Posts Tagged ‘Houston Astros’

Nine Random Thoughts on the 2019 Season

October 31, 2019

Goose Goslin (the Nats can’t win in DC without him)

In honor of the nine innings in a game, here are nine thoughts about the 2019 season in no particular order:

1. Congratulations to the Washington Nationals on winning the World Series. It’s a first for them and the first victory for Washington since 1924. Walter Johnson got the win in game seven in 1924.

2. Although DC has now won a World Series since 1924, no Washington team has ever won a home game in the Series without Goose Goslin in the lineup. He died in 1971.

3. Further congratulations to the Houston Astros for a great World Series. I’d picked them in April and got within three innings of being right (which is pretty good for me).

4. There were a ton of home runs and strikeouts this season. I’d like to see considerably less of both in 2020.

5. I worry about Christian Yelich. There have been a number of really good ballplayers who’ve gotten hurt and became shadows of their former selves, never returning to the top rungs of the game. I hope he isn’t one of them.

6. Mike Trout proved he’s still the best player in the game. But he’s beginning to get hurt a lot. As with Yelich, I hope it doesn’t diminish his abilities. In Trout’s case, he needs to appear in one game next year to log 10 years and punch his ticket to the Hall of Fame. By contrast, Yelich has only seven seasons in the big leagues.

7. Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols continues to move up on the all-time charts. He’s currently 17th in runs (one behind Frank Robinson), 15th in hits, fifth in total bases, seventh in doubles (four behind George Brett), sixth in home runs (four from Willie Mays), and tied with Cap Anson for fourth in RBIs. All stats from Baseball Reference.

8. In an era consumed by offensive stats, did you notice that the Giants had a team fielding percentage of .989? I know fielding percent isn’t the be all, end all of fielding stats, but Seattle’s .978 was the lowest in the majors. Fielding has really improved over the more than half century I’ve been watching (and listening to) the game. I consider that a good thing.

9. We have now had consecutive Hispanic background managers (Alex Cora and Dave Martinez) who’ve won the World Series. It’s partial proof of how much Hispanics mean to the game. As far as I know, Yuli Gurriel and Yordan Alvarez are the first two Cubans to bat back-to-back in a lineup.

Now on to 2020.

The Lip

June 14, 2018

The Lip and the Babe

If I had to put together a list of the most interesting men to ever be associated with Major League Baseball, I’m certain that Casey Stengel would be at the top. I’m not sure of the order of the next three or four, probably Branch Rickey second. But I am sure that on the list, very high on the list would be Leo Durocher.

At this point Durocher is receding in the minds of most fans. It’s been a long time and he’s been gone for a long time. But he was brash, loud, opinionated (they called him “Leo the Lip” for a reason). He played with Babe Ruth and with Dizzy Dean. He managed PeeWee Reese and Willie Mays. He was, for years a fixture.

He wasn’t much of a player. Here’s his triple slash line: .247/.299/.320/.619 (OPS+ of 66) with 575 runs on 1320 hits and 377 walks. His WAR is all of 5.1. He was a decent, but not great, shortstop, his defensive WAR being 11.4. He spent time with the Yankees, Reds, Cardinals, and Dodgers.

What he was ultimately was a great baseball mind. He knew all the tricks of the trade, knew how to motivate players, knew how to get the most out of a modest roster, knew how to make the fans love him. He was, in other words, a Hall of Fame Manager. He took over a moribund Brooklyn team in 1939 and brought them to a pennant in 1941. They lost the World Series, then fell back behind a superb Cardinals team. In 1946, Brooklyn and St. Louis were tied at the end of the season. A three game playoff format lasted two games as the Cards swept the Dodgers and went on to a World Series title. It was during the 1946 season that Durocher uttered a comment about the Giants and Mel Ott that has come down to us as Durocher’s trademark, “Nice guys finish last.” That’s not the exact quote, but it does distill the meaning.

Contrary to popular belief, Durocher was not Jackie Robinson’s first big league manager. During the run up to the 1947 season, Durocher was suspended for a variety of reasons, most notably his inability to stay away from friends who were gamblers, mobsters, and bookies. Before the suspension, he did take swift action to quash the anti-Robinson petition being circulated by some of the Brooklyn players. Robinson later indicated he thought Durocher’s actions were significant in easing his (Robinson’s) path to the big leagues.

In 1948, Durocher was released by the Dodgers. Branch Rickey was running the team and he and Leo Durocher had very different philosophies on life (but not on integration and baseball). Bill James in his Historical Baseball Abstract tells the story of Durocher giving a nervous pitcher a drink before a game and Rickey going crazy over it. A paraphrase of Durocher’s comment led to the famous “There’s a W column and an L column. You pay me to put crooked numbers in the W column.”

