Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Woeful Astros in a league of their own - Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Not to be presumptuous, but I think I can speak for all of Pittsburgh when I express the city's sincere thanks to the Houston Astros for bringing us 51 seasons of generally dreadful National League baseball.

The Astros, should you have failed to circle the occasion, played their final game in Pittsburgh as members of the National League Wednesday night, and the Pirates are certainly gonna miss 'em.

And still, as that well-worn country music lyric goes, "How can I miss you when you won't go away?"

Thanks to the pathology known as interleague play, the Astros eventually will be back again as members of the American League West Division, where the Texas Rangers, Oakland A's, Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels can't wait to get their hands on them.

They were the worst team in baseball last year, and nobody is close to pure Astros-level awfulness in 2012. So I guess somebody in Houston thought, "Hey, what we need around here is a drastic increase in travel miles, right?"

In any event, this last detail of a baseball game ---- a workmanlike, 6-3 Pirates victory -- calcified the Pirates' all-time record against Houston at 215-134 across more than a half-century of summers in old Forbes Field, old Three Rivers Stadium and soon-to-be-teenaged (oh my gosh, they grow up so fast!) PNC Park.

Somewhat fittingly then, it was a 24-year-old Texan who played his college baseball at Houston's Rice University who sketched the final offensive game plan. Brock Holt was just plain superb still again, driving in a couple of runs with an infield hit and a sacrifice fly while polishing his giddy batting average to .347 in Altoona, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh.

So Brock, did you see a lot of Astros games as a student at Rice?


OK, then.

"I was a Rangers fan," Holt said. "I was never much of an Astros fan."

That figures, inasmuch as he's a Fort Worth native, but the one thing Holt always has been is the possessor of a short, thumping swing that has made him awfully hard to get out, at least wherever he has played this summer.

"It looks like he could get that swing off in a phone booth," marveled Pirates manager Clint Hurdle after Holt helped run the offense for a second consecutive night. "And [Wednesday] he scores two runners from third in different ways. You gotta like that."

In three at-bats, Holt scored Alex Presley twice, once on a 70-foot infield single the Astros couldn't decipher, and again when he lifted Fernando Abad's first pitch to him in the fourth far enough into the sky over center field. Two innings later, Holt sacrificed Presley to third to set up a successful squeeze by Clint Barmes that brought home the sixth run.

Holt walks to the plate to a lazy country ballad, Charlie Robinson's "My Hometown," and almost seems intent on letting Charlie work through a couple of choruses before he finally stands in.

After that, he's all quickness.

"I've always had the short swing," Holt said. "I'm not the biggest guy, so I've always concentrated on making good contact."

For his part, Hurdle had to regard the wholly unspectacular accomplishment of taking two of three from Houston at home as pretty much the least his club could have done this week. The Astros haven't won a single road series in a cruel summer that has seen them win exactly eight -- total.

For their Wednesday night appointment, interim manager Tony DeFrancesco chicken-wired a lineup with a cleanup hitter who had eight RBIs and without a single hitter with even 10 homers. The entire lineup had 40 homers, compared to the Pirates' 102.

But the moment seemed better spent in some reflection on what began June 1, 1962, when in an easy stroll through you can see that the first game between the then-Houston Colt .45's and the Pirates in Pittsburgh featured a visiting lineup that included immortals Joey Amalfitano, Roman Mejias and Norm Larker.

They fell to the a home team that ran out Bill Virdon, Dick Groat, Bob Skinner, Dick Stuart, Roberto Clemente, Smoky Burgess, Don Hoak and Bill Mazeroski behind Joe Gibbon. Clemente homered and doubled and Elroy Face got the "W" as the Pirates won, 8-4.

Not much changed in the next 50 years. That original Houston club won 64 games. This one likely won't win 50.

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