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.
NOW it’s official: Pudge Rodriguez is an Astro. And I am very happy. I made no secret around here of my desire that the Astros sign Pudge; I think it makes all kinds of sense from the team’s standpoint, once the price was finally right. I already covered my thoughts on that, so I won’t bother repeating myself. What I haven’t talked as much about is my personal standpoint as a fan.
Growing up in Houston, the Astros were always far and away my favorite team, but I also kinda liked Texas’ other team, the Rangers. Nolan Ryan was my favorite player back then, and I liked Texas more after he joined them in 1989. Two years later, in 1991, the Rangers brought up a young catching prospect that started turning heads, much like Craig Biggio had done for Houston in ’88. That young catcher was Ivan Rodriguez. I’ve always been partial to catchers, because that’s where my granddad played, so this Ivan Rodriguez quickly became a favorite of mine. I was 11 years old.
The Rangers finally made the postseason in 1996, and I cheered them on a year before I finally got to cheer my Astros in October ’97. I cheered for Ivan (eventually “Pudge”) and the Rangers again in ’98 and ’99, when both Texas teams played in October. Pudge departed Texas as a free agent following the 2002 season, but I got to cheer him again in the postseason with the 2003 champion Florida Marlins. I cheered for Detroit in the ’06 Series because of Pudge’s presence, too.
I know he’s old now, at least in baseball years. I know he’s not the MVP he used to be. I know he’s a prime suspect for past steroids use, and I don’t like that; it’s tarnished his legacy for me and everyone else. But I’m 29 now, and he’s one of the few guys still playing that I cheered as a kid. The Astros’ old guard is officially gone this year, with Brad Ausmus out in L.A. to finish his career close to home. Biggio and Jeff Bagwell are both retired. So are Ryan, Mike Scott and all the Houston stars from the era before that, and three of those childhood heroes – Darryl Kile, Ken Caminiti & Dave Smith – have already passed on. I love Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt, but there’s something special about the guys you grew up watching that can never be replaced. Pudge brings some of that back with him. So really, no matter what kind of year he has… no matter what kind of year Houston has… and even if this is the only season he ever plays in an Astros uniform… it’s a Good Year from the very start. It’s all the things that make us love baseball, more than winning and losing, and that’s what matters the most anyway.
I’m also excited about Russ Ortiz pitching again today; I still want to see him succeed. I’m also excited that Jake Peavy is tapped to lead Team USA against Dice-K and Japan on Sunday, because I love Jake Peavy, but I selfishly want our boy Roy on the hill for the championship game.
It’s the first official day of spring, and it’s Friday. All the losses and frustrations don’t matter. It’s a Good Day.
EDIT: So it’ll be Oswalt for Team USA on Sunday, not Jake Peavy as originally reported. Oh well – Oswalt versus Matsuzaka will be one heck of a pitching matchup. And also, ASTROS WIN! Ortiz looked brilliant, Berkman homered, every Astros regular reached base at least one, and the winless streak is gone. It’s still a Good Day.
photo credit: https://www.beckett.com/images/pgitems/1072320101.jpg
I’ll be among the first to say that spring training wins and losses don’t matter, but bad baseball is bad baseball, and I can’t blame Cecil Cooper if he’s mad. I was getting mad listening to Houston’s game today against the Mets, and hardly anything ever makes me mad. It’s never a good thing when your team has almost as many errors (four) as it does hits (five). It’s never a good thing when you’re halfway through the game, down 8-0 and wondering if any team has ever been no-hit in spring training. The team hasn’t scored more than two runs in a game in over a week, Wandy Rodriguez was awful today, and whether it matters or not, 1-16-3 stinks by any measure.
How in the world does the best defensive team in the National League last year keep playing so sloppily, day after day this spring? I tried to console myself by looking up the worst spring training records in history, and the worst I could rummage up was the 1985 Pittsburgh Pirates, who went 6-18 (.250). I looked up their regular season then, hoping for validation from a positive turnaround.
They went 57-104 and finished last in both leagues.
Forgive me that, please, as I’m an optimist by nature. I get far more fed up with the folks constantly spewing negativity about our team and others than I do with a poorly performing team itself. But “even narcissists and rappers need to get things off their chest,” says a musician fellow I know, and he’s correct in that.
Bright spots: Chris Johnson went 2-for-3 a day after his chances of breaking camp with the club increased. Tim Byrdak redeemed himself from his last outing with a scoreless inning today. As weak as the offense has been lately, we’ve seen five scoreless outings from Houston starters over the same stretch (Jose Capellan, Brian Moehler, Mike Hampton twice, and Roy Oswalt for Team USA), so the rotation actually seems to be shaping up.
And Pudge Rodriguez was in camp for the first half of his physical today, with the second half scheduled for tomorrow. Still no official word from the club on the signing, but that’s as solid a proof as we’ve yet seen.
