Houston's stay at the bottom didn't last long. Bill Virdon retooled the lineup and the club rebounded to an 80-82 record and third place, still miles behind the Reds who were having one of the most dominant seasons in history.

Having a healthy Cesar Cedeno was one key reason for the turnaround. He led the club with 18 homers, drove in 83, batted .297 and swiped 58 bases. He returned to the All-Star Game where he slugged the first home run by an Astro in the Midsummer Classic. For the second time in his career, Cedeno hit for the cycle. It came during a five-RBI night on August 9th in St. Louis, part of a 13-4 victory. Cedeno also reached an early career milestone, picking up his 1000th career hit on July 2nd.

Bob Watson continued his steady hitting, leading Houston with a .313 average and 102 RBIs, to go with 16 round-trippers. Enos Cabell added 35 steals and a .273 average. Jose Cruz became the regular left fielder, hitting .303 with 28 stolen bases.

The Houston attack surged at times, as it did on May 30th when they poked a club-record 25 hits in the nightcap of a doubleheader sweep in Atlanta. 23 of the hits were singles.

Joe Niekro had his own highlight the night before. Matched in a duel with his brother Phil,  the younger brother banged a home run off his sibling in the seventh inning to take a 4-3 victory. It would be Joe's only homer during his 22-year career.

Niekro was one of eleven starting pitchers the team tried that season. Joaquin Andujar was one who grabbed attention. The fiery Dominican tossed four two-hitters during the campaign. 21-year-old Dan Larson pitched five complete games in 13 starts and helped himself with the bat as well. J.R. Richard finally came into his own, becoming only the second Astro to win 20 games and sporting a 2.75 ERA. Out of the bullpen, Ken Forsch saved 19 games and closed out the All-Star Game.

The club's elder statesman was 29-year-old Larry Dierker, not in age so much as in miles. He had become the last player on the club who could recall being a Colt .45. Larry had pitched a perfect game for eight innings against the Mets in 1966. He also pitched 8-2/3rds innings of no-hit ball against Atlanta during the pennant race of 1969. Both times, he not only lost the no-hitter but Houston lost the game too. On July 9th, at home against Montreal, the odds finally evened out for Dierker, who threw a no-hitter in a 6-0 triumph. Dierker would also win the 1,000th game at the Astrodome, blanking San Diego, 7-0, on July 26th. They were the last hurrahs of a wonderful playing career. Larry was dealt to St. Louis that off-season, reinjured his arm and soon found his way back to Houston as a baseball columnist and broadcaster.

By Astro Daily
Bill Virdon, Bob Watson, Cesar Cedeno, Dan Larson, Enos Cabell, Houston Astros, J.R. Richard, Joaquin Andujar, Joe Niekro, Jose Cruz, Ken Forsch, Larry Dierker, Phil Niekro


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