Posts Tagged ‘houston astros’

Perfection is a two-sided coin

One of the sides of that coin is pretty and bright and gets pressed to the lips of the pretty girl. The other side of the coin is the side that stuck it to the sidewalk the first place. The jolt of excitement at seeing the shiny side lasts until you grab it and find the muck on the hidden side.

This morning is the coin-grabbing time.

Watching the final pitches of San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain’s virtuoso performance against the Houston Astros, I felt the youthful, nervous excitement that I felt when I watched Cal Ripken break Lou Gehrig’s record and when I saw Craig Biggio reach and pass 3000 hits. The glare from the shine of the coin blocked out the troublesome shadow for a moment: the Astros got done up in historical fashion.

This morning, the drubbing takes on a sadder, more fluorescent gloom for our Houston side. As I said to a co-worker: “it’s weird to root for your own team to lose even bigger.” It’s weird, but not hard. I watched with breathless anticipation, too, in the late hours of a Wednesday night. Gregor Blanco’s miraculous catch meant more to me than Jordan Schafer dropping one it to raise his average to two-thirty-whatever. Baseball is a game of moments, and there’s no shame in enjoying one at the expense of those who, after all, could have changed the outcome by rapping a few hits and allowing fewer runs.

Coins have two sides, but really this game only had one. J.A. Happ stunk it up along with his bullpen mates. They left one show in town: the Matt Cain show. America tuned in.

***

Every perfect game seems to have that one iconic defensive play to preserve it. A utility man or fourth outfielder extends himself the extra half a foot–driven, it feels like, by the performance on the distant mound–and his name becomes synonymous with the achievement. Welcome to the books, Gregor Blanco.

An Astros Cowboy Cap

This guy’s hat (cap?) is a genre-busting testament to something that probably has to do with Jose Altuve.

Cards v. Astros, June 6 20 and 12.

 

Roy Oswalt Has Moved On, Again

Watching the post-Houston career of Roy Oswalt unfold is like snooping on an ex-girlfriend on Facebook. It’s not like I CARE what Roy does, but it’s like, really? Texas? I mean that’s cool, we had a great time and he taught me so much about like life and he is on his own journey and I’m happy for him. But Texas is such a gimmie. Texas is the guy with the dimples who drives a Beamer and wears shiny loafers. It’s like oh yeah we’d all love to play for Texas, but some of have to add to the rich texture of life by NOT being the best team in baseball. Life is more interesting when things aren’t so easy.

You know what, it’s great. I hope he gets a World Series ring, and we’ll just keep doing our thing down in Houston, because we are strong and independent and we’ve got our own thing going and I can’t live in the past. It’s just not healthy. We’ve got Bud, now, and he’s so great. And we’re gonna be great. Good luck, Roy, and have fun. With those stupid hand signals. I’m sorry that was rude. I love you.

Sweet sweepiness – Cubs v. Astros

The write-up says that Wandy Rodriguez didn’t have his best stuff last night, but I think that he DID have his best stuff last night. Unperturbed in appearance after 7 innings of solid work–Wandy’s fastball jumped from his hand, the usual 90 mile per hour straight shooters that somehow by dint of location and delivery seem to travel at a much quicker 94 miles per hour or so. The curveball that curves above the strike zone but never lands there.

I guess Wandy disagrees with me as Brad Mills reported that Wandy told him that his fastball told him that he was a little under the weather–and I’ll admit I wasn’t glued to every pitch as I’ve got a life to live here after all–but I was very satisfied with the work.

And the results! 21-23 feels alright with me. Now on to the Jose Altuve’s All-Star bid. The Pocket Jaguar must play in Kansas City! (Nice logo, BTW, All-Star game graphic designer….)

It’s a tired adage that slumping hitters just need a few easy ones to fall in to get their confidence back. But if the adage happens to true despite its fatigue, then J.D. Martinez had a confidence-boosting night. His triple in the fourth inning is a true scorecard-defier, as Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney and right fielder David Dejesus combined to completely horse up a catchable high short pop-up when Barney, like a retriever pursuing a tennis ball, bounded heedlessly into Dejesus’ ball-filled glove head first and knocked it free. There should be a special asterisk-esque symbol for hits that should have been outs if any other team besides the Cubs were in the field. The & is a decent visualization of the path that Barney took to the ball.

Good teams beat the teams that they should beat, and the Cubs are worse than the Astros so we should have beat them. I’m not saying we’re a great team, but we aren’t a lie-down team that succumbs to even the dregs of the league. Just not being the dregs of the league feels superb. You can have your two-out-of-three, Texas, honestly. You’re a great team, we aren’t gonna beat you. But Cubbies, we’ll sweep you good, because we have a good bullpen and youthful exuberance and a patch of talent where there was thought to be none.

This Moment in Astros Scouting History

I’m not sure how to say this, so I’ll just say it: Andujar Cedeno was #2 on the 1991 Baseball America list of Top 100 Prospects. Number two, Second-in-line, vice president.

Ahead of Pudge Rodriguez, Mike Mussina, Mo Vaughn, Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams, Chipper Jones, Kenny Lofton, Jim Thome, and Jeff Bagwell.

The Astros Beat Colorado in 2 out of 3

In the third game of the series and of the season, against the Colorado Rockies on a beautiful Sunday, not even 15,000 fans showed up to the ballpark. They missed a solidly played baseball game against legitimate competition. The second such showing in a row, with commendable starting pitching, professional hitting, and an overall sense of competence that has already surpassed what most Astros fans expected to see at any point during this foregone conclusion of season.

Here are some notes on the third game and on the young season:

* On Bud Norris. Norris–who I didn’t see pitch during the spring–appeared svelte on the mound, missing a layer or two of baby fat. His simple array of pitches was complemented by a heretofore unwittnessed pretty good change-up on Sunday, against a lineup whose meat featured two elite hitters in Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez and another grizzled element in the quiet but punchy Michael Cuddyer. The sharp fastball and the ducking slider that we are used to were present and accounted for. Norris worked away in the professional-grade portion of the strike zone, meaning the four-inch box hugging the strike and ball portions of the low and away corner.

My recall of Norris’ performances from last year include five excellent innings followed by shaky entries beyond. Decent, yes, but not elite. Would his improved fitness aid against that pattern?

In the 6th inning, after letting up only a run so far from a Wilin Rosario home run, Norris plunked Tulowitzki painfully on the thigh and walked Jason Giambi (who walked thrice on the day and seems programmed like a rusty android against swinging at anything before two strikes in the count). Norris threatened to repeat his pattern and flub the game after the 5th. A visit from the coach seemed to settle him. Cuddyer hit into a double play! A 2-1 lead was in tact.

*In the bottom of the 4th, Jose Altuve hit a triple. Brad Mills sat Altuve for the second game of the season. The decision was decent enough, as Jose’s replacement Bixler had a single and the Astros won the game with ease and put up 7 runs. Nonetheless I felt that sitting Altuve after just a game was a sure way to disjoint the Astros fan, who wants only to attach herself to these very young players. Altuve, who showed with his triple that he has fine bat speed and could blossom before us, is one of the central figures for admiration that this team has. He should play in every single one of the remaining 159 games. Do not bench Jose Altuve, sir.

In any event, he hit a triple to start the inning. JD Martinez failed miserably to score Jose–if JD is going to swing, he needs to swing, and end a spate of ugly half-swings that rob him of all of his power and suggest to the observer that he has no idea what he’s doing. Carlos Lee, however, hit a ringing double. An RBI! It wasn’t complicated. There was no scheme to it, no strategy. One hit followed another, and we had a run and announced that we had a game. Plain old baseball, folks, and it felt good.

When Altuve and JD Martinez each singled off of a hard-throwing reliever, Rex Brothers, there was a strange feeling in the air: a tremor of hope. Then El Caballo came to the plate and hit a solid top-spin forehand deep to the backhand of Colorado’s third baseman, who booted the throw under pressure, scoring the tying run.

Brian Bogusevic rapped another single, and we gained the lead. On Saturday, we put up 7 runs. Sunday, this. Whatever the hand of fate holds for the rest of 2012, this season has started out piping hot.

* On El Caballo. Carlos Lee has been an easy goat in this town for years. Now in the final year of his contract, and as the only proven hitter on the team, I have a funny feeling that he will experience a kind of renaissance. The Contract has always held Astros fans back from enjoying the positives that Caballo brings to the team and to the game. This season, the chains that bind the albatross of his contract to the team are slackening, and really he’s the only hitter with a history in the leagues that we can look to. Add to that the fact that he really is a likable fellow, he pals around and gestures and does other things that TV viewers can enjoy, and he’s a decent first bagger, and that’s a formula for a softening of the harsh criticism he has allowed to slide off of his back for years.

* On Brian Bogusevic. I have been skeptical of the kid for a while now. I sensed that his push to the majors was more a result of wishful thinking about a former first round pick than of outright merit. His deep bomb to left center the other night, and his very timely hit in this game are quickly chipping away at my cynicism. Anybody can hit a single. Not just anybody can launch a moon ball into the ether. In other words, he has a foundation to build on. The strength to be an MLB hitter is in place, the bat speed is there, and the rest is up to him. So far, so interesting.

So, 15,000 Astros fans, good on you. You saw a fine baseball game in an Astros era when that is a rare and valuable commodity. I’ve often thought that our starting pitching was an asset, and Wandy, Bud Norris and Lucas (!) Harrell have thus far proved out. At a time when the franchise is looking backwards to history, the immediate present presents some hope for a chance.

Alyson Footer interview at Pitchers & Poets

Over at Pitchers & Poets, I recently interviewed the pleasantly ubiquitous Alyson Footer on her role as a social media mogul for Astros fans and the nature of storytelling and baseball.

Open Book Baseball: An Interview with Alyson Footer, the Houston Astros’ Sr. Director of Social Media

Remember the Astrodome!: Texans, the Astros, and the Spirit of the West

“Few fans will be happy with the move to the American League.” – Chip Bailey on Ultimate Astros

Chip Bailey’s statement above is a strange one for sure, tinged with the kind of naivete and close-mindedness that represents the least adventurous of Astros fans. The assertion that a change to the AL will apply to almost all Astros fans, and cause them to grumble and moan at the injustice of it all, is presumptuous beyond measure. Perhaps Mr. Bailey will cower at the prospect of a new coast to conquer, but he should hardly apply his own quaking to the city as a whole.

In response to a general sense of unease amongst the Astros faithful, I’m calling for a more adventurous attitude, one befitting a proud state and an even prouder city. Houston is hardly a place to rest on its laurels and accept the fate that dusty history ordains. Rather this is a city of redefinitions, from the sprawling madness of its unzoned streets and the fearless richness of the local cuisine, to the gleam of luxury automobiles and the shine of our glass skyscrapers. Limitations are for others, not for us. History shouldn’t weigh us down, but lift us up.

I’m not suggesting there wouldn’t be growing pains if the Astros were to shift their gaze westward. There is a lot of NL Central charm and history that we’ll miss, like the bitter and feckless Chicago Cubs and their neverending melancholy, the St. Louis Cardinals and their history of having players who play for the St. Louis Cardinals, the Milwaukee Brewers and their legacy of changing leagues and representing the city of Milwaukee, and the Pittsburgh Pirates and their funny caps from a while back. Did I miss anybody? There are a lot of teams to remember.

I’m kidding, of course, and I love the NL. But it’s important to remember, in this 50th Anniversary year of the Houston Astros franchise, the frontier spirit that forged the team, and the state of Texas. Alamo heroes Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, and William Travis weren’t bearers of old and dusty standards trying to protect the status quo. They were weirdos from the hinterlands of young America, who trekked through the woods to Texas because they wouldn’t have anybody else and nobody else would have them. They moved west because they could give a damn about back east. They weren’t afraid of the freshest, most unknown territory in the world, and they never cowered in the face of dramatic change.

Judge Roy Hofheinz, the driving force in the formation of the Astros existence, identity, and world-famous home, would as soon have brushed his teeth with barbed wire than settle for the status quo. As a judge and a mayor he pushed continually for forward motion, for better or worse but often for the better. When selling the MLB on a Houston franchise, he carried around a scale model of the Astrodome because he knew it would blow their minds. After it did blow their minds, he proceeded to build the weirdest, wildest architectural creation ever seen, based on a premise so absurd that few understood what the ramifications would be. When we sit comfortably in our padded, air-conditioned, luxury boxed seats at Minute Maid Park watching an outdoor game inside, we can thank the Judge and his refusal to accept the grumbling of the masses as rote.

I’m not ready to equate a move to the AL with pure progress, per se, and heck, it might not even happen. But it would be a grand adventure, and one that we should match in spirit as Texans. We would strike out west to places barely known. We would play our fellow Texans with great regularity and flourish as true rivals. We would watch a professional hitter practice his scientific art, rather than suffering the foolishness of a pitcher at the plate.

For all of its charms, the Midwest isn’t our home. It has been a resting point, a place to catch our breath while we cast an eager eye towards the setting sun.

Once More With Meaning: Astros Down the Contending Cardinals

“Maybe I’ll look back in ten years and admire the guy, but for right now I can’t stand Tony LaRussa,” said Halfboot, my companion at the third-to-last game of the season at Minute Maid Park. The coaches and umpires were reconnoitered at home plate before the Astros-Cards game that was crucial for at least one of the teams involved. LaRussa’s barreled chest and mullet suggested the single-minded determination the manager seems to possess. Though rarely the darlings of baseball, betting against the Cardinals–and LaRussa–is rarely a wise idea.

