When you're on the bottom, there's no place to go but up. The Astros climbed back into contention in a hurry but found the grade from there a lot steeper. When Dr. John McMullen sold the Astros to Drayton McLane, a grocery magnate from Temple, Texas, it was clear that someone had arrived that wanted to turn the team back into a winner. The Astrodome was refurbished yet again to appear more old-fashioned with manual scoreboards and dark green paint around the field. The Astros restyled their uniforms, dropping orange for gold in the color scheme. McLane brought back some heroes of seasons past and tried to win back some of the fans who fled during the previous years. Stung by free agent failures, McLane found it easier to develop stars than it was to sign them.
The Astros and their home park had trouble making ends meet so they were thrilled for the Astrodome to be declared the site for the 1992 Republican National Convention. But it was a little less thrilling to find out how it would affect their ballclub. The Astros were told they could not use the Dome for four weeks so it could be prepared for the four-day convention. The schedule makers got busy and came up with a plan that sent the team from coast to coast, playing 26 straight road games and visiting eight cities. It was, to use a phrase of the times, the "Mother Of All Road Trips".
The good news, of course, was that the Astros spent much of the season at home to compensate for a month on the road. Art Howe tried to get his young lineup to gel as a team but there were struggles, particularly with the pitching staff. The front office wasn't afraid to bring in veterans off the scrap heap so long as they didn't cost much.
One such veteran was Pete Incaviglia, the sort of slugger one would picture having problems in the cavernous Astrodome. He batted .266 with eleven homers in a part-time role. His best day came on June 14th when he smashed two homers and tied the club record with seven RBIs during a 15-7 donnybrook with the Giants.
Another veteran was Doug Jones, one of the most unique pitchers in baseball history. While every other pitcher was judged on how fast his pitches flew, Jones took the road less traveled. Unable to make the majors with normal stuff, Doug developed a change-up pