Maybe the balls were wound too tight in 1970. The next year, Houston's home run production was cut almost in half while the pitchers perked up with a team ERA of 3.13. It made no difference in the standings as Houston finished tied for fourth with the same 79-83 mark as the year before.
What was different were the uniforms. The team looked like a photo negative of themselves. What was navy blue was now orange and what was orange was now blue. Larry Dierker had them looking sharp on Opening Day with a 5-2 victory over the Dodgers.
Before the season, the Cubs practically gave the Astros shortstop Roger Metzger. It might have been fallout from the Joe Pepitone trade. The slender Texan cracked the starting lineup as Denis Menke moved to first base.
Metzger began the first triple play in franchise history on July 16th against the Mets. He fielded a grounder by Cleon Jones, stepped on second base for the first out and threw to Menke for the second out. When Ken Boswell made a belated dash to third, Menke threw across the diamond to Doug Rader who tagged Boswell for the third out.
Jim Wynn survived a domestic stabbing incident in the off-season but hit only .203 with seven home runs. Menke hit only one homer all season. Joe Morgan led the team with 13 homers and 40 steals. Bob Watson, relocated to the outfield, led the club in batting average (.288) and was second in RBIs (67).
Cesar Cedeno led the Astros with 81 RBIs and led the league with 40 doubles but he, too, suffered something of a sophomore jinx, batting just .264 with 102 strikeouts. He was also featured in the quirkiest play of the year. With the bases full against the Dodgers on September 2nd, Cesar blooped a pitch from Claude Osteen into shallow right field. The right fielder and second baseman collided trying to catch the ball as it rolled leisurely away. The Astros looked like a relay team as they circled the bases. It was a 170' grand slam homer.
If Cedeno carried the potential of future stardom on offense, James Rodney Richard held the same potential as a pitcher. The 6'-8" giant made his big league premiere on September 5th against, ironically, the Giants. J. R. struck out 15 of them to tie the debut record Brooklyn's Karl Spooner set in 1954. Richard won, 5-3, to cap a doubleheader sweep.
Larry Dierker won 12 games before the All-Star break but was then sidelined with an elbow injury. Don Wilson took his spot on the All-Star team, pitched two scoreless innings in Detroit, then completed a 16-win campaign.
The natives were growing restless for a winning team. The Astros would pull off one of the most controversial trades in their history during the off-season. It was a major shakeup that made the ballclub look foolish and yet also made them winners.By Astro Daily
- Bob Watson, Cesar Cedeno, Claude Osteen, Cleon Jones, Denis Menke, Don Wilson, Doug Rader, Houston Astros, J.R. Richard, Jim Wynn, Joe Morgan, Joe Pepitone, Karl Spooner, Ken Boswell, Larry Dierker, Roger Metzger