That said, Halfboot and I were betting on spoilers last night, using the out-of-contention fan’s only remaining weapon against the teams still striving to extend their season: pettiness. If we can’t make it, neither should these chumps. Neither should this chump with the mullet.

As for the game itself, Matt Downs chipped a deep, high fly ball into the Crawford Boxes and Jason Bourgeious hooked a double down the left field line in support of Wandy Rodriguez.

Down four to two, a locked-in Lance Berkman hit the hardest fair ball of the night on Monday, in the 8th inning, from the right side of the plate. The traumatized remnants of Wesley Wright’s pitch clattered against the National League scoreboard as the two elite Cardinals sluggers to hit before Berkman, Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, trotted home. The game was tied, and with the Braves having beaten the Phillies–as evidenced on the very scoreboard that Big Puma had just brutalized–the Cardinals had a chance to tie for the NL Wild Card title. If they won last night, they’d have stepped into a tie for first with just two games left to play.

Instead, the softest hit ball of the night dropped the red birds in the bottom of the tenth, when the game’s most inept hitter drove home Brian Bogusevic with a safety squeeze. Angel Sanchez had swung through just about every pitch sent his way by lefty sinker baller Jaime Garcia and any other pitcher he faced. Odd, then, that Brad Mills would leave him in the game against Octavio Dotel, when a sac fly from lefty Brett Wallace would have ended it. Not privy to the wisdom being delivered probably through every available media outlet from the TV broadcast to Twitter to Pony Express, Halfboot and I both entirely overlooked the squeeze option, so when Angel squared we grabbed each other like middle school girls getting a look at Justin Bieber from a hundred paces.

When Dotel–the old Astro–muffed the attempt to glove-scoop the squeeze bunt home, we whooped and cheered as though we were the team in the playoff hunt.

That Monday night game, against all odds, in front of more Cardinals fans than Astros, had actually meant something.

The Foregone Conclusion in a World of Doubt

I was a good inning into the Astros-Rockies game on the DVR, enjoying a peaceful Sunday baseball game a few hours after the fact, when the playback froze up and created the digital equivalent of a chewed up tape. I was frustrated, all set to dig into the game, but I let it go and moved on to other distractions. Thanks, crappy cable box. You saved me from a sorry drubbing at the hands of what should have been a punchless Rockeis team. In the words of David Coleman over at The Crawfish Boxes, “Whatever you do, stay away from the box score.”

So instead of digging into that hot mess any further, I will now consider the most joyful moment I’ve experienced in weeks as an Astros fan: Brett Wallace’s mammoth home run from Saturday night:

The Houston Astros’ on-again off-again first baseman Brett Wallace swung the bat on Saturday night, and hit the ball. Nobody moved. Fielders who should have been sprinting in pursuit of the long fly instead trotted aimlessly and craned their necks to watch its path. The mechanisms that should have sprung to life when the ball was put into play seemed like they had rusted out.

The game had not broken. There was not a gas leak at Minute Maid Park that dazed the Colorado Rockies outfielders (besides, the roof was open). What happened was that Brett Wallace established a conclusion foregone: he hit a no-doubt home run. Wallace hit the ball so hard that the outfielders felt no need to feign chasing the ball to the wall. Center fielder Dexter Fowler moved with the vigor of a 50-something weekender nearing the end of a 2-mile jog.

This Astros baseball season has squeezed questions and uncertainties against accumulating losses, endless new faces, and bureaucratic filibustering. Consistency has come only in the form of ineptitude and loss (losing ballgames and losing players). The period of time spanning the instant Wallace hit the ball to the instant it clattered far away into the deep right center field seats was among the few–and it may be the only–gathering of seconds during which it felt okay to be an Astros fan.

The no-doubt home run is a tool of the bold and successful. Prince Fielder is this year’s Professor Emeritus of No Doubt Studies, with the swagger to match the mileage, and it’s not a coincidence that he’s on the Brewers, this year’s paradigm of a well-run franchise. Wallace’s shot was a momentary respite from the struggles of the season; a hint at the promise in his powerful build. Without checking, I’d say this was the only no-doubter of Wallace’s career. He took off out of the box like a shot and settled into a quick-paced shuffle around the bases. Nobody can know if he got into one in spite of himself or if it’s an indicator of some hitch that his time in the minors helped resolve. For a few seconds, it didn’t matter. Doubt was not a factor in that small equation.