Houston Astros History: A Random Plate Appearance

Through their first 61 seasons of existence to this point, that Houston Astros have competed in a total of 9,656 regular season and postseason competitions.

Rich in good and bad moments, the Houston Astros have enjoyed 61 seasons in Major League Baseball. I thought it would be a fun thought exercise to do a series based on randomly generated record releases. I used random.org to generate a year from 1962 to 2022 (I landed on 1987), a game from one to 162 (98), and a plate appearance from one to 76 (six).

That particular combination of digits brought me to baseball-reference.com, a boxing score of July 26, 1987, and an inning called “first.”

The game

The Houston Astros, coming into the game 48-49 but somehow only 3.5 games back in a “moderate” NL West (behind the 52-46 Cincinnati Reds), were on the way against the 53-44 New York Mets. who were 8.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL East. The game was the last contest in a four-game set, and the Astros were looking to earn a split.

The scene

MLB photos via Getty Images

Dwight Gooden (7-3, 2.78) started for the Mets. Gooden and the Mets were three-time All Stars and still only 22 years old. Back then, they were the defending MLB champions (who eliminated the Astros in the 1986 NLCS). The Astros started with Danny Darwin (7-6, 3.38). The then 31-year-old was in his 10th season of a later 21-season MLB career. Though Darwin never received an All Star team selection, he led the NL in 1990 with a 2.21 ERA and an MLB-leading 1.027 WHIP while still with Houston.

In the top of the first inning, Billy Hatcher led with a single against Gooden and then immediately stole second base. After a groundout by Bill Doran, Hatcher was picked up from second base but somehow made it to third place due to a Gooden throwing error (missed rundown). Gooden then prompted a Denny Walling infield flyout and a Glenn Davis 6-3 groundout.

Darwin quickly got Lenny Dykstra busted out, and Wally Backman (our focus on the plate appearance) lined up alongside Astro’s shortstop Craig Reynolds. Darwin made it a 1-2-3 frame by getting Keith Hernandez to fly to Hatcher.

As for the focus of this article, I could have chosen a better one, but it was randomly generated. I’m sticking with the random element and posting as many as I can until someone takes me away.

The Astros entered the backman plate appearance with a 47 percent chance of winning and exited it with a 49 percent chance of winning. A leverage index of 0.61 indicates that the situation was not particularly impactful. Still, every record appearance can be the one that tips a ball game one way or the other. In this case it just wasn’t. That would come in the ninth inning.

Finally, with an RBI single from Hernandez in the fourth inning, the Mets moved up first and scored Dykstra from second place. Darwin still finished ballgame 1-0 after six innings. He had given up four hits and one walk overall, hit four, and endured 22 batters overall.

In the top part of the seventh, still facing Gooden, Ken Caminiti scored Alan Ashby with a sacrifice fly, leveling the score and letting Darwin off the hook for an unlucky loss.

In the bottom half of the round of 16, Charlie Kerfeld was still 1-1 and gave both Dykstra and backman an out walk and was replaced by Dave Meads. Meads got Hernandez out before allowing Darryl Strawberry to load the bases with an infield single. Kevin McReynolds knocked in the go-ahead run by drawing a step before Howard Johnson struck out.

In the top half of ninth place, the Astros were down to a 16 percent chance of winning. Two quick outs courtesy of assist Jesse Orosco dropped Houston’s chances to just four percent, but then something happened. Caminiti and Davey Lopes both hit singles, then Gerald Young tapped in Caminiti to level the score. Hatcher then hit the ball deep over the left field wall for a 5-2 lead.

Dave Smith came in to win ninth place, handing only a one-out double to Dave Magadan. He knocked out Mookie Wilson before tricking Dykstra into stopping the game.

A win on the road against the defending champion and a series split to boot. The Astros improved to .500 (for at least a day) and advanced a full game to the Reds, who lost 6-0 to the Montreal Expos.

Feeling nostalgic? I couldn’t find an archive of this particular game, but I did find this one just two weeks ago.

aftermath

The Astros went 27-37 through the last 64 games of the season and finished third with 76-86. Having just tasted the playoffs, the team didn’t return to the postseason until 1997.

So how do you remember Darwin, Hatcher and the rest of the 1987 team? before your time? That was a dead end in my life collecting ALL the baseball cards I could get my hands on, but living in South Florida I didn’t really have a team. I just loved statistics. Now I can look at more stats than I could ever have imagined back then.

Thanks for reading and bookmark here for constant updates on the Astros.

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