The Astros Visit Arlington to Face the Rangers for the Last Time as Inter-League Foes.
BY: Dic Humphrey
The Astros come to Arlington this weekend for the last series ever with the Rangers as inter-league rivals. Next year, Houston moves into the American League West and will face the Rangers around 18 times each season rather the six inter-league rivalry games they have played over the past decade.
Both teams are celebrating monumental anniversaries. This is the 50th year of Major League baseball in Houston as they opened play as a National League expansion club in 1962. The Texas franchise was actually launched a year earlier as the Washington Senators, and moved to Texas in 1972, making this the 40-year anniversary of baseball in North Texas.
For the first three years of their existence, the Houston team was called the Colt .45’s, and they played in a temporary stadium called Colt Stadium located slightly north and slightly west of the Astrodome. When the move to indoor baseball finally arrived in 1965, the Colt .45 gun company began clamoring for royalties on concession items sold that were emblazoned with their name. Judge Roy Hofheinz, the managing partner of the ownership group chose to change the name rather than pay the gun company.
The space program was relatively new, but Houston landed NASA’s headquarters, the bounty Lyndon Johnson extracted from John Kennedy in 1960 for settling for second banana on the Democratic Presidential ticket. The original seven astronauts in those days were better known than baseball players. It was a natural then to find a team name that conveyed the idea of the wave of the future – the exploration of outer space. Astros was the final selection for the 1965 season when the team moved into the world’s first indoor baseball stadium – the Astrodome.
Waxahachie native Paul Richards was the original general manager of the Houston team. He stressed pitching in the expansion draft and in amateur signings. Thus was born the tradition of good pitching throughout the years in Houston. Dick “Turk” Farrell was the best pitcher taken in the expansion draft, but in those first three years as the Colt .45’s, Don Nottebart and Ken Johnson threw no-hitters in home games. By the end of the decade Larry Dierker and Don Wilson had developed into All-Star caliber pitchers. Throughout the years, there have been notable Astros’ pitchers such as Nolan Ryan, Mike Scott, and Roy Oswalt.
The Rangers opened play in the expanded minor league park originally known as Turnpike Stadium. The south wind blew in from right field most of the time and it curtailed scoring. In 1986 though, there was a major renovation of the stadium, which included a high wall behind the right field seats. The south wind was a casualty, and the park became very offensive. Thus was born the tradition of Texas as an offensive juggernaut. From Larry Parrish and Ruben Sierra, to Juan Gonzalez and Rafael Palmeiro, and now to Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre; Texas has trotted out power hitters.
Ownership has changed, managers have changed, general managers have changed, and players have changed; but the tradition of good pitching in Houston and good hitting in Texas has continued.
Over the years, about 50 players have played for both teams. The most notable of those is Nolan Ryan, now Rangers’ team President and part of the ownership group. He was 106-94 in nine years with the Astros and 51-39 in five with the Rangers. He pitched no-hitters for both franchises. The Astros’ Carlos Lee is the only player on either team that previously played for the other, and he is currently on the disabled list, though he is in Corpus Christi on a minor league rehab assignment and could be activated this weekend for Sunday’s game.
Neither team enjoyed much success on the field for decades. Houston was the first to make the playoffs in 1980. The Astros enjoyed post-season baseball three times in the 80’s, three in the 90’s and three more this century, including their only World Series appearance in 2005. Texas didn’t get into the playoffs for 24 years after arriving from Washington. They made the playoffs in 1996, ’98 and ’99. All three years, they faced the Yankees in the first round, and they won only once. That’s not one series; that’s one game. After languishing in the basement of the American League West for most of the 21st century, the Rangers’ largely home-grown talent has developed into one of the top two or three teams in baseball, having represented the American League in each of the last two World Series. They give the state of Texas the hope of its first World Series victory.
This weekend finds the teams at the opposite ends of the spectrum. Texas has held first place in the AL West for essentially the entire 2012 season. The Astros, who lost a club record 106 games last year, are fifth out of six teams in the NL Central. The outlook when Houston joins the West next year is an uphill battle for the Astros. Texas has a young nucleus that should contend for years, while Houston is in full re-building mode.
The Silver Boot is the rotating trophy that stays with the winner of the series each year. (In case the teams split the series 3-3, the tie is broken by total runs scored.) Texas has won the Silver Boot the last five years and has a leg up for retaining the trophy after taking two of three games in Houston last month.
All three games this weekend are sold out, which will bring the Rangers’ sellout total to 20 games this year, one shy of the team record. Saturday’s game will be televised by the FOX Network as one of their “Baseball Night in America” games. The pitching matchups are:
Friday Jordan Lyles (1-2, 5.40) vs. Yu Darvish (7-4, 3.72)
Saturday Lucas Harrell (6-4, 4.83) vs. Justin Grimm (Major League debut)
Sunday Bud Norris (5-4, 4.81) vs. Colby Lewis (5-5, 3.13)
NOTABLE: Roy Oswalt threw his between start bullpen session Thursday in Arlington. There is no question his first minor league outings have been disappointing, and he needs to throw better stuff and have better results. His next start is this Sunday for Round Rock, and it may not be his final tune-up before joining the Rangers.