Astros Win The West!

October 6, 1980

The Astros celebrate their first-ever playoff clincher
(c) Houston Astros
Box Score   Play-by-Play

With their best chance at reaching their first post-season slipping away, the Astros scored early and often to beat the Dodgers easily, 7-1. The Astros had held a three-game lead over the Dodgers with just three games to play, but lost their last three games of the season in Los Angeles, setting up a one-game showdown for the right to play the Phillies in the NL Championship Series. Starter Joe Niekro tossed a six-hitter and first baseman Art Howe drove in four runs to lead the team. The win was Niekro's 20th of the season, making him the only Astro pitcher to reach that total more than once.

The 1980 NL West championship was especially important to both the franchise and the fans of the team. An expansion team in 1962, comparisons between the Astros and their expansion partners, the Mets, were unavoidable. While the Mets became known for their "miracle" season in 1969, the Astros were better known for their franchise-crippling trades of stars like Joe Morgan and Rusty Staub. Although the team first tasted a pennant race in 1969, the team did not hold first place late in the season until 1979. That was the year when Reds starter Tom Seaver pronounced that the Astros would "sink like a lead balloon" and the team did, finishing 1 1/2 games behind the Reds. That collapse was heartbreaking for fans, but 1980 seemed to hold more heartache in store for Houston fans. Although hopes were high when Nolan Ryan signed in the off-season, tragedy struck when J.R. Richard's career was suddenly ended in July by a near-fatal stroke. And with the team's unbelievable three-game collapse at the end of the season, a fourth loss to the Dodgers seemed to be destined. So when the Astros won their one-game playoff, notions of a "curse" or "jinx" on the team lifted as the Astros started a run of impressive seasons in the Eighties.

Terry Puhl scores in the first inning when he slams hard into catcher Joe Ferguson, knocking the ball loose
(c) Houston Astros

Art Howe is greeted by an enthusiastic dugout after hitting a game-breaking homer in the third inning
(c) Houston Astros

Joe Niekro leaps off the mound after recording the final out
(c) Houston Astros

Denny Walling and Art Howe sample the championship champagne after their victory over the Dodgers
(c) Houston Astros

by Rich Tosches, United Press International

The Houston Astros' lockerroom appeared to have reached the peak of excitement, with players screaming and throwing champagne, beer and even milk on each other.

But when relief pitcher Joaquin Andujar picked up a radio that resembled something from an Apollo spaceship and turned up the volume on the official Astros fight song, the room exploded.

"We're burning with desire, we're breathing orange fire," blared the monstrous radio as Andjuar, Craig Reynolds, Alan Ashby and others went into a dance routine on a flooded floor.

The Astros had just burst the Los Angeles Dodgers' bubble, post a 7-1 victory behind the six-hit pitching of Joe Niekro and the four RBI of Art Howe in a one-game playoff to clinch the National League West championship. The title was the first for Houston in the 19-year history of the franchise, which begain in 1962 as the Houston Colt .45s.

The Astros, who opened a three-game series against the Dodgers Friday night, needed to win just one of the three games to capture the title in the regular season but lost all three games by one run as the Dodgers forced the playoff.

Niekro said he wasn't sure whether or not his teammates were ready to throw in the towel following three straight losses to the Dodgers -- but he never even thought of surrendering.

"Maybe some of them were disappointed in losing those three in a row that they thought it might be four in a row," said Niekro. "Before the game, I told them just to get me a few runs and I'd take care of the rest. I told them I wasn't going to lose the game. I came out here to win."

The knuckleball specialist said he knew early that he was in for a good game. "The first two innings, the knuckleball was getting over and moving," the righthander said. "Right then I knew I could handle the Dodgers, even though they're always capable of that big inning. Later in the game, when we had that big lead, I started throwing mostly fastballs to get ahead of them and then would finish them off with the knuckleball."

"For a game like this, you don't have to do anything to get up," said Niekro, the 35-year-old righthander who upped his record to 20-12. "I've never been in a game like this and I've never been happier. I thank all of the people in Houston and I thank God. I'm so happy."

As the Astros erupted in celebration in the crowded dressing room, players doused each other with champagne and many concentrated on the nearly-bald Art Howe. The 33-year-old first baseman drove in four runs with a two-run homer (LISTEN) and a bases-loaded single to pace the Astros.

"It's hard for me to go crazy right now," Howe said. "I've always been serious about baseball and I've never had much practice in this kind of thing. This is the day I've dreamed of for a long time, but we've got to play tomorrow and we've got a long trip and we've got to be ready for it."

Houston manager Bill Virdon, who caught most of the thrown milk, said winning the title in a playoff game didn't make it any more exciting.

"I was hoping it wouldn't take this long," Virdon said, wiping the white liquid from his face. "Initially we had to win one of three games but that didn't happen, so we just had to win the last one. Winning it in a playoff game doesn't make it any nicer. We should have won it earlier."

Virdon said despite his team's victory, he considers the Astros and Dodgers to be of equal ability.

"You have to rate the teams equal," he said, "because we finished with the same record. We are teams of equal ability and in a one-game situation, anything can happen."

Houston rightfielder Terry Puhl, who scored two runs Monday and had to fight off three or four teammates armed with champagne bottles in the locker room, said he couldn't even think of losing the playoff game.

"I would have loved to have won the first game of the series," he said. "It was very humiliating when we lost the first three and it would have killed me to lose this one. Winning this thing is very hard to put into words."

Box score

     Game of October 6, 1980 -- Houston at Los Angeles 
     Courtesy of Retrosheet

  Houston            AB  R  H RBI    Los Angeles        AB  R  H RBI  
Puhl T, rf            5  2  1  0   Lopes D, 2b           4  0  0  0   
Cabell E, 3b          4  2  2  0   Howe S, p             0  0  0  0   
Bergman D, 1b         0  0  0  0   Johnstone J, rf       4  0  0  0   
Morgan J, 2b          2  1  0  0   Baker D, lf           4  1  1  0   
Landestoy R, 2b       2  0  0  0   Garvey S, 1b          4  0  0  0   
Cruz J, lf            4  0  1  1   Monday R, cf          3  0  1  1   
Cedeno C, cf          4  1  1  1   Ferguson J, c         4  0  1  0   
Howe A, 1b-3b         5  1  3  4   Hatcher M, 3b         3  0  1  0   
Ashby A, c            4  0  1  0   Thomasson G, ph       1  0  0  0   
Reynolds C, ss        4  0  3  0   Thomas D, ss          3  0  2  0   
Niekro J, p           2  0  0  0   Goltz D, p            0  0  0  0   
                                   Law R, ph             1  0  0  0   
                                   Sutcliffe R, p        0  0  0  0   
                                   Beckwith J, p         0  0  0  0   
                                   Castillo R, p         0  0  0  0   
                                   Davalillo V, ph       1  0  0  0   
                                   Valenzuela F, p       0  0  0  0   
                                   Perconte J, ph-2b     2  0  0  0   
                     -- -- -- --                        -- -- -- --
                     36  7 12  6                        34  1  6  1   

Houston          202 300 000 --  7
Los Angeles      000 100 000 --  1

  Houston              IP  H  R ER BB SO
Niekro J (W)          9.0  6  1  0  2  6

  Los Angeles          IP  H  R ER BB SO
Goltz D (L)           3.0  8  4  2  0  2
Sutcliffe R           0.1  1  3  3  2  0
Beckwith J            0.1  1  0  0  1  0
Castillo R            1.1  1  0  0  1  2
Valenzuela F          2.0  1  0  0  0  1
Howe S                2.0  0  0  0  0  0

Game winning RBI -- none
E -- Lopes D, Ferguson J, Cabell E
LOB -- Houston 9, Los Angeles 8
2B -- Reynolds C, Cabell E
HR -- Howe A
SB -- Cabell E, Cedeno C, Puhl T 2
CS -- Cruz J
SH -- Niekro J 2
SF -- Cruz J
PB -- Ashby A
T -- 3:10
A -- 51127

Play by Play

Game of Monday, October 6, 1980 -- Houston Astros at Los Angeles Dodgers
Courtesy of Retrosheet

Starting Lineups:

   Houston                       Los Angeles                   
1. RF Terry Puhl                 2B Davey Lopes                    
2. 3B Enos Cabell                RF Jay Johnstone                
3. 2B Joe Morgan                 LF Dusty Baker                     
4. LF Jose Cruz                  1B Steve Garvey                    
5. CF Cesar Cedeno               CF Rick Monday                    
6. 1B Art Howe                    C Joe Ferguson                   
7.  C Alan Ashby                 3B Mickey Hatcher                   
8. SS Craig Reynolds             SS Derrel Thomas                    
9.  P Joe Niekro                  P Dave Goltz                      

T.Puhl reached on an error by D.Lopes-2b [T.Puhl to first]
E.Cabell singled to center field [T.Puhl to third]
E.Cabell stole second
J.Morgan struck out
J.Cruz reached on a fielder's choice [T.Puhl scored (unearned) (no RBI) 
  (error by J.Ferguson-c; assist by M.Hatcher-3b), E.Cabell to third]
C.Cedeno grounded out (D.Lopes-2b to S.Garvey-1b) 
  [E.Cabell scored (unearned), J.Cruz to second]
A.Howe singled to third
base [J.Cruz to third]
A.Ashby flied to D.Baker-lf
2 R (0 ER), 2 H, 2 E, 2 LOB.  Astros 2, Dodgers 0.

D.Lopes grounded out (E.Cabell-3b to A.Howe-1b)
J.Johnstone grounded out (J.Morgan-2b to A.Howe-1b)
D.Baker struck out
0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Astros 2, Dodgers 0.

C.Reynolds singled to center field
J.Niekro out on a sacrifice bunt (J.Ferguson-c to D.Lopes-2b) 
  [C.Reynolds to second]
T.Puhl grounded out (S.Garvey-1b unassisted) [C.Reynolds to third]
E.Cabell struck out
0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB.  Astros 2, Dodgers 0.

S.Garvey popped to J.Morgan-2b
R.Monday lined to C.Cedeno-cf
J.Ferguson grounded out (J.Morgan-2b to A.Howe-1b)
0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Astros 2, Dodgers 0.

J.Morgan flied to J.Johnstone-rf
J.Cruz singled to left field
J.Cruz was caught stealing second (J.Ferguson-c to D.Thomas-ss)
C.Cedeno singled to center field
C.Cedeno stole second
A.Howe homered to leftfield [C.Cedeno scored]
A.Ashby singled to center field
C.Reynolds doubled to center field (R.Monday-cf to D.Lopes-2b 
  to J.Ferguson-c) [A.Ashby out at home]
2 R, 5 H, 0 E, 1 LOB.  Astros 4, Dodgers 0.

M.Hatcher singled to left field
D.Thomas singled to center field [M.Hatcher to third]
R.Law flied to J.Cruz-lf
D.Lopes flied to J.Cruz-lf
J.Johnstone popped to E.Cabell-3b in foul territory
0 R, 2 H, 0 E, 2 LOB.  Astros 4, Dodgers 0.

J.Niekro grounded out (M.Hatcher-3b to S.Garvey-1b)
On a bunt T.Puhl singled to third base
T.Puhl stole second
T.Puhl stole third
E.Cabell walked
J.Morgan walked [E.Cabell to second]
J.Cruz out on a sacrifice fly to R.Monday-cf [T.Puhl scored]
C.Cedeno walked [E.Cabell to third, J.Morgan to second]
A.Howe singled to third base [E.Cabell scored, J.Morgan scored, 
  C.Cedeno to third]
A.Ashby walked [A.Howe to second]
C.Reynolds struck out (J.Ferguson-c to S.Garvey-1b)
3 R, 2 H, 0 E, 3 LOB.  Astros 7, Dodgers 0.

D.Baker singled to third base [D.Baker to second (error by E.Cabell-3b)]
S.Garvey struck out (A.Ashby-c to A.Howe-1b)
R.Monday singled to center field [D.Baker scored (unearned)]
J.Ferguson was called out on strikes
M.Hatcher flied to C.Cedeno-cf
1 R (0 ER), 2 H, 1 E, 1 LOB.  Astros 7, Dodgers 1.

J.Niekro struck out
T.Puhl grounded out (D.Lopes-2b to S.Garvey-1b)
E.Cabell doubled to right field
R.Landestoy lined to M.Hatcher-3b
0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB.  Astros 7, Dodgers 1.

D.Thomas walked
V.Davalillo forced D.Thomas (R.Landestoy-2b unassisted) 
  [V.Davalillo to first]
D.Lopes flied to C.Cedeno-cf
J.Johnstone struck out
0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Astros 7, Dodgers 1.

J.Cruz struck out
C.Cedeno flied to R.Monday-cf
A.Howe lined to M.Hatcher-3b
0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Astros 7, Dodgers 1.

D.Baker flied to J.Cruz-lf
S.Garvey flied to C.Cedeno-cf
R.Monday walked
J.Ferguson singled to second base [R.Monday to second]
M.Hatcher struck out while R.Monday advanced to third on a passed ball 
  and J.Ferguson advanced to second on a passed ball [M.Hatcher to first]
D.Thomas flied to C.Cedeno-cf
0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 3 LOB.  Astros 7, Dodgers 1.

A.Ashby flied to D.Baker-lf
C.Reynolds singled to center field
J.Niekro out on a sacrifice bunt (F.Valenzuela-p to D.Lopes-2b) 
  [C.Reynolds to second]
T.Puhl flied to R.Monday-cf
0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB.  Astros 7, Dodgers 1.

J.Perconte grounded out (E.Cabell-3b to A.Howe-1b)
D.Lopes grounded out (J.Niekro-p to A.Howe-1b)
J.Johnstone grounded out (J.Niekro-p to A.Howe-1b)
0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Astros 7, Dodgers 1.

E.Cabell grounded out (M.Hatcher-3b to S.Garvey-1b)
R.Landestoy grounded out (J.Perconte-2b to S.Garvey-1b)
J.Cruz popped to M.Hatcher-3b in foul territory
0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Astros 7, Dodgers 1.

D.Baker struck out
S.Garvey grounded out (C.Reynolds-ss to D.Bergman-1b)
R.Monday popped to A.Ashby-c in foul territory
0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Astros 7, Dodgers 1.

C.Cedeno flied to J.Johnstone-rf
A.Howe flied to D.Baker-lf
A.Ashby flied to D.Baker-lf
0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Astros 7, Dodgers 1.

J.Ferguson popped to A.Howe-3b in foul territory
G.Thomasson grounded out (R.Landestoy-2b to D.Bergman-1b)
D.Thomas singled to left field
J.Perconte popped to D.Bergman-1b
0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Astros 7, Dodgers 1.

Final Totals      R   H   E  LOB
 Astros           7  12   1   9
 Dodgers          1   6   2   8