One other bit of speculation: Ed Wade received a phone call about an available 3B soon after Aaron Boone’s announcement yesterday. I’m with Ed on this one, about waiting to see who’s available near the end of camp and how your own guys pan out. Many have speculated about who the mystery 3B is, with almost nothing to go on, so it’s anyone’s guess. But a couple of sources suggested that Mark Loretta might get released by Los Angeles… not having followed Dodgers camp, I can’t imagine why, but there it was. I’m still not convinced that Houston needs to make a move, and certainly not just any move, but if Loretta DOES indeed get cut, I hope Wade will snatch him up without a second thought. I’d love to have him back.
March 17 brings another grand baseball tradition, where all the players look like this:
I’ve always liked the green jerseys, so I think it’s great fun. I’ll probably buy one of these eventually.
Astros return to daytime action shortly against Detroit, which makes me happy at work. I’ll refrain from another Pudge entry here until the signing is official. But I will say I’m doubly pulling for Team USA tonight in the WBC, because 1. I’m American and I want our boys to win, and 2. I want Pudge free to finalize his deal and get in camp with our pitchers.
It’s a good day.
Keeping in mind the Braves’ struggles with reported “done deals” like Rafael Furcal and Ken Griffey, Jr. this winter…
LET’S ADD PUDGE ’09.
EDIT: And Alyson Footer confirms “Pudge is on his way.” Given Coop’s comments in recent days, I’ll be surprised if we don’t hear that Brandon Backe is released soon after the I-Rod deal is finalized. Cutting Backe before April 2 frees up most of his $1.55 million salary, which is why adding $1.5 million for Pudge is suddenly “not an issue anymore.”
Which leaves – again – the Astros. The Twins’ news on Joe Mauer was not bad enough to warrant a replacement move. It seems the only thing keeping Houston from Pudge and Pudge from Houston is Ed Wade picking up the phone. Or, more likely, Drayton McLane letting Ed Wade pick up the phone.
Drayton? Ed? Can you hear us? Your club is off today. We the fans could really use something to get excited about! 1-11-1, even in spring training, is not it.
So Houston lost last night… again. But at least it took a little longer than usual. Humberto Quintero did his best Pudge-vs-Panama impersonation, going 2-for-3 with a homer. Hunter Pence did too, 3-for-4 with a homer of his own. Jose Capellan still hasn’t surrendered a run all spring. Carlos Lee is back in camp today. Zachary Levine has a number of quotes today from a team suffering through a woeful spring… that just happens to be the 1986 Houston Astros. Fellow MLBlogger roundrock15 reminds us that two of the three worst Grapefruit League teams last year happened to end up facing off in the NLCS. And our car works again.
Cecil Cooper says that Michael Bourn has played his way back to the top of the lineup, hitting #2 behind Kaz Matsui. This is good news for Houston’s offense – we haven’t really had a pair of productive speedsters leading off for a long while now, and that can go a long way towards unsettling opposing pitchers and manufacturing more runs. Bourn’s .240 batting average this spring isn’t particularly grand, but his .367 OBP is MUCH, MUCH improved and would easily be a career high for him (or Hunter Pence, for that matter). He’s getting on base, bunting, running, and generally doing everything a good #2 hitter should do. I’d still like to see a higher BA, but if he keeps it all going, he may just win back my confidence yet.
Let’s Add Pudge ’09 – He’s talking about the Marlins again, but he wants to start. Florida wants him to be backup, as do likely the Met$. Houston really is the best fit for him in that regard. Everyone talks about his .219 average after joining the Yankee$ last year, but that was in a reserve role; he hit .295 as Detroit’s starter. And note this: that Sun-Sentinel article says Florida would “only sign Rodriguez to a six-figure base salary plus incentives.” Really? Really? I’ve expected all along it would take at least $1.5 million, more likely $2-3 to land him, in which case I hoped-but-didn’t-expect the Astros could afford him. Admittedly, I feel strongly that Scott Boras is a plague on the game of baseball and I wish he could be banned, but… this is just for one year. For one player. Boras will probably never sell anything this cheap again. I know that Ed Wade is waiting to see what veteran catchers might be available closer to the end of spring training, but… are they really going to come that much cheaper? If Pudge’s asking price is truly that low, almost I might actually be upset with Astros management should they not at least make an offer. C’mon, Ed… pick up the phone!
Houston returns to afternoon weekday play today for the first time since Thursday. Would like to see good things from Brian Moehler today (and a win!), but mostly – welcome back, fellas! I’ve missed you at work.
EDIT: The Astros broadcast team reports Coop’s first cuts of the spring today – pitchers Brad James & Sergio Perez, and catchers Jason Castro & Brian Esposito, are headed to minor league camp. None too surprising, though Castro is the most notable. I hope to hear him tearing it up over there soon.