The 1994 season was Jeff Bagwell's coming out party. Sure, the 1991 National League Rookie Of The Year had exceeded all expectations since the time he arrived from Boston in a deadline deal for reliever Larry Andersen but, in 1994, Bagwell went on a hot streak that has not been seen by a Houston player before or since. The only regret was that it ended two months too soon.
A broken hand, suffered on August 10th on a pitch from San Diego's Andy Benes ended Bagwell's season early but, even if that had not happened, the baseball strike a few days later would have. Still, his season was so dominant that he was awarded the 1994 National League Most Valuable Player Award, the first time an Astro had been so honored.
Month By Month
Bagwell started the season on a hot streak, batting .360 with six homers during the first month. He hit a lull in May, hitting just .301. After that, Bagwell was unstoppable.
In June, he was Ruthian, batting .394 with 13 homers and a 1.354 OPS. His month included two-homer games at Montreal on June 8th and against Atlanta's Steve Avery on June 11th. Then he smashed three home runs on June 24th against a trio of Dodger hurlers.
In July, he outdid even that. Bagwell hit .409 with a 1.384 OPS. His 11 homers included two against Ramon Manzanillo of Pittsburgh at the Astrodome on July 24th. For the season, Bagwell hit more homers at the vacuum-packed Dome (23), than he did on the road (16).
A Giant Welcome
On August 5th, as Greg Swindell took the hill for Houston, the Astros stood at 62-47, three games behind Cincinnati in the NL Central in the first year of three-division play. Though they trailed the Reds, they were also two games behind in the new "wild card" race to the Atlanta Braves. Many traditionalists sniped that entering the playoffs as a wild card was like backing in so all the emphasis was on winning the division title.
Swindell struck out a pair in the first to snuff out an early threat. Craig Biggio started the Houston attack with a double off former Astro Mark Portugal. While Bagwell was grabbing the headlines, few noticed what a solid season Biggio was having. Craig was batting over .300 and setting the table as a leadoff hitter. Biggio advanced to third on a bloop to shallow right and scored the game's first run when Bagwell hit a dribbler to third. Houston tacked on another run in the second when Luis Gonzalez singled, advanced on a pair of grounders and scored on a single by Andujar Cedeno.
An Injury Opens The Gates
Biggio singled to open the third inning and swiped second. When Steve Finley bunted, Portugal ran to cover first and sprained his knee, crumpling to the ground in agonizing pain. The righthander had to be carted off the field. The injury forced reliever Bryan Hickerson into the game with runners at the corners and baseball's hottest hitter coming to the plate.
Bagwell didn't disappoint, lashing a double that plated both runs and tying the franchise RBI record set by Bob Watson in 1977 of 110. Watson had played a full season to reach that mark and Bagwell had tied it with, if providence allowed, seven weeks left to play.
Two outs later Milt Thompson singled home Bagwell then Tony Eusebio doubled to deep right-center which drove Thompson in and increased the lead to 6-0.
The Crowning Blow
After a Finley double in the fourth, Hickerson decided to intentionally walk Bagwell but that strategy backfired too. Finley would score on a wild pitch then Gonzalez spanked a single to score Bagwell and Ken Caminiti with Houston's eighth and ninth runs.
Pat Gomez entered in the fifth in relief of Hickerson but Bagwell treated him just as rudely. After an RBI single by Biggio, Bagwell smashed a two-run blast over the center field fence to break two of the franchise's most prestigious marks in one stroke. The two RBIs broke Watson's record and the homer, his 38th of the year, broke Jim Wynn's record of 37 set in 1967. Did I mention this was early August?
With a comfy 12-0 lead, Astros manager Terry Collins let a tiring Swindell finish up. He gave up three runs in the ninth, two on a homer by Royce Clayton, for a 12-4 final. Bagwell added another single in the eighth to boost his batting average to .370, well above the club record of .333 set by Rusty Staub in 1967. If there was such a thing as a franchise triple crown, Bagwell was the new record holder and his efforts forced a lot of corrections in the Astros' record books.
The 1994 strike was both a blessing and a curse for Jeff Bagwell. His record-shattering season had already been stopped by a broken hand and the strike forced everyone else to stop as well. As a great a season as he was having, Bagwell did not finish with the batting crown. Tony Gwynn of San Diego hit .394 and was prevented by the strike from trying to be the first player since 1941 to hit over .400 for an entire season. Matt Williams of the Giants hit 43 homers to Bagwell's 39 and had an outside chance of reaching Roger Maris' coveted mark of 61 home runs. If either of those two milestones were reached, no doubt the MVP votes would have gone to those men instead of Bagwell.
For all the greatness of Bagwell's season, he wound up leading the National League in only three major offensive categories - Runs (104), RBIs (116) and Slugging percentage (.750). Yet that was enough to establish Bagwell as one of the league's best with all the perks and pressures that come with that. In the off-season, Bagwell agreed to a new seven-year, $47 million dollar contract that drew condemnation from some of the rival owners who were outraged that Drayton McLane would make such an offer during a labor dispute.
McLane knew what he was doing. He was wrapping up his best player for the rest of the decade so that there would be no free agent temptations as he sought to build a championship team. It was a smart investment that Bagwell lived up to except during the postseason.
It was one swing by Jeff Bagwell in a season that will be remembered for what it has been and, if the players' strike comes off as expected, for what it might have been.
In the Astros' 110th game of the season, a classic uppercut swing by Bagwell erased the two most significant power records in franchise history.
During the Astros' 12-4 win over San Francisco in the Astrodome on Friday night, Bagwell hit his 38th home run of the season, breaking Jimmy Wynn's club record that had stood for 27 years. The two-run shot to center field drove in runs No. 111 and 112, breaking the record of 110 RBIs set by Bob Watson in 1977.
"It's something to be proud of, don't get me wrong," Bagwell said. "It's a great accomplishment, but the better accomplishment was that we won the game and picked up a game on the Reds.
"I was aware of the home run and RBI records and I started thinking about it too much the last couple days. Now I can relax and get back to business as usual."
Which has been, of course, hitting home runs and driving in runs at a breakneck pace. With 38 homers, 112 RBIs and .370 batting average in 110 games, Bagwell is on pace for a season of historic proportions -- if it lasts the usual 162 games.
But there is a good chance the season will end after the Astros play their 115th game Thursday afternoon. A strike seems unavoidable, and there are indications it might wipe out the rest of the season.
It is something Bagwell has thought about. But he isn't hanging his head about what might be lost.
"I dread the strike date because it means we won't have reached an agreement and there won't be baseball," Bagwell said. "The fans will be upset and it won't be good for baseball. I'm not dreading it because of what it might mean to Jeff Bagwell. I'm dreading it because of what it will mean to baseball."
The victory, combined with Cincinnati's 16-6 loss to Atlanta, allowed the Astros to move within two games of the Reds in the NL Central The Astros have five games remaining before the strike date.
Friday was another night of triumph for Bagwell, but it was also a bittersweet night. In the third inning, Bagwell, along with the rest of the Astros, watched as Giants pitcher and former teammate Mark Portugal suffered what could be a severe injury to his right knee.
With the Astros ahead 2-0, Portugal covered first base on a bunt by Steve Finley. Portugal jammed his knee when he landed in the dirt near first base, and crumpled to the ground in the kind of pain that was uncomfortable to watch.
Portugal was taken off the field on an electric cart and examined by Dr. Tom Mehlhoff, one of the Astros' team physicians. Portugal was diagnosed as having a sprained right knee and will return to San Francisco today to be examined by Dr. Warren King, the Giants' team physician.
"It's real sore, it hurts an awful lot," Portugal said after the game. "But I'm no doctor. Our doctor will make the decision on what we'll do with it. Hopefully, it's something we can deal with."
Bagwell, who was in the on-deck circle, didn't want to watch, either.
"Porchy is a good friend and we've had a lot of fun," Bagwell said. "It's tough to watch anyone get hurt like that, but especially because he's a friend. I just hope it's not too bad."
Bryan Hickerson took over for Portugal and the first batter he faced was Bagwell, who had an RBI in the first inning on an infield out to put him at 108 for the season. Bagwell, who is 10-for-13 against Hickerson, lined a two-run double to left that tied Watson's single-season RBIs record. It was Bagwell's 70th extra-base hit, breaking Wynn's record of 69 extra-base hits in a season.
And he was only warming up.
