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Houston Astros Baseball Begins Tonight

It’s been a half century of frustration for the Houston Astros who now sport the best record in Major League baseball, but have never won a  World Series since coming on the scene in 1962

Surging no-names are 13 games up in the American League West and are filling Minute Maid Park

Arnie Leshin

By Arnie Leshin

The best way to say it is that the Houston Astros are now in full flight, having a baseball season like never before.

It’s not even the All-Star break and they are on top of the Major League heap with a 43-18 finest record heading into tonight’s televised game against  division rival Anaheim Los Angeles Angels.

For those who aren’t familiar with the club’s current roster, it’s excusable, for it appears like a lineup of no names despite having all of their starters right up there in the voting for the All-Star game. One, second baseman Jose Altuve, leads that position, with five others among the first five.

Great news for the faithful Houston fans who long for one thing, a World Series championship. Since joining the New York Mets as a brand-new franchise in 1962, it has been in one World Series, being swept in four games by the Chicago White Sox in 2005.

That’s 55 years of frustration, a half century, There’s been 10 no-hitters, Hall of Famers, All-Stars, and four appearances in the Championship Series, yet the wait continues even as after they switched from the National to the American League.

Now the Mets have thrown only one no-hitter, but have won two World Series and four pennants. But now, while the Citi Field tenants in the borough of Queens are having a disappointing campaign and their fans are not happy, the Astros are going in the right direction as they hold 13-game leads over both the Anaheim and Seattle.

This and the NL East where the Washington Nationals are 12 games in the lead, are the only divisions that doesn’t show any signs of closing the gap.

It’s been a clinic put on by fourth-year manager A.J. Hinch’s team, and he’s not exactly a manager who arrived with a big, bright resume. This team has scored more times than any other, has more hits, its defense has been steady, and the pitching has been better than expected.

The club’s first manger in 1962 was Harry Craft. It won its opener, 11-2, over the Chicago Cubs and closed the season with 64 wins and 96 losses (Mets were 40 and 120).

Unlike the Mets, who drafted a herd of old timers, the then-Colt 45s went with a roster of mostly young players. Playing at Colt Stadium (35,010 capacity) for their first three years, Craft went 191-280 over that span. Their first season attendance was 924,456.

They waited until 1969, the year of the Amazin’ Mets, to go 81-81 in their first non-losing campaign. Three years later, they had their initial winning season with an 84-69 record.

When they moved into their new home in 1966, Craft was replaced and their new ballpark became the Astrodome that brought indoor baseball on Astroturf.

It remained their field of play until 1973 when their new stadium began as Enron Field, changed to Astros Field, and became Minute Maid Field in 1975. And if that made for more orange juice, it didn’t make the franchise any healthier or better.

But it did bring in quality players. In 1963, there was rookie Joe Morgan at second base and rookie Jim Wynn in centerfield. Along with catcher-second baseman Craig Biggio, who arrived in 1969, this trio might have been the club’s all-time best players. You can also added fastball pitcher Nolan Ryan, he of seven no-hitters, to the list.

In other years, Houston went with past and future Mets in Nolan Ryan, Tommie Agee, Jerry Grote, Sid Fernandez, Dwight Gooden, Dave Magaden, Jeff Kent, Ken Boswell, Ray Knight, Mike Hampton, Mike Scott, the best pitcher in the league in the 1986 season when his Astros lost to the Mets in six games of the Championship Series.

Scott was so good, the Mets were intent on winning game six in Houston rather than face Scott in game seven.

There were also players on the rosters who were probably past their prime, but the team signed them in hopes of improving their fan base. The list includes Tommy Davis, Eddie Matthews, Roger Clemens, Frank Thomas, Jim Bouton, Nellie Fox, Pedro Martinez, Davey Lopes, Don Larsen, Joe Pepitone, Joe Niekro, Bobby Shantz, Robin Roberts, Don Sutton, Curt Schilling, and Jerry Mumphey.

There’s also been Dale Berra, son of the late Hall of Fame catcher, Larry Milbourne, who started for the Yankees at shortstop in the 1981 World Series against the Dodgers, Aaron Boone, the former Yankee who hit the pennant-winning home run versus the Boston Red Sox in 2004, Randy Moffitt, brother of tennis Hall of Famer Billie Jean King, and Davis, who played for more teams than anyone in Major League baseball history.

Numbers the club has retired are No. 5 (Jeff  Boswell), No. 7 (Biggio), No. 24 (Wynn), No. 25 (Jose Cruz), No. 32 (Jim Umbreicht), No. 33 (Scott), No. 34 (Ryan), No. 40 (Don Wilson), and No. 49 (Larry Dierker). It also did as the other teams did and retired Jackie Robinson’s No. 42.

As for Morgan, he began as an Astro and went on to become a Hall of Famer with the Cincinnati Reds. Beltran, at age 40, has returned to the Astros after going on to the Mets and San Francisco Giants. He has been a starter in the outfield this season.

Terry Collins, presently the Mets’ manager, had the same role with Houston from 1994-96, replacing former Mets’ manager, Art Howe. Leo Durocher managed the team from 1972-73, and then there was Salty Parker managing but one game in 1972, and winning.

These days, it’s a lineup of veteran Brian McCann behind the plate, Altuve at second, Alex Bregman at third, Carlos Correa at short, and their best outfielders have been George Springer, Josh Reddick and Beltran. Springer leads the way in home runs with 16, and in RBI with 40. Altuve is batting a team-best .325 and has 11 stolen base.

Even the pitching staff doesn’t ring a bell. Tonight. 29-year-old right-hander Brad Peacock takes the mound with a 3-0 record. In a recent outing, 24-year-old righty Lance McCullers had a no-hitter going for seven innings, as he struck out eight and walked one.

Tonight begins a 9-game home stand and another full house is expected. Tickets for these games have become scarce, and these fans have one of the better ballparks in Minute Maid, an operating unit of Coca-Cola.

Its field is now all natural grass and there’s been no complaints. It’s a classic architectural facility that seats 40,983, and in 2,000 reached the 3 million mark. it has a 242-foot high retractable roof and the atmosphere of baseball’s golden age.

And it is a jewel in the crown of the majestic Houston skyline.

All of this is neat, truly nice for Houston Astros nation, but that one thing is missing … a World Series championship. Can this be the year? Stay tuned.

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