The Astros made another free agent move before the season, signing outfielder Omar Moreno from Pittsburgh. The swift Moreno was a league-leading base stealer but others complained he didn't do enough at the plate to earn his keep. In Pittsburgh, he had acquired the nickname "Omar The Outmaker". He replaced Tony Scott in center field. Houston also dealt reserve first baseman Danny Heep to the New York Mets for a struggling 28-year-old pitcher named Mike Scott.
Art Howe sat out the season with injuries, forcing Phil Garner to third base and Ray Knight to first. Bill Doran filled the void at second. Alan Ashby would miss half the season. Injuries hit hardest among the pitchers with six missing time with various wounds including Sambito who would never again have the same effectiveness as he did before hurting his elbow. Although he tried valiantly to return to play after his stroke, J.R. Richard finally gave up his comeback bid.
Houston suffered their worst Opening Day loss with a 16-7 mauling by the Dodgers. Charlie Lea of Montreal one-hit the Astros on April 16 while teammate Andre Dawson launched a LaCorte pitch into the gold level seats. The Astros were 1-10 and had acquired a bad habit of April meltdowns.
Finally, the ballclub got something to boost their spirits. On April 27th, Nolan Ryan would strike out Montreal's Brad Mills on a curveball to break Walter Johnson's 56-year-old career strikeout mark of 3,508. Johnson's record was once thought to be untouchable like Babe Ruth's 714 homers and Ty Cobb's 4,191 hits. Ryan would later lose the record to Philadelphia's Steve Carlton but would get it back.
The Astros would steal a win over New York on May 9th when Garner scored from third while Heep was arguing a call with the first base umpire. Time out had not been called. Scott picked up his first win as an Astro on June 4th with a four-hit shutout of the Reds. Ashby saw to it that the game would not be close, banging a pair of two-run homers as well as a two-run triple in the 13-0 whitewash. Scott would shut out the Braves on June 21st.
Two players made the All-Star team with surprise performances. Dickie Thon had a breakout season, leading the team in homers (20) and steals (34) while batting .286. Such power from a shortstop was rare, particularly when the player spent half of his time in the cavernous Astrodome. The other surprise was rookie reliever Bill Dawley who won six and saved 14 out of the bullpen. Thon singled at the All-Star Game while Dawley pitched 1-1/3rd innings of scoreless relief.
Lefthander Frank DiPino was another pleasant surprise, saving twenty games. Joe Niekro again led the club in wins with 15 while Ryan notched 14 victories and Scott ten. Jose Cruz had his best season with a .318 average, 14 homers and 92 RBIs. Knight batted .304 and drove in 70 runs.
Omar The Outmaker wore out his welcome, getting traded to the Yankees in August for outfielder Jerry Mumphrey. While Mumphrey was also suspect as a hitter, at least he didn't cost as much. A switch-hitter, Mumphrey impressed his new bosses with a .336 average the rest of the season, nearly 100 points better than Moreno's average.
The slow start put Houston behind all season. They climbed to an 85-77 record for third place, just six games behind the division-champion Dodgers. They just never seemed to be in the pennant chase though. Talk in Houston during the winter focused on how to avoid another April slump.By Astro Daily
- 3000 strikeouts, Alan Ashby, Andre Dawson, Art Howe, Babe Ruth, Bill Dawley, Bill Doran, Brad Mills, Charlie Lea, Danny Heep, Dickie Thon, Frank DiPino, Frank LaCorte, Houston Astros, J.R. Richard, Jerry Mumphrey, Joe Niekro, Joe Sambito, Jose Cruz, Mike Scott, Nolan Ryan, Omar Moreno, Phil Garner, Ray Knight, Steve Carlton, Tony Scott, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson