Wynn Strikes Gold, Leads Five-Homer Assault
April 12, 1970

Rader (left) and Wynn celebrate gold-level homers
(c) Houston Astros

Box Score + PBP

by Bob Hulsey
Among the many novelties of the Astrodome was the seating design. As the first indoor baseball stadium, the seats were upholstered and cushioned. Most stadiums had one or two decks built atop the lower stands. At the Astrodome, there were five levels along the foul lines.

The orange Mezzanine Level was the closest to the outfield fence. The grey Club Level was the same level as the press boxes for sportwriters, radio and television. The purple Loge Level stood above this then the gold Upper Level featured the largest seating area for general admission. Far above the gold seats was the blue Skybox Level, a forerunner to the stadium suites that would become the darling of National Football League owners in the 1980s.

In the windless Astrodome, many considered the gold seats unreachable by a home run. In the first five years, the ballpark had quickly acquired a reputation as a pitchers park in a pitcher's era. Baseball attendance overall was down and some blamed pitching dominance as the cause.

The pitching mound was lowered before the 1969 season and hitters got a slight boost in production. When the 1970 season began, some were suggesting that the baseballs themselves got a boost. What happened at the Astrodome in April certainly bolstered that claim.

Rader Gets There First

In an April 3rd exhibition game against the New York Yankees, third baseman Doug Rader belted a fastball from Stan Bahnsen down the left field line. The majestic blast climbed until it nestled six rows up into the gold section in an empty seat. It was the crowning shot of a three-hit, four-RBI night for the Red Rooster, who became the first player to hit a home run into the gold level.

Just nine days later and in only the third home game of the regular season, the gold level would be reached again.

The defending Western Division Champion Atlanta Braves were in town and both teams sent out their staff ace for an April 12th Sunday matinee. Phil Niekro of the Braves was a knuckleball specialist who often enjoyed the indoor conditions at the Dome and the way his knuckler danced in the climate-controlled environment. He was coming off a 23-win campaign.

The 'Toy Cannon' Goes Off

Niekro got two quick outs in the bottom of the first before Jim Wynn unloaded on a knuckler which he sent into the purple loge seats for a home run and a 1-0 advantage. That turned out to be Wynn's warm up act.

In the third, after Norm Miller singled, Wynn crushed a Niekro offering high and deep. Both dugouts stopped everything to watch the flight as the ball sailed up into the gold section for a two-run shot, landing in the sixth row one section over from where Rader's blast had fallen. The unreachable had been reached twice in the span of nine days.

Joe Pepitone
(c) Houston Astros
The scoreboard exploded over the roar of the crowd as Loel Passe, in the Astros' radio booth, described the awe on people's faces as they reacted to the monsterous blast. Before they could get over it, first baseman Joe Pepitone jolted Niekro's second pitch into the right field seats for another four-bagger, building the lead to 4-0. Fans cheered as if watching a fireworks display.

The Astros weren't finished either. Tommy Davis, a former National League batting champion during his days with the Dodgers, greeted Niekro with another solo shot to lead off the fourth. Davis bumped the lead to 6-0 in the sixth with a single to plate Denis Menke.

That would end Phil's nightmare as Rick Kester took over to pitch the seventh. Pepitone would draw a walk against him to open the eighth. After reaching third with two outs, Rader swatted a 1-1 pitch to left-center that just cleared the yellow outfield fence line and clanked against the screen for a homer. It was the fifth Houston home run of the day to set a club record and it was Doug's third of the young season.

Dierker Benefits

All this offensive support was plenty for Larry Dierker, a 20-game winner in his own right. The Houston righthander would take a shutout into the ninth inning but lose it on a two-run homer by Orlando Cepeda and an RBI single by Bob Didier. It was of little consequence as Bob Aspromonte flied out to Wynn for the final out of an 8-3 Astros victory. Dierker would strike out seven without issuing a walk while allowing nine hits.

Afterwards, Wynn counted himself among the awed at his powerful blast. "No one ever dreams of hitting a ball that far," he told reporters.

