added 05/13 by Bob Hulsey
The term is thrown around with regularity, even by me, so it is time to clarify a bit what it means to be an "Astro-killer" or a (fill-in-the-blank)-killer. Simply put, it is when a player on the opposing team plays at a consistently higher level against your team than he does against anyone else. The reputation can be enhanced by a series of clutch performances or, eventually, a dread knowing that the "killer" is going to get that clutch hit or that key out that makes the difference in wins or losses.
Perhaps two of the most classic examples of the "killers" are Astros themselves who have made life miserable for Cincinnati Reds fans. Two Houston players have dominated the Reds like few have ever beaten an opposing team.
One is pitcher Roy Oswalt, who has faced Cincinnati 30 times in his career. He’s won 23 of them, lost only once and holds a 2.35 ERA against them. By contrast, Oswalt has beaten no other team more than 13 times (the Pirates and Brewers share that distinction). His winning percentage against the Reds (.958) is his best against National League opponents. Not counting interleague foes, his ERA against the Reds is bettered only by his ERA against the Diamondbacks (2.25) and the Rockies (1.84). In other words, while Oswalt is unquestionably one the top pitchers in the National League, he’s on another level when he goes up against the Reds.
You don’t have to be a star player to be a “killer”. Craig Reynolds was a career .252 hitter during his 11 years with the Astros. But against two teams, he feasted. Versus the Giants, Reynolds hit .285 with a .752 OPS and seven homers. Against the Braves, he hit .272 with nine homers and 67 RBIs - his best against any N.L. team.
Another classic “killer” was J.R. Richard against the Dodgers. If you look at his splits, he seemed to play better against L.A. in almost every category including wins (15), winning percentage (.789), ERA (1.86), and WHIP (0.957). There’s no doubt that had he not fallen victim to a stroke, Richard would have been able to lead the Astros into the 1980 N.L.C.S. without the need of a one-game playoff. Manager Bill Virdon could have just trotted J.R. out during one of the final three games and likely been sipping champagne that night.
Some stars play no particular favorites. Both Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio were great hitters but their numbers don’t show one particular club that was their constant victims.
So, now that I’ve set some examples, let's look at some Astro-killers over the years:
Briefly in 1963, the Colt .45s owned a young Dominican outfielder by the name of Manny Mota, but then traded him before Opening Day. Big mistake. While Mota was rarely a regular player, he became a pinch-hitting specialist with a particular penchant for hitting Astros pitching. Although his batting average (.295) and OPS (.747) were not his top numbers against other teams, he hit more homers (7), drove in more runs (63) and stole more bases (8) against Houston than anyone else. For a guy that never reached 500 at bats in any campaign of his 20-season career, he was a consistent thorn in our side.
Pete Rose wasn't so much a killer as an all-time pest. His numbers against Houston (.312 average, .791 OPS, etc) weren't his best. In fact, it seems the Braves were his favorite whipping boy over 24 seasons. But Rose was certainly an antagonist. In 1964, when the Reds beat the Colts even as Ken Johnson tossed a no-hitter, it was Rose who reached on an error and scored the winning run in the ninth. Sixteen years later when the Astros were trying to reach the World Series in that memorable Game 4 of the 1980 N.L.C.S., it's Rose again who delivered a forearm blow to Bruce Bochy as he scored the winning run for the Phillies. In between were numerous other situations where the all-time hits leader tormented Houston.