It also contributed to Rickey releasing Durocher from his contract and allowing him to move to the Giants as manager. He led them to the NL pennant in 1951, this time winning a three game playoff against Brooklyn (the “Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant” series). They lost the World Series to the Yankees, but pulled off a famous upset in 1954 when they won the World Series against the 111 win Indians. It was the last Giants pennant and World Series victory in in New York, and their last world’s championship in the 20th Century. He left the Giants after the 1955 season.

Durocher had a long running affair with minor Hollywood actress Laraine Day. They were married in 1947 and divorced in 1960 (she was the third of four Durocher wives). The relationship got him some parts in movies and on television (he was in an episode of “The Beverly Hillbillies” playing himself) and he was considered pretty good for someone not trained in acting.

He coached a little, did some acting, then in 1966 took over the Chicago Cubs. He stayed into the 1972 season, captaining the collapse of 1969 that led to the “Miracle Mets” championship. The Cubs had a long history of futility when he took over, but he kept them above .500 in each of his seasons as manager, except the first. In 1972 he moved on to Houston after being fired by the Cubs for not winning a pennant. He had a winning record with the Astros and retired after the 1973 season with a managerial record of 2008-1709 (a .540 winning percentage).

He managed a little in Japan, wrote a book (which is pretty good), and died in 1991. He was enshrined at Cooperstown in 1994. He deserved it as a baseball man and as one of the more famous people to be involved in the game.

 

Game Six: LCS

August 26, 2011

After a short break, back to game six. This is the final installment of the series.

When baseball went to a playoff system in 1969, the playoff round was a best of five, making it impossible for a game six. That changed in 1985 when the current best of seven format began. It proved immediately successful when Toronto won game four of the 1985 ALCS and took a three games to one lead over Kansas City. In previous years that would have put Toronto into the World Series, but the new format required them to win one more. They couldn’t and the Royals won their only World Series that season.

There have been a few good sixth games in ALCS history, but most of the truly memorable ones occurred in the National League. Ozzie Smith’s home run and the “Bartman” game were both game six. But for sheer drama and length, there’s never been anything quite like game six of the 1986 NLCS.

Kevin Bass in that gaudy Astros uniform

1986

The New York Mets went into game six of the 1986 NLCS up three games to two against the Houston Astros. The game was played on Wednesday afternoon, 15 October, in Houston. The Astros looked like they were going to tie up the series when they jumped on Mets ace Bob Ojeda for three runs in the bottom of the first. With a couple of doubles and a couple of singles, Houston forged ahead. The key play of the game occurred in the first, when Kevin Bass recorded the third out trying to steal home. It ended the scoring for the Astros in the first, and as things turned out one more run would have been critical.

For eight innings the Astros held New York in check. Starter Bob Knepper threw eight shutout innings to bring the game to the top of the ninth and bring Houston within three outs of a game seven. He got one. A triple, a single, and a double gave the Mets two runs and chased Knepper. A sacrifice fly tied the game and Bass’s base running blunder now brought on extra innings.

And it brought on extra inning after extra inning. The game went on for 4 hours and 42 minutes. Not being a particular fan of either team, I was, by the end, beginning to root for it to go 18 so I could get in a strange double-header. I thought the Mets were going to mess it up for me when they scored a run in the 14th, but Billy Hatcher homered in the bottom of the inning to give me another chance at my hoped for double-header.  

The fifteenth was scoreless, then the Mets scored three on a double, two singles, two wild pitches, and a sacrifice fly. Up 7-4 it looked like World Series time for the Mets. Houston decided not to make it easy. On a couple of singles and a walk, the Astros got two runs back, then Kevin Bass came to the plate with two outs. He struck out to end the game, the series, and my shot at a double-header. The Mets went on to win the World Series.

It was more an interesting than exciting game for most of the time. There was the drama extra innings always gives, but for much of the game it looked like the Mets were in trouble. They made it exciting finally in the ninth, then it became a long drama through a 14th inning tie then the finale of the Astros getting within one run to send it to sixteen. The game had some individually good performances. Jesse Orosco picked up the win, his third in the series, Knepper threw eight shutout innings before losing it in the ninth. Ray Knight had two critical RBIs, and Glenn Davis and Billy Hatcher both had three hits for the Astros, one of Hatcher’s being the game’s only home run. Then there was Kevin Bass who went one for six with the out at home and Astros manager Hal Lanier who left Knepper in to start the ninth.