Rader's gold-level home run was commemorated by having a rooster painted on the seat where his shot landed. The artist was summoned again to paint a toy cannon on the chair where Wynn's blow came to rest. The two sluggers posed for publicity photos to mark the feat. Wynn would lead the Astros with 27 homers on the season, just ahead of Rader's 25.

The victory spurred early hopes that the Astros could finally post a winning season. Unfortunately, Houston ended below .500 at 79-83 but did finish in fourth place, their highest final standing to date in the club's young history. The Astros raised their team batting average by 19 points that year, but their team ERA rose 63 points, lending credence to the "rabbit ball" theory circulating around the majors.

Houston Astros 8, Atlanta Braves 3
Game Played on Sunday, April 12, 1970 (D) at Astrodome
ATL N    0  0  0    0  0  0    0  0  3  -   3  9  0
HOU N    1  0  3    1  0  1    0  2  x  -   8  9  0
Atlanta Braves        AB   R   H RBI      BB  SO      PO   A
Jackson ss             4   0   1   0       0   1       1   0
Millan 2b              4   0   1   0       0   1       3   3
H. Aaron rf            4   0   1   0       0   0       0   0
Carty lf               4   1   2   0       0   0       2   0
Cepeda 1b              4   1   2   2       0   1       7   0
Gonzalez cf            4   1   1   0       0   2       3   0
Boyer 3b               3   0   0   0       0   0       0   2
  Kester p             0   0   0   0       0   0       0   1
  Garr ph              1   0   0   0       0   0       0   0
Didier c               4   0   1   1       0   1       8   0
Niekro p               2   0   0   0       0   0       0   1
  Aspromonte 3b        2   0   0   0       0   1       0   0
Totals                36   3   9   3       0   7      24   7
PB: Didier (1).
2B: Cepeda (4,off Dierker); H. Aaron (2,off Dierker); Carty (2,off Dierker);
Gonzalez (1,off Dierker).
HR: Cepeda (2,9th inning off Dierker 1 on 1 out).
Team LOB: 6.
SB: Millan (1,2nd base off Dierker/Edwards).
Houston Astros        AB   R   H RBI      BB  SO      PO   A
Morgan 2b              4   0   0   0       0   2       4   4
Miller rf              3   1   1   0       1   0       1   0
Wynn cf                4   2   2   3       0   1       3   0
Pepitone 1b            3   2   2   1       1   0       9   0
Menke ss               4   1   1   0       0   1       1   5
Davis lf               4   1   2   2       0   0       1   0
Rader 3b               4   1   1   2       0   1       0   0
Edwards c              3   0   0   0       1   1       7   0
Dierker p              4   0   0   0       0   1       1   0
Totals                33   8   9   8       3   7      27   9
2B: Pepitone (2,off Niekro).
HR: Wynn 2 (2,1st inning off Niekro 0 on 2 out,3rd inning off Niekro 1 on 2
out); Pepitone (2,3rd inning off Niekro 0 on 2 out); Davis (1,4th inning
off Niekro 0 on 0 out); Rader (3,8th inning off Kester 1 on 2 out).
Team LOB: 4.
SB: Davis (2,2nd base off Niekro/Didier); Pepitone (1,2nd base off Kester/Didier).
Atlanta Braves        IP     H   R  ER  BB  SO  HR
Niekro L(0-2)          6     8   6   5   0   7   4
Kester                 2     1   2   2   3   0   1
Totals                 8     9   8   7   3   7   5

Houston Astros        IP     H   R  ER  BB  SO  HR
Dierker W(2-0)         9     9   3   3   0   7   1

Umpires: Frank Secory, Bob Engel, Harry Wendelstedt, Tony Venzon
Time of Game: 2:16   Attendance: 12747

Starting Lineups:

   Atlanta Braves                Houston Astros           
1. Jackson             ss        Morgan              2b
2. Millan              2b        Miller              rf
3. H. Aaron            rf        Wynn                cf
4. Carty               lf        Pepitone            1b
5. Cepeda              1b        Menke               ss
6. Gonzalez            cf        Davis               lf
7. Boyer               3b        Rader               3b
8. Didier              c         Edwards             c
9. Niekro              p         Dierker             p

BRAVES 1ST: Jackson was called out on strikes; Millan singled;
Millan stole second; H. Aaron lined to left; Carty flied out to
center; 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB.  Braves 0, Astros 0.

