Saturday, October 12, 2019

Houston v. New York

The Astros began life as the Houston Colt .45's, and they entered the National League for the 1962 season -- along with the New York Mets, who returned NL baseball to the Metropolis for the first time since the Dodgers and Giants had decamped for the West Coast.

Three years later, the Colt .45's moved to their new indoor playpen, and were renamed the Astros.  The first game in the Astrodome was an exhibition with the Yankees, who were coming off their fifth consecutive AL pennant.  The Yankees were about to collapse, but Houston didn't do much better, and in fact the Astros would not make the post-season until 1980. 

Six years later, we had the first Houston-New York Championship Series, as the Astros and Mets faced off to decide the 1986 pennant.  The 1986 season is probably one of the ten best seasons in the history of Major League Baseball, and the battle between the Astros and Mets played a big role in its greatness.  You will recall that the Mets won 108 games in 1986.  The 1986 Mets were the 1985 Bears of baseball -- a gloriously charismatic and controversial team that was good for quite a while, but which really put it all together only once.  But Houston had a great team that year as well, and their playoff was incredible:

1.  In Game One (in the Astrodome), Mike Scott (who won the Cy Young Award in 1986), outdueled Dwight Gooden 1-0.  Scott threw a complete game, allowing only five hits and striking out 14.  Gooden was almost as perfect, but a second-inning home run by Glenn Davis gave the game to Houston.

2.  Game Two was back in the Astrodome.  Bob Ojeda pitched a complete game for the Mets, allowing only one run on 10 hits.  The Mets banged out five runs against Nolan Ryan, and tied the series at one apiece.

3.  Game Three was in Shea Stadium.  Houston had an early 4-0 lead, then the Mets tied the game at 4 apiece, then Houston took a 5-4 lead in the top of the 7th.  That lead lasted until the bottom of the 9th, when Lenny Dykstra (who was one of my favorite players of the 1980's) slammed a two-run walk-off homer to win it for the Mets.

4.  Game Four was in Shea Stadium.  Down two games to one, the Astros turned to Mike Scott, who again dominated the Mets -- beating Sid Fernandez 3-1 in another complete game victory.

5.  Game Five was in Shea Stadium.  This game featured Dwight Gooden for the Mets and Nolan Ryan for the Astros.  In nine innings, Ryan allowed one run and had 12 strikeouts.  Gooden went 10 innings, allowing only one run.  Finally, in the bottom of the 12th, Gary Carter singled home Wally Backman to give the Mets a 2-1 victory.

6.  Game Six was back in the Astrodome.  The Mets led the series 3-2, but an Astros victory in Game Six would allow Mike Scott a chance to win the series in Game Seven.  So both sides treated this game as the decider.  It may have been the greatest baseball game ever played.  Houston jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the 1st -- and kept that lead all the way to the 9th inning, thanks to a dominant performance by Bob Knepper.  In today's game, the Astros would have brought in a closer and probably won the game.  But back then, they sent out Knepper, and the Mets started a rally.  Knepper left with a 3-2 lead, but the Mets had men on base and eventually tied the score at 3.  Extra innings followed, and followed.  In the top of the 14th, the Mets put one run across to take a 4-3 lead.  But in the bottom of the 14th, Billy Hatcher homered off of Jesse Orosco to re-tie the game.  In the top of the 16th, the Mets put together a three-run rally to take a 7-4 lead.  They looked to finally have the series under control, but the Astros fought back -- scoring two runs before Orosco slammed the door on a 7-6 victory.

This was the last game in which the Astros wore their legendary rainbow-style uniform as their regular uniform.

Thirty-one years later, the world was very different.  The Astrodome was gone.  The Astros still existed, although now they were in the American League.  In 2017, Houston reached the ALCS for the first time, where they played the Yankees.  This was also a spectacular series, that went seven games, with each team winning all of the games in its home park.  That worked out well for the Astros, who had the home field advantage -- and who closed out the Yankees with a 7-1 win in Game Six and a 4-0 win in Game Seven.  The Astros then became the first team from Texas ever to win the World Series, and only the second baseball team to win two Game Sevens in the same year, as they beat the Dodgers to win the title.

Last year, both the Yankees and the Astros were flattened by a Red Sox team that looked like the Big Red Machine of the 1970's.  But Red Sox pitching collapsed this year, and the Astros and Yankees -- both of whom appear to be even stronger than they were in 2017 -- dominated the Junior Circuit all year.  The Astros won 107 games.  The Yankees won 103.  Now they are meeting in a rematch of that 2017 showdown.  It should be a classic.

Here is the teams' record in Championship Series.  Victories are in bold.  Please note that for Houston, all LCS appearances before 2017 refer to the National League Championship Series:

New York (11-5):  1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2017

Houston (2-4):  1980, 1986, 2004, 2005, 2017, 2018


  1. The comparison to the NFL85 Bears is an excellent one for the reasons you explain.

    But the one that feels more apt to me is the NFL96 Packers in that Brett Favre, Reggie White and Mike Holmgren had comparable impact on that team within the individual arcs of their careers as Dwight Gooden, Gary Carter and Davey Johnson did with the MLB86 Mets.

  2. Also, I kind of liked the Packers and the Mets, and I hated the Bears. The more I think about it, that's probably why I favor this comparison.