With the Astros ahead 10-0 in the fifth inning, Bagwell launched a two-run homer over the center-field wall against Pat Gomez. Bagwell finished the night 3-for-4 and extended his hitting streak to a career-best 15 games. That is the longest streak by an Astro since Billy Hatcher hit safely in the first 16 games of the 1987 season. During the streak, Bagwell is 27-for-54, a .500 batting average.
"I'll tell you what, this has been a heck of a lot of fun to watch," said second baseman Craig Biggio. "This is an unbelievable season he's having. I don't know if you could have a better season."
Bagwell led a 17-hit thrashing of four San Francisco pitchers. In their last two games, the Giants have given up 29 runs. They lost 17-4 to Cincinnati on Wednesday, and manager Dusty Baker was in no mood to heap accolades on Bagwell, who is 17-for-28 (.607) with four homers and 13 RBIs in eight games against the Giants.
"We looked bad, real bad," Baker said. "Bagwell is a great hitter, but it makes it easy when the ball comes right down the middle. It's pretty embarrassing to not even be competitive. We're getting blow out and I don't like getting beat that badly. I don't like getting embarrassed."
Biggio went 3-for-4 and Luis Gonzalez was 3-for-5. But as has been the case so many times this season, the night belonged to Bagwell.
After the record-setting homer, the crowd of 44,297 gave Bagwell a standing ovation that didn't stop until he came out of the dugout for a rare curtain call.
Bagwell's big show aided Greg Swindell in his first complete game of the season. Swindell (8-8) gave up 11 hits and had to pitch around a season-high five errors that led to three unearned runs. But Swindell helped himself by not walking anyone as the Astros cruised to their fourth straight win after losing four straight.
After going 3-9 in the Astrodome last year, Swindell is 5-3 with a 2.80 ERA in 10 home starts this season.
(Editor's Note: Bagwell's great season lasted just four more games before his hand was broken on a pitch from San Diego's Andy Benes. Below is the Chronicle's projections as of August 6th as to Bagwell's full season numbers had it not been ended prematurely by both the broken hand and the baseball strike.)
Category On 8/5 To Date Projected Team Record (held by) ===================================================================== Average 3-4 .370 .370 .333 (Rusty Staub-67) Home runs 1 38 56 37 (Jim Wynn-67) RBIs 5 112 165 110 (Bob Watson-77) Runs 3 101 148 117 (Jim Wynn-72) Hits 3 143 211 195 (Enos Cabell-78) Doubles 1 31 46 44 (Rusty Staub-67) Ex-base hits 2 71 105 69 (Jim Wynn-67) Slugging pct 1.750 .755 .755 .537 (Cesar Cedeno-72) On base pct .800 .451 .451 .436 (Jim Wynn-69) Total bases 7 292 430 300 (Cesar Cedeno-72) ======================================================================
As you can see, despite the mishaps, he was able to set the franchise marks above in all but runs, hits and doubles. He tied Cedeno's mark of 300 total bases before being sidelined.
Game data courtesy of Retrosheet
SF N 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 3 - 4 11 0 HOU N 1 1 4 3 3 0 0 0 x - 12 17 5
San Francisco Giants AB R H RBI BB SO PO A Lewis cf 5 0 2 0 0 0 2 0 Clayton ss 5 1 1 2 0 1 1 6 Bonds lf 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Benjamin 3b 2 0 1 0 0 0 0 2 Williams 3b 3 1 1 0 0 1 0 2 Carreon lf 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Strawberry rf 3 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 Martinez rf 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Benzinger 1b 4 0 2 1 0 0 11 0 Scarsone 2b 4 1 0 0 0 0 5 3 Manwaring c 4 0 3 0 0 0 5 1 Portugal p 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 Hickerson p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Gomez p 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 Frey p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Patterson ph 1 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 Totals 38 4 11 4 0 2 24 16
FIELDING - DP: 2. Clayton-Scarsone-Benzinger, Benjamin-Scarsone-Benzinger.
BATTING - 2B: Benzinger 2 (12,off Swindell 2); Williams (15,off Swindell); Benjamin (5,off Swindell). HR: Clayton (3,9th inning off Swindell 1 on 2 out). SH: Gomez (1,off Swindell). Team LOB: 8.
BASERUNNING - CS: Lewis (13,2nd base by Swindell/Eusebio).
Houston Astros AB R H RBI BB SO PO A Biggio 2b 4 2 3 1 0 0 1 2 Miller ph,2b 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 Finley cf 5 3 2 0 0 0 6 0 Bagwell 1b 4 3 3 5 1 0 6 1 Donnels pr,1b 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 Caminiti 3b 5 1 1 0 0 1 0 2 Gonzalez lf 5 1 3 2 0 1 3 0 Thompson rf 3 1 1 1 0 0 1 1 Felder rf 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 Eusebio c 4 0 1 1 0 1 4 0 Cedeno ss 3 1 2 1 1 0 2 5 Swindell p 3 0 1 0 0 1 0 2 Totals 38 12 17 11 2 5 27 13
FIELDING - DP: 1. Biggio-Cedeno-Bagwell. E: Biggio (8), Finley (5), Caminiti (10), Felder (1), Cedeno (20).
BATTING - 2B: Biggio (40,off Portugal); Bagwell (31,off Hickerson); Eusebio (9,off Hickerson); Finley (14,off Hickerson); Swindell (3,off Gomez). HR: Bagwell (38,5th inning off Gomez 1 on 2 out). SH: Swindell (12,off Gomez). IBB: Cedeno (13,by Hickerson); Bagwell (12,by Hickerson). Team LOB: 5.
BASERUNNING - SB: Biggio (36,2nd base off Portugal/Manwaring).
San Francisco Giants IP H R ER BB SO HR BFP Portugal L(10-8) 2 5 4 4 0 1 0 11 Hickerson 1.1 6 5 5 2 1 0 12 Gomez 3.2 5 3 3 0 2 1 15 Frey 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 3 Totals 8 17 12 12 2 5 1 41
Portugal faced 2 batters in the 3rd inning WP: Hickerson (2). IBB: Hickerson 2 (6,Cedeno,Bagwell).
Houston Astros IP H R ER BB SO HR BFP Swindell W(8-8) 9 11 4 1 0 2 1 39
Umpires: HP - Greg Bonin, 1B - Frank Pulli, 2B - Joe West, 3B - Ed Rapuano
Time of Game: 2:55 Attendance: 44297
Starting Lineups: San Francisco Giants Houston Astros 1. Lewis cf Biggio 2b 2. Clayton ss Finley cf 3. Bonds lf Bagwell 1b 4. Williams 3b Caminiti 3b 5. Strawberry rf Gonzalez lf 6. Benzinger 1b Thompson rf 7. Scarsone 2b Eusebio c 8. Manwaring c Cedeno ss 9. Portugal p Swindell p GIANTS 1ST: Lewis singled to pitcher; Lewis was picked off and caught stealing second but was safe at second (error by Biggio; assists by Swindell and Bagwell); Clayton was called out on strikes; Bonds grounded out (shortstop to first) [Lewis to third]; Williams struck out; 0 R, 1 H, 1 E, 1 LOB. Giants 0, Astros 0. ASTROS 1ST: Biggio doubled to left; Finley popped to second [Biggio to third]; Bagwell grounded out (third to first) [Biggio scored]; Caminiti was called out on strikes; 1 R, 1 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Giants 0, Astros 1. GIANTS 2ND: Strawberry flied to center; Benzinger doubled to left; Scarsone grounded out (shortstop to first); Manwaring singled to right [Benzinger out at home (right to catcher)]; 0 R, 2 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Giants 0, Astros 1. ASTROS 2ND: Gonzalez singled to center; Thompson grounded out (shortstop to first) [Gonzalez to second]; Eusebio grounded out (pitcher to shortstop to first) [Gonzalez to third]; Cedeno singled to center [Gonzalez scored]; Swindell grounded out (third to first); 1 R, 2 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Giants 0, Astros 2. GIANTS 3RD: Portugal reached on an error by Cedeno [Portugal to first]; Lewis forced Portugal (second to shortstop) [Lewis to first]; Clayton flied to center; Bonds flied to center; 0 R, 0 H, 1 E, 1 LOB. Giants 0, Astros 2. ASTROS 3RD: Biggio singled to third; Biggio stole second; On a bunt Finley singled to first [Biggio to third]; HICKERSON REPLACED PORTUGAL (PITCHING); Bagwell doubled to center [Biggio scored, Finley scored]; Caminiti flied to center; Gonzalez grounded out (second to first) [Bagwell to third]; Thompson singled to center [Bagwell scored]; Eusebio doubled to center [Thompson scored]; Cedeno was walked