ASTROS 1ST: Morgan struck out; Miller flied out to center; Wynn
homered; Pepitone doubled; Menke grounded out (third to first);
1 R, 2 H, 0 E, 1 LOB.  Braves 0, Astros 1.

BRAVES 2ND: Cepeda struck out; Gonzalez struck out; Boyer flied
out to center; 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Braves 0, Astros 1.

ASTROS 2ND: Davis grounded out (second to first); Rader popped
to second; Edwards grounded out (pitcher to second to first); 0
R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Braves 0, Astros 1.

BRAVES 3RD: Didier struck out; Niekro popped to second; Jackson
singled; Millan grounded out (second to first); 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1
LOB.  Braves 0, Astros 1.

ASTROS 3RD: Dierker grounded out (third to first); Morgan struck
out; Miller singled; Wynn homered [Miller scored]; Pepitone
homered; Menke struck out; 3 R, 3 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Braves 0,
Astros 4.

BRAVES 4TH: H. Aaron popped to shortstop; Carty singled; Cepeda
doubled [Carty to third]; Gonzalez struck out; Boyer grounded
out (shortstop to first); 0 R, 2 H, 0 E, 2 LOB.  Braves 0,
Astros 4.

ASTROS 4TH: Davis homered; Rader struck out; Edwards flied out
to center; Dierker struck out; 1 R, 1 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Braves 0,
Astros 5.

BRAVES 5TH: Didier popped to second; Niekro popped to second;
Jackson grounded out (second to first); 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. 
Braves 0, Astros 5.

ASTROS 5TH: Morgan flied out to center; Miller popped to catcher
in foul territory; Wynn struck out; 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. 
Braves 0, Astros 5.

BRAVES 6TH: Millan grounded out (shortstop to first); H. Aaron
doubled; Carty grounded out (shortstop to first); Cepeda flied
out to right; 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB.  Braves 0, Astros 5.

ASTROS 6TH: Pepitone popped to second; Menke singled; Didier
allowed a passed ball [Menke to second]; Davis singled [Menke
scored (unearned)]; Davis stole second; Rader flied out to left;
Edwards struck out; 1 R (0 ER), 2 H, 0 E, 1 LOB.  Braves 0,
Astros 6.

BRAVES 7TH: Gonzalez grounded out (second to first); Boyer
grounded out (shortstop to first); Didier grounded out
(shortstop to first); 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Braves 0, Astros 6.

REPLACED BOYER (PITCHING); Dierker popped to second; Morgan
grounded out (first unassisted); Miller walked; Wynn flied out
to left; 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 1 LOB.  Braves 0, Astros 6.

BRAVES 8TH: Aspromonte struck out; Jackson grounded out (second
to first); Millan struck out; 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.  Braves 0,
Astros 6.

ASTROS 8TH: Pepitone walked; Pepitone stole second; Menke
grounded out (second to first) [Pepitone to third]; Davis
grounded out (pitcher to first); Rader homered [Pepitone
scored]; Edwards walked; Dierker forced Edwards (shortstop
unassisted); 2 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB.  Braves 0, Astros 8.

BRAVES 9TH: H. Aaron popped to second; Carty doubled; Cepeda
homered [Carty scored]; Gonzalez doubled; GARR BATTED FOR
KESTER; Garr lined to pitcher; Didier singled [Gonzalez scored];
Aspromonte flied out to center; 3 R, 4 H, 0 E, 1 LOB.  Braves 3,
Astros 8.

Final Totals      R   H   E  LOB
 Braves           3   9   0    6
 Astros           8   9   0    4