s bat. C’est la vie.
I’ll be very interested tomorrow to see how Felipe Paulino follows up his shining season debut. For now, it’s late and I’m tired, so I’ll let it rest. G’night, y’all.
The Astros very much looked like a team tonight that simply refused to be beaten, which is something we didn’t see a lot of in the club’s 13 games prior to this series. Every time they got knocked down tonight, they got right back up to answer the bell in the next round. We never saw that Ausmus/Oswalt confrontation, but Roy got the faceoff with Manny he was wishing for; Oswalt won the first two battles before Ramirez destroyed a 2-1 fastball in the 6th, when Roy looked gassed. But he ended a jam the previous inning so that Manny came up with no men on, which is the way to do it if you’re gonna have him homer off of you. Every Astros position player had at least one hit tonight, and when the Dodgers intentionally (and adventurously) walked Geoff Blum in the 8th to get to Pudge, he took it as the insult a veteran of his stature should and promptly made them pay with what proved to be the game-winning RBI. LaTroy Hawkins did a fine job as the pinch closer with Jose Valverde banged up from the previous night, and Manny was left stranded in the on deck circle as the game ended. Still no W for Roy, but this is the first of his four starts that Houston has won, so that’s progress. Wandy goes for the sweep tomorrow.
I did some research earlier in the evening while waiting for the game to start. Besides their three ex-Astros, the Dodgers have one more Houston connection in first baseman James Loney – a fellow Houston native and four years my junior (dang). Loney won the 2008 Houston Area MLB Player of the Year award at this past January’s 24th Annual Houston Baseball Awards Banquet. I only just recently (and very embarassingly) learned that Carl Crawford and Michael Bourn are Houston natives, too. This got me to wondering who else had won this award in the past, but I had surprising difficulty locating this information anywhere online. So I spent an hour or so digging through 24 years of archives over at Chron.com and came up with a definitive list:
Greater Houston Area MLB Player of the Year
- 2008: James Loney, Los Angeles Dodgers
- 2007: Josh Beckett, Boston Red Sox
- 2006: Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
- 2005: Adam Dunn, Cincinatti Reds
- 2004: Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
- 2003: Andy Pettitte, New York Yankees
- 2002: Kip Wells, Pittsburgh Pirates
- 2001: Roger Clemens, New York Yankees
- 2000: Andy Pettitte, New York Yankees
- 1999: Mike Jackson, Cleveland Indians
- 1998: Roger Clemens, Toronto Blue Jays
- 1997: Roger Clemens, Toronto Blue Jays
- 1996: Andy Pettitte, New York Yankees
- 1995: Jay Buhner, Seattle Mariners
- 1994: Chuck Knoblauch, Minnesota Twins
- 1993: Jay Buhner, Seattle Mariners
- 1992: Roger Clemens, Boston Red Sox
- 1991: Chuck Knoblauch, Minnesota Twins
- 1990: Doug Drabek, Pittsburgh Pirates
- 1989: Nolan Ryan, Texas Rangers
- 1988: Greg Swindell, Cleveland Indians
There was no such award given at the inaugural Houston Baseball Awards Dinner for 1985, and Roger Clemens was “honored” at the ’86 and ’87 dinners, but I don’t think the award formally existed until ’88. Interesting to note that with the exceptions of Knoblauch, Buhner and Wells, all of the others before the last five years played for the Astros at some point. I wouldn’t object to Crawford, Beckett and Dunn following suit.
And this is why, as Milo Hamilton is so fond of saying, “Baseball is the most UNpredictable game in the world.” The Astros were struggling offensively and found themselves matched up against a young lefty who surrendered no runs with 13 strikeouts in his previous outing, on a team riding an eight-game winning streak. The result? Houston’s best offensive showing of the season and an 8-5 win. It certainly wasn’t pretty, but Russ Ortiz earned his first W of the year, Jose Valverde notched his first save, and Houston is 4-3 in their last seven after starting 1-6. 4-3 doesn’t sound like much, but a 4-3 pace projected over an entire season is worth 92 wins. I’ll take it.
We saw one ex-Astro in the game last night – Mark Loretta, who went 0-for-2. We’ll see another tonight when Randy Wolf goes for the Dodgers against Roy O. Roy is due for his first win and I’m Astros loyal to a fault, so I have no qualms cheering against Wolfie, but I will still enjoy watching him again. Wolf has been a favorite ever since he rose to stardom in Philadelphia – I’ve owned a Phillies Wolf #43 t-shirt for years – so I was thrilled when Ed Wade made the trade last year. I made it a point to snag an Astros Wolf #39 shirt in September, because I knew he might not be with the club after that. Obviously then I was disappointed when Houston pulled their offer to him, and later when he finally signed with LA, but I wasn’t surprised. I know that’s home for him, and I know the economics just didn’t work for Houston, so I don’t begrudge him that.
It’s the third ex-Astro in LA that I miss the most – Mr. Brad Ausmus. Alyson Footer has some great photos over on her blog from yesterday. I’ve been nostalgic about a lot already this season, as I realize the time of my childhood heroes is growing to a close; it happens when you grow up. But as much as I loved Ryan & Scott, Bags & Bidge, Cammy & Kile… the one guy I honestly liked more than all of them was Brad Ausmus. I don’t begrudge him signing with LA either, as I know it’s home for him too. I’m most glad we knew it was coming so Houston could give him a proper send-off.
So I wrote him a letter back on April 10. Maybe childish, I know… something I haven’t done in 20 years, and will more than likely never do again. But I thanked him for the memories. I included a baseball card, and I asked for his autograph. I told him I was an adult, that I understood if he didn’t sign for adults, and I left it at that. I didn’t hold any expectations then, but on Monday, I got my card back. Signed. That was all, but that’s more than enough. Brad has always been a class act, all the way.
We may not actually see him in a game this series, though he wants to face off against Roy tonight. I’ll be terrified if that happens; we saw what he did to Hampy last year. But it would also be great fun. (Joe Torre, are you listening?) I sincerely hope all the Ausmus-as-manager talk ends up being true down the line, even if it’s not in Houston. But I ultimately wish him well in LA this season, and then in whatever he chooses to pursue after that. He’ll never be in the Hall of Fame, but he’ll always be one of the game’s greats to many. Including me.
Well, the starting pitching has been good. VERY good. What everyone thought would be Houston’s greatest weakness going into the season has actually been the greatest strength so far. The problem is that the offense – believed to be a strength – has averaged exactly three runs per game to this point. A 3.00 ERA is generally considered to be very good. But if you’re only scoring three runs a game yourself, you’re asking your pitchers to be better than very good in order to win. The starters have actually been exactly that lately, but certain parts of the bullpen have been shaky, and the anemic offense has left them no margin for error. So we have Oswalt, Paulino and Hampton all deliver quality starts and end up with no decisions as the team loses late. It’s easy to blame the bullpen, but it’s not like anyone out there had a Moehler-esque outing that left the Astros buried.
The optimistic view is to say that we’ve only had three games so far that weren’t realistically winnable (Moehler’s two starts & Albert Pujols Day). This team could have received exactly the pitching they’ve received so far and easily be 10-3 right now. The frustrating thing is that they’re not 10-3, or 8-5, or even 6-7. They’re 4-9, because anyone not named Hunter or Miguel or Geoff/Jeff can’t get a hit.
The further optimism is to say that guys named Lance, Carlos, Kaz and even Ivan won’t keep hitting this poorly, which is more than likely true. It would just be nice if they warmed up sooner than later so that missed opportunities like these don’t come back to haunt when more difficult challenges inevitably arrive.
At least the Rockets had a laugher over the weekend. They’ll try to go up 2-0 tonight.
The Astros West (aka LA Dodgers) roll into town tonight with that 10-3 record the Astros wish they had. Interesting that of Houston’s four free agent departures this winter, three landed in Los Angeles (Ausmus, Wolf, Loretta). Only non-tendered Ty Wigginton went elsewhere, and he signed with the Astros East (aka Baltimore Orioles), joining only six other ex-Astros on their 40-man roster. I’m looking for Russ Ortiz to be sharper in his second start of the season.