Astros weather 3-3 homestand

added 8/10/2003 by Willie B. Lakey

I had the good fortune to be at Houston’s 5-1 win over the Expos last Friday night. I say good fortune because after spending the better part of the previous 40 summers in the Houston area, my humble home is now about 200 miles WNW of the Bayou City. So any chance I get to make the drive in for a game is fortunate in my book.

It was also nice the Astros won the game, sort of makes the roundtrip seem more worthwhile when the Good Guys hang a Dubya on the ledger.

But there was something else about the game that made it worthwhile for my money. Or my friend’s money as it were since he’s the one who supplied the ducat for me to park my wide load in the Crawford Boxes for the evening. There was just something about the game that made it seem, well, sort of nostalgic, at least to me.

For one thing, the fans were really into the evening. Maybe it’s the heat wave we’ve been suffering through the last couple of weeks all over Texas. The weather this summer all over the state has been very 1980ish, with triple-digit highs and an early salty blow off the Gulf.

Maybe it was the thunderstorm that passed through Houston Friday evening. The lightning flashes outside the glass wall in left were brilliant, and the thunder literally shook the inside of the park I lovingly refer to as Arthur Andersen Memorial Stadium. When Wil Cordero swung and missed at a Jeriome Robertson offering to end the 4th inning, a resounding boom punctuated the moment and had the crowd buzzing.

Maybe it was the defense the Astros displayed, something also reminiscent of Houston’s Summer of ‘80. Lance Berkman got things going in the field for Houston when he threw out Jose Vidro at the plate in the top of the 1st. Adam Everett made a tough over the shoulder catch of a pop-up in the 2nd and Jeff Bagwell was his usual great self on defense in the 5th when he made a diving stop of a Brian Schneider grounder.

Maybe it was just a case of the fans building up to their own climax, a resounding and raucous wave that circled the stadium several times in the 7th inning.

Whatever it was, it was nice. I swear, if you’d closed your eyes for a minute, any longtime Astros fan could’ve felt like it was the Summer of ’80 once again. Or the Summer of ’86. Or ’98.

The problem is that feeling was gone as fast as the storm that passed through Houston once the team took the field again on Saturday. As a fan, there just isn’t anything hard to cling to on this squad. Except for the bullpen, there hasn’t been any consistency from the club this campaign.

There have been signs the offense was about to breakout several times this season, only for the offense to go right back into a funk. Some of the inconsistency from the starting pitchers can be attributed to youth and injuries. The youth part we knew going in; the injury part we’ve also come to expect.

But if there was ever a time for the offense and the starting pitching to carry the club, it’s the next three weeks when Houston spends 13 days battling the Cubs and Reds in home-and-home match-ups, and six more days hosting the Dodgers and Padres.

As long as the NL Central remains as tight as it is, the next homestand or the next roadtrip is the most crucial period for Houston. But none seem more so than the next 13 games against the Cubs and Reds, beginning with four this week at Wrigley. If the season is going to have a nostalgic touch to it in the end, a la Summer of ’80, it’s essential for the team to put it together the next two weeks.

And I hope they do because instead of the weather, I’d rather be talking about the Houston Astros this October.

WINS & LOSSES: The Astros took Monday off but the rest did them no good as they came out flat on Tuesday and suffered a genuine New York rump-thumping in the Mets’ 10-1 cakewalk. Al Leiter was in control on the mound for the Mets, something Ron Villone was not for the Astros. Tony Clark and Vance Wilson both homered while Roger Cede%F1o and Jose Reyes fueled the top of New York’s lineup with 2 hits each.

The Astros returned the whipping on Wednesday with an 11-1 laugher. Wade Miller struck out 7 in his 6 innings of work. Geoff Blum, Jeff Bagwell and Richard Hidalgo all went over the fence with Houston homers. Adam Everett remained in the park yet still homered for the Astros, the first inside-the-park job at the downtown Houston venue.

Jeff Bagwell tied Duke Snider for 34th on the all-time home run list with a pair of blasts on Thursday. But it wasn’t enough as the Astros fell 5-4 to the Mets to lose the series and finish the season 3-6 versus teams from the Big Apple. A trio of Mets homered, with Tony Clark’s second long ball of the series sinking reliever Brad Lidge in the 6th inning. Bagwell’s two home runs gave him 407 for his career.

Fans at Friday night’s series opener with the Expos were treated to two fireworks shows. The first came during the game as a thunderstorm swept through the Houston area with plenty of lightning flashes and stadium-shaking thunder. The second show came after the 9th inning when Houston had a neat 5-1 win. Jeriome Robertson rebounded from a couple of shaky starts with a solid effort on the mound for 6-plus frames. And he got some great defense behind him from the entire infield quartet: Bagwell, Kent, Ensberg and Everett. Houston’s offense remained a bit lethargic, but still managed to take advantage of some early control trouble for Expos starter Javier Vasquez.

Livan Hernandez, the Expos’ starter on Saturday, had no trouble at all with the Houston lineup. The former World Series MVP pitched lights-out for the first 18 outs or so, survived a little bump in his evening, and went on to complete the 3-1 win for Montreal. Houston starter Jared Fernandez struggled to get the 13 outs he did, allowing the Expos 9 hits, 3 walks and all three of their runs.

And Houston closed out the homestand with an 8-2 win on Sunday against the Expos. The Astros jumped on Montreal starter Scott Downs for 3 runs as they batted around in the 1st inning. Houston later added 4 homers, including one by Brad Ausmus who had gone 300+ AB without a homer. Ron Villone started for Houston and pitched 6+ innings and allowed just 4 hits, the final two being back-to-back jacks by Orlando Cabrera and Wil Cordero that chased Villone in the 7th.

BUMPS, BRUISES & BREAKS: Right-hander Roy Oswalt continues to rehab in hopes of avoiding season-ending surgery to the groin that has landed him on the DL three times this campaign. He threw a little on the side last Wednesday (Aug 6), but there remains no target date for his return to action.

Infielder Jose Vizcaino took some light BP this week as he recovers from surgery on his broken left arm. Viz is at least a couple of weeks away.

Lance Berkman (right knee) and Richard Hidalgo (right hip) are both back in action following minor strains and sores.

CH-CH-CH-CHANGES: The Astros tried to make a roster move this week, and for the life of me I’m neither sure why they did it nor how both the team and the player, Rick White, messed things up so bad. Houston put in a claim for White on Thursday as GM Gerry Hunsicker continues to beat the bushes for inexpensive ways to improve or deepen the club. The Astros demoted Kirk Saarloos to make room for White, but later had to reverse everything when it was discovered that White had not cleared waivers. Keeping up with waiver wires and options and all that accounting must be hard work on general managers, players, their agents and the MLB. But how in the world does something like that get so far before at least one of the parties involved finally snaps?

DAY-BY-DAY ASTRO-LOGY: Houston’s .500 week at home left them with a record of 63-54, and a lead of 2-3 games depending on the outcome of St. Louis’ game Sunday evening versus the Braves. Monday will find Brad Ausmus (Aries) building on his home run from Sunday. Jeff Kent (Pisces) will have his best day at the plate on Tuesday under the Full Moon. Wednesday belongs to Geoff Blum (Taurus). Thursday will be a good day for Jeff Bagwell (Gemini) to inch further up the home run ladder. It will also be a good day for manager Jimy Williams to call on Kirk Saarloos (Taurus) out of the pen. Billy Wagner (Leo) will blow it past the batters with ease on Friday. Saturday will see Lance Berkman and his fellow Aquarius Adam Everett spark the offense and defense. Sunday belongs to Richard Hidalgo (Cancer).

Monday 3-4 . . . Tuesday 11-7 . . . Wednesday 10-8 . . . Thursday 9-9 . . . Friday 13-6 . . . Saturday 7-12 . . . Sunday 10-8

STAR OF THE WEEK: This week’s Shooting Star goes to Richard Hidalgo. Doggie’s been one of the more consistent bats in the lineup all season, and he didn’t disappoint this past week with a .389 average (7-for-18) that included 2 homers, a triple, 4 RBI and 5 runs scored.

ON DECK: The ‘Stros head out on an absolutely huge 7-game road trek this next week beginning with four in Chicago (Mon-Thu) and a 3-game weekend set in Cincinnati. Houston then comes back home to end the month with an equally important 12-game homestand against the Cubs, Reds, Dodgers and Padres.

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