It was a heck of a game, and a heck of a game to end this series on. I still wish I’d gotten that double header out of it. Oh, well.

The 1980 NLCS

July 4, 2011

Tug McGraw as a Phillie

Ever notice how many people talk about the great World Series’ they’ve seen. I like to dwell on the 1991 Series, others will pick different ones to extol. But most people never say much  about the other rounds of playoffs. That’s unfortunate, because some of the finest games or sets of games have happened in the various League Championship Series’. You can take a look at the mid-1980s as an example if you want. The Kansas City/Toronto ALCS was great with the Royals coming back from a 3 games to 1 deficit to win in seven. The NLCS of 1986 (Mets over Astros) was a classic, as was the 1988 NLCS (Dodgers over Mets). But for my money the finest League Championship was the NLCS of 1980.

The 1980 NLCS matched the Philadelphia Phillies against the Houston Astros. Philly won the east by a game over Montreal. In the west, the Astros and Dodgers tied leading to a one-game playoff. If the NLCS was great, the one game playoff was wretched. Houston won 7-1 and it didn’t seem that close. Philadelphia featured Hall of Famers Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt, hits leader Pete Rose, and Phillies stalwarts Larry Bowa, Bob Boone, Garry Maddox, and Tug McGraw (the father of Faith Hill’s husband). Houston countered with its own Hall of Famers, Nolan Ryan and Joe Morgan. The Astros also featured Jose Cruz, Cesar Cedeno, Enos Cabell, and one of my personal favorites, Terry Puhl. The Series was  still a best of five and there was no earlier round division series to get in the way. The champion went to the World Series, the loser went home.

Game one was in Philadelphia. Steve Carlton squared off against Ken Forsch. Forsch pitched a complete game, but lost 3-1 on a  Greg Luzinski home run. It was the last game decided in nine innings. Houston took game two, also in Philly, by scoring  four runs in the 10th inning (Philadelphia managed one in its own half of the tenth). Frank LaCorte got the win, Rick Reed took the loss. Backup first baseman Dave Bergman plated the winning runs with a triple. With the NLCS knotted at 1-1, the teams headed for the first ever playoff games in the Astrodome. They were classic.

Game three saw Joe Niekro (Phil’s brother) take on Larry Christenson. Doing his Jack Morris impression, Niekro went nine scoreless innings scattering six hits, walking one, and striking out two. Christenson matched him through six innings when he was pulled for a pinch hitter. Dickie Noles pitched a little more than one inning, then in came Faith Hill’s father-in-law. McGraw pitched scoreless ball into the bottom of the eleventh when Joe Morgan tripled and his pinch runner scored on a sacrifice fly. Houston led the NLCS 2 games to one.

Game four saw Carlton face Vern Ruhle. Neither was as good as Niekro or Christenson, but they kept the game close. The game saw the most controversial play of the series. With two men on in the fourth inning, Philadelphia appeared to hit into a triple play. The umpires finally ruled it a double play and allowed the inning to continue. To the relief of most people (except maybe Phils fans), Philly didn’t score. Carlton left losing, but Philadelphia tied it up and went ahead. The Astros scored in the bottom of the ninth to send the game into extra innings, the third game in a  row to go into the tenth. Rose singled, a couple of  batters later Luzinski doubled to score Rose and McGraw set Houston down in order to set up game five.

The final game saw Nolan Ryan make his first appearance. It was a fairly standard Ryan game. He went seven innings, gave up eight hits, walked two, struck out eight, and, uncharacteristically, gave up six earned runs. Opponent Marty Bystrom wasn’t Ryan, but he left giving up only two runs (one earned). His bullpen let him down as Houston scored five runs off the relievers. Of course Houston’s bullpen was only marginally better, it gave up only one run over the eighth and ninth innings, but that tied the score at 7-7. So for the fourth game in a row (read that number closely, fourth) the NLCS would go to extra innings. It’s the only time that’s ever happened. Del Unser and Maddox both doubled in the tenth, giving Philadelphia a lead. Three straight outs in the bottom of the tenth, and the Phillies were on their way to their first World Series since 1950 (they won in six games). Manny Trillo, who I never even mentioned in the above was the MVP. That’s how good the NLCS was, you could talk about the entire thing and not mention the MVP.

It was a wonderful series. Four extra inning games, timely hitting, good pitching, and a possible triple play. I’ve seen a lot a NLCS and ALCS games since. For my money, the Philadelphia-Houston NLCS of 1980 is still the best of the lot.

Tug's Daughter-in-Law (before she was "waiting all day for Sunday night")