Durocher's third base coach, Preston Gomez, was promoted to manager. He was the first minority ever to skipper the Astros. Under his leadership, Houston returned to .500 at 81-81 and ended another year in fourth place.
There were three major changes to the team besides the managerial reigns. The Astros traded Reuss to Pittsburgh for catcher Milt May. He gave the righty-dominated Houston lineup a lefty to ponder while providing good defense and batting .289. Not known for his power, May paid a surprising dividend with a pinch-hit, game-winning grand slam against the Padres on May 22nd.
To take Reuss' spot, the Astros dealt Jim Wynn to Los Angeles for Claude Osteen. Wynn's spot in right field was taken by rookie Greg Gross, another lefthanded bat who led the club with a .314 average.
Despite Gross' lofty average, he did not make the All-Star team. Cesar Cedeno did as he paced the club with 26 homers, 102 RBIs and 57 stolen bases. Lee May was second in each category with 24 round-trippers and 85 RBIs.
Two things that remained a constant were righthanders Larry Dierker and Don Wilson. Dierker became the first pitcher to reach 100 wins as an Astro, defeating the Padres on April 9th. Later in the year, Wilson reached the 100-win plateau himself, topping his favorite nemesis, the Cincinnati Reds, on July 30th.
The 1974 season might be called "The Year of The Weird" as the unexpected happened often. It began on Opening Day as the Astros were beating San Diego. Padres owner Ray Kroc got on the public address system and apologized to the fans for his team's poor play. Doug Rader responded afterwards that the McDonald's magnate shouldn't treat ballplayers "like a bunch of short-order cooks". When the Astros returned to San Diego on June 28th, the Padres held "Short Order Cooks Night" and sat the chefs behind the Astros dugout to chew out Rader for his choice of words. Trailing 5-4, with two outs in the ninth, Rader was up at the plate with a chance to get in the last word but he flew out to left as John Grubb (appropriately) smothered the ball to end it.
Roger Metzger was injured when he collided with a pitcher during warm-ups before an April 29th home game against the Cubs. The team found out they didn't need him, bombing Chicago, 18-2. Lee May had five hits including a pair of two-run homers in the nine-run sixth inning. Gomez gave Lee the rest of the night off or he might have done more damage.
Bob Watson had it worse during perhaps the ugliest moment in team history. During the nightcap of a doubleheader in Cincinnati on May 12th, Watson slammed into the left field fence chasing a fly ball. His glasses shattered and he lay on the warning track face up with broken glass around his eyes. Riverfront Stadium "fans" pelted the prone outfielder with cups, beer, ice and insults. He would need twelve stitches.
Mike Schmidt of Philadelphia cracked the hardest-hit ball in the history of the Astrodome on June 10th and got a single for his feat. With the bases full against Osteen, Schmidt drilled a shot that appeared headed for the famous scoreboard. Suddenly, a loud clank was heard and the ball headed back to center field. It had hit a speaker that dangled from the ceiling and fell harmlessly to earth. None of the Phillies were sure what to do so they each advanced only one base before Cedeno threw the ball back in.
It must have been "Singles Night" on August 5th when the Astros dropped the Giants, 7-2. Houston had 18 singles, five of them by Gross, in a 19-hit performance. The lone extra-base hit? A double by pitcher Don Wilson.
Wilson was pulled by Gomez in the bottom of the eighth inning on September 4th, even though he was throwing a no-hitter. Thanks to two walks and an error, Wilson was trailing Cincinnati, 2-1, when he was lifted for a pinch-hitter. Coincidences abound. The man who hit into the error was Pete Rose, the man who also hit into the fateful error during Ken Johnson's 1964 no-hitter. The manager, Gomez, had once taken pitcher Clay Kirby out of a game under similar circumstances while managing in San Diego. Gomez had said that if he ever again had to take out a pitcher who was losing while throwing a no-hitter, he'd do the same thing. Kirby was seated in the Reds dugout when Wilson was yanked. A no-hitter would have been Wilson's third, making him just the second man to ever reach that milestone. Mike Cosgrove gave up a meaningless single in the ninth. Houston lost the game and the no-hitter. Five months later, they lost Wilson who would die of carbon monoxide poisoning, along with his 5-year-old son Alexander, when he passed out in the garage of his Houston home with the car engine still running. He was 29 years old.
Dave Roberts tossed a one-hitter during the fastest game in team history. He outdueled Philadelphia's Steve Carlton on August 24th, 1-0, in one hour and 26 minutes. Metzger singled home Larry Milbourne with the game's only run.
Tom Griffin, a hard-luck pitcher since his dazzling rookie season in 1969, led the team with 14 victories. Dierker and Wilson each won eleven. Despite being competitive, the Astros knew a rebuilding movement would soon be underway. Judge Hofheinz would soon be forced to sell the team to a partnership led by Ford Motor Credit Co. It was fitting for a team in need of an overhaul.By Astro Daily
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- Bob Watson, Cesar Cedeno, Claude Osteen, Clay Kirby, Dave Roberts, Don Wilson, Doug Rader, Greg Gross, Houston Astros, Jerry Reuss, Jim Wynn, Johnny Grubb, Ken Johnson, Larry Dierker, Larry Milbourne, Lee May, Leo Durocher, Mike Cosgrove, Mike Schmidt, Milt May, Pete Rose, Preston Gomez, Ray Kroc, Riverfront Stadium, Roger Metzger, Roy Hofheinz, Steve Carlton, Tom Griffin