Let’s hope the Houston Astros were paying attention to the Mack truck named the Texas Rangers that steamrolled them before their home fans at Minute Maid Park last weekend.

What the 36,000-plus fans saw each night was a display of a franchise on its way up in the baseball world that already is enjoying their perch atop the American League West Division with an impressive 26-17 record through Sunday’s 5-0 blanking of our offensively-inept Astros.

The sweep of the three-game weekend series was no accident—the Rangers won by pounding the ball out of Minute Maid Park on numerous occasions and the Astros lost because of inconsistent starting pitching and a bullpen that can’t shut anybody down.

The three victories—6-5 Friday, 6-3 Saturday and 5-0 Sunday– put the Rangers in a very advantageous position to once-again capture the coveted Texas Silver Boot, the symbolic trophy that goes to the team that gets the better of the other during the home-and-home series.

The success of the Texas Rangers goes back to the winter when new team president Nolan Ryan sent an e-mail to all the pitchers in the organization to be ready to throw live batting practice on the first day of spring training. In other words, get in shape BEFORE reporting to spring training.

Ryan also announced that this season there will be no such thing as a pitch count for the starters from the major leaguers right down to the rookie league. He said he’s from the old school where pitchers remained in the game until the catcher informed the manager that the starting pitcher was getting tired and should be ready to come out of the game.

This old method certainly worked for Ryan during his playing days and he firmly believes this direction is the way to go. One of the problems of past Ranger teams is that their bullpen would fail continuously, resulting in the team being out of the pennant race early in the season. Does that sound familiar, Houston Astros???
And Ryan’s idea worked to perfection Sunday for young Ranger starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy, who hurled a complete-game shutout—the first of his career– in which he threw 124 pitches and was NOT visited on the mound one time by Manager Ron Washington or pitching coach Mike Maddux.

Washington said he was tempted to take McCarthy out before the ninth inning, but he was pitching so well he just couldn’t. “I didn’t see any fatigue,” Washington said. “This spring we wanted him to get in shape and show some stamina and that’s exactly what he’s done.”

Now in defense of the Astros’ present status as being the current NL Central doormat, they were very competitive during most of the late 1990’s and up to last season in the 2000’s when the Rangers weren’t mainly because Houston had a plenty of talented players in their minor league pipeline.

But several questionable trades involving many of their young players for seasoned veterans makes Houston the team with the highest average age on their major league roster. Hopefully it’s merely taking these greybeards a little longer to get started than the players on other teams, but time’s a-wasting and the losses are piling up.

And now the Astros’ minor league pipeline is virtually dry of talent ready to make their major league debuts. Houston is shuttling players back and forth from their Corpus Christi and Round Rock teams in hopes of finding a diamond-in-the-rough.

Houston only has a two starting pitchers capable of winning consistently in veteran ace Roy Oswalt and lefty Wandy Rodriguez. Even when this talented twosome is having a good outing, Manager Cecil Cooper yanks them whenever the pitch count nears or exceeds 100.

Whatever lead these two pitchers leave the game with usually gets reversed thanks to the inept bullpen that has been decimated by injuries and an offense that very seldom plays “add-on” whenever the Astros do manage to grab and early lead.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” said baffled Astros left fielder Carlos Lee, who’s hitting near the .330 mark. “We’ve got good players and a lot of guys do the right thing. But it just isn’t happening. It’s confusing. I can’t explain it.”

The Rangers, on the other hand, have a very youthful team that has home run-hitting capability from its lead-off man to the No. 9 batter. And Ryan has assembled a corps of hard-throwing starting pitchers who are young and very anxious to succeed at the major league level.

And their minor league system is full of good, young ball players who should be at the major league level in a short period of time.
As far as this Korner is concerned, we never even heard of a pitch count during our playing days. We don’t remember ever being left on the mound too long when we started tiring and don’t remember getting an early hook when pitching a strong game. 

We believe Nolan Ryan has the right idea—and his experiment is reaping huge dividends so far this season. It wouldn’t hurt if Cecil Cooper copied one of the greatest pitchers in major league history and leave his starters in longer when they are doing well.

It just might save his job!!! 

KWICKIES…Congrats are in store for the Little Cypress-Mauriceville and Orangefield baseball teams, who were eliminated in the regional round from the Texas high school state baseball tournament. And both teams fell to perennial nemeses as the Battlin’ Bears lost twice to Brenham in the Class 4A Region III quarterfinals while the Bobcats battled tooth and nail before falling to Bridge City 8-4 in the rubber game of their best-of-three regional quarterfinal game Saturday night in Vidor. And good luck to the District 21-3A champion Cardinals who will face Spring Hill in the Class 3A Region III semifinals this week. The best-of-three series begins Thursday at 7:30 p.m. with the second game Saturday at 2 p.m. and the third game to follow if necessary. Location is yet to be decided. Bridge City is just one of three Southeast Texas teams still alive in the playoffs. They join Nederland in Class 4A and Evadale in Class A.

The Lamar Cardinals were eliminated from the Southland Conference baseball tournament Friday night by Texas State 13-2. The Redbirds rallied twice late in their earlier game Friday to eliminate UT-Arlington 4-3 to reach the semifinal round. Texas State was bashed by Sam Houston State 9-2 Saturday night, giving the Bearkats an automatic berth to the regional round of the College World Series.

The Houston Astros seem to play better on the road than at Minute Maid Park where they just finished a miserable 1-5 home stand and are 9-15 so far this season. Going into Monday’s game at Cincinnati, the Astros were 9-9 on the road. Houston plays three games in Cincinnati, are off Thursday, moves on to Pittsburgh this weekend and then returns home for 10 games in 11 days against Colorado (4), Pittsburgh (3) and the Chicago Cubbies (3). So they had better learn how to win at home or they’ll be in for a long season.

JUST BETWEEN US…Don’t be surprised if the first player taken by the Washington Nationals in the Major League Draft June 9 is 6-5, 220-pound right-handed pitcher Stephen Strasburg of San Diego State. The 20-year old Strasburg completed the first no-hitter of his career in his final home start for the Aztecs, throwing several pitches 100 mph and striking out 17 and walking one against Air Force. Strasburg is 12-0 with a 1.34 earned run average and a nation-leading 16.6 strikeouts per nine innings this season and was the lone collegian on the U.S. Olympic team in Beijing.