intentionally; Swindell struck out; 4 R, 5 H, 0 E, 2 LOB. Giants 0, Astros 6. GIANTS 4TH: Williams flied to right; Strawberry singled to center; Benzinger grounded into a double play (second to shortstop to first) [Strawberry out at second]; 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Giants 0, Astros 6. ASTROS 4TH: Biggio lined to shortstop; Finley doubled to left; Bagwell was walked intentionally; Caminiti singled to left [Finley to third, Bagwell to second]; Hickerson threw a wild pitch [Finley scored, Bagwell to third, Caminiti to second]; Gonzalez singled to right [Bagwell scored, Caminiti scored, Gonzalez to second (on throw)]; GOMEZ REPLACED HICKERSON (PITCHING); Thompson grounded out (shortstop to first) [Gonzalez to third]; Eusebio struck out; 3 R, 3 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Giants 0, Astros 9. GIANTS 5TH: Scarsone grounded out (third to first); Manwaring singled to center; Gomez out on a sacrifice bunt (third to second) [Manwaring to second]; Lewis singled to second [Manwaring to third]; Clayton flied to center; 0 R, 2 H, 0 E, 2 LOB. Giants 0, Astros 9. ASTROS 5TH: Cedeno singled to center; Swindell out on a sacrifice bunt (catcher to second) [Cedeno to second]; Biggio singled to center [Cedeno scored]; Finley forced Biggio (shortstop to second) [Finley to first]; Bagwell homered [Finley scored]; Caminiti flied to center; 3 R, 3 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Giants 0, Astros 12. GIANTS 6TH: FELDER REPLACED THOMPSON (PLAYING RF); Bonds flied to left; Williams doubled to left; Strawberry flied to center [Williams to third]; Benzinger doubled to left [Williams scored]; Scarsone grounded out (shortstop to first); 1 R, 2 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Giants 1, Astros 12. ASTROS 6TH: BENJAMIN REPLACED BONDS (PLAYING 3B); CARREON REPLACED WILLIAMS (PLAYING LF); MARTINEZ REPLACED STRAWBERRY (PLAYING RF); Gonzalez singled to center; Felder grounded into a double play (shortstop to second to first) [Gonzalez out at second]; Eusebio grounded out (shortstop to first); 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Giants 1, Astros 12. GIANTS 7TH: Manwaring singled to left [Manwaring to second (error by Finley)]; Gomez grounded out (first unassisted) [Manwaring to third]; Lewis flied to right; Clayton lined to center; 0 R, 1 H, 1 E, 1 LOB. Giants 1, Astros 12. ASTROS 7TH: Cedeno grounded out (third to first); Swindell doubled to right; MILLER BATTED FOR BIGGIO; Miller struck out; Finley grounded out (pitcher to first); 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Giants 1, Astros 12. GIANTS 8TH: MILLER STAYED IN GAME (PLAYING 2B); Benjamin doubled to left; Carreon popped to catcher; Martinez flied to left; Benzinger flied to right; 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Giants 1, Astros 12. ASTROS 8TH: FREY REPLACED GOMEZ (PITCHING); Bagwell singled to right; DONNELS RAN FOR BAGWELL; Caminiti grounded into a double play (third to second to first) [Donnels out at second]; Gonzalez struck out; 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Giants 1, Astros 12. GIANTS 9TH: DONNELS STAYED IN GAME (PLAYING 1B); Scarsone reached on an error by Felder [Scarsone to third]; Manwaring grounded out (pitcher to first); PATTERSON BATTED FOR FREY; Patterson reached on an error by Caminiti [Scarsone scored (unearned) (RBI), Patterson to second]; Lewis grounded out (shortstop to first); Clayton homered (unearned) [Patterson scored (unearned)]; Benjamin flied to left; 3 R (0 ER), 1 H, 2 E, 0 LOB. Giants 4, Astros 12. Final Totals R H E LOB Giants 4 11 0 8 Astros 12 17 5 5