2012 Houston Astros-fiesty competitors
Although the 2012 major league baseball season is less than two weeks old, several trends are appearing that might make the 162-game journey more enjoyable than first anticipated.
More specifically, I’m referring to our Houston Astros, who the Las Vegas Boys pick at even money to lose 100 or more games this season.
They may make the odds makers look good in the final analysis, but what I’ve seen so far looks more like a team destined to play closer to .500 ball. At this writing Houston stands at 4-5, with none of the five losses anywhere close to blowouts. In fact the Astros had a chance to win all nine games, so far.
Last weekend’s series at Miami was a perfect example of the way the young season has been going with all three games having 5-4 scores that were decided by the ninth inning or later. Unfortunately, the Astros lost two of the three games.
In Friday’s opener, it appeared the Marlins had the upper hand throughout the game until J. D. Martinez, one of the newcomers who broke into the Astros’ lineup late last season, belted a two-run homer to knot the score at 4-4.
Ironically Martinez hails from the Miami area and had a couple hundred of his family and friends on hand to watch him become the first player to hit a home run in the Marlins’ brand new stadium.
The game went into extra innings as the Houston bullpen, which is full of fresh, young faces, did another great job against Miami until one of the old Astros—Brandon Lyon—came in and did exactly what he has done for most of the last two seasons—got pounded without getting an out as the Marlins scored the winning run in the 11th inning and won 5-4.
On Saturday almost the same thing happened in reverse as the Astros trailed 4-1 with one out in the ninth inning when Miami’s $27 million closer Heath Bell gave up a double to Jose Altuve who reached third on the first of the Marlins’ three errors that inning.
Pinch-hitter Travis Buck singled home Altuve and Jordan Schafer reached base on catcher’s interference, which was Error No. 2. The Astros were down to one out when Martinez singled home Buck making the score 4-3.
First baseman Carlos Lee, who is off to a fast start in the final year of his six-year, $100,000,000 contract, ripped a single to center, driving home the tying run against the befuddled Bell.
Brian Bogusevic hit a soft fly ball to left that Logan Morrison lost in the lights and dropped for Error No. 3, allowing the tie-breaking run to score.
The Astros’ $12 million starter-turned-closer Brett Myers pitched the bottom of the ninth and mowed down the Marlins on 16 pitches to preserve the 5-4 Astros’ victory for his second save in as many tries.
Sunday’s 5-4 score came about from a different direction as Houston’s starting pitcher J. A Happ successfully protected and early 3-2 lead for six innings. The Astros added an important run in the top of the eighth inning on a run-producing double by Altuve.
Manager Brad Mills may have made a strategically bad error by selecting lefty Wesley Wright to pitch the bottom of the eighth. Wright issued a walk to switch-hitter Emilio Bonifacio and was immediately yanked off the mound by a miffed Mills in favor of Wilton Lopez.
Hanley Ramirez greeted Lopez with a monstrous home run over the 418-foot sign in center field, suddenly tying the score at 4-4. Ramirez delivered the winning run in the 11th inning after two intentional walks loaded the bases with one out.
Mills ordered both the infield and outfield to come in and Ramirez hit a fly ball over the drawn-in outfield for a single and a 5-4 Miami win.
Although the Astros have been in every game so far this season, they have yet to drive in a run when the bases were loaded. Houston had three opportunities on Sunday and is 0-for-11 for the season when the bases are full.
Houston has the second-youngest 25-man roster in the major leagues with only the Kansas City Royals slightly younger. The Astros’ $60,651,000 payroll is the lowest in the National League Central Division, followed by Pittsburgh ($63,431,999), Cincinnati ($82,203,616), Chicago Cubs ($88,197,033), Milwaukee ($97,653,944) and St. Louis ($110,300,862).
And going into Monday’s action, it appears that the Cardinals are buying their way to success as they lead the NL Central. But the low-dollar Astros are hanging right behind St. Louis in second place, with Cincinnati and Milwaukee tied for third, Pittsburgh fifth and Chicago in the cellar.
Let’s hope the young and hungry players on the Houston Astros’ 25-man roster continue to battle in every inning of each game like they appear to be doing so far and perhaps good things will happen.
However, in the current four-game series at Washington, our Astros will definitely be facing their toughest opponent so far this young season. The Nationals stood at 7-3 and in first place in the NL East going into Monday’s series opener.
KWICKIES…This Korner was saddened to hear of the death of former West Orange Chiefs’ football and baseball player Mike Case, 60. Mike, an avid golfer, would occasionally return to Orange to play golf at Sunset Grove Country Club with his good friend Jim Rodda, Craig Couvillion and yours truly. Mike worked for many years out of Lafayette before being transferred by his company to Houston not too long ago. I was covering sports at West Orange High School for the Orange daily newspaper in the late 1960’s when Mike played for the Chiefs. He graduated from West Orange High in 1970. The funeral for Mike Case was Tuesday in Lafayette.
The Texas Rangers are off to another good start by leading the American League West Division by 2 ½ games going into Monday’s action. The Rangers have yet to lose on the road (3-0) as they moved on to play the Boston Red Sox Tuesday at Fenway Park.
I got to watch a couple more Kentucky Derby hopefuls in action Saturday afternoon on CNBC as Hansen, a beautiful white colt, went out as the 6-5 favorite in the $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and was upset by 6-1 Dullahan. Both horses are expected to be in the Derby on May 5. In the $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn, 9-5 favorite Bodemeister held off 5-2 Secret Circle. Both horses are eligible for the Derby.
Carl Pettersson fired five straight birdies on the front nine Sunday and coasted to an easy five-stroke victory in last weekend’s RBC Heritage at Hilton Head, S.C. on the PGA Tour. He finished five shots ahead of runner-up Zach Johnson at 14-under-par to win $1,026,000 for his fifth career PGA Tour title. Top-ranked Luke Donald needed to finish eighth or better to retain his No. 1 world ranking, but tied for 37th and slipped to No. 2 behind Rory McIlroy.
The Baylor Bears needed to rally Sunday from Saturday’s Big 12 baseball game that was suspended in the sixth inning with Kansas State holding a 10-8 lead. They won the suspended game 14-12 and then won Sunday’s 11-inning contest 12-11 to sweep the three-game weekend series and improve their season record to 30-7. The Bears are 15-0 in Big 12 play and extended their winning streak to 19 games.
JUST BETWEEN US…Multi-millionaire pitcher Roger Clemens returns to the federal courtroom this week in Washington, D.C. to refute allegations by Federal prosecutors that he lied to Congress in 2008 about his alleged steroid use. Prospective jurors in the last trial claim the Federal prosecutors face an uphill climb convicting the seven-time Cy Young Award winner on six felony counts. The charges carry maximum penalties of up to 30 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine. However, Federal sentencing guidelines for a first-time offender call for 15 to 21 months in federal prison. “Congress has a long history of investigating things that don’t necessarily lead to legislation—and people have a long history of being skeptical about these investigations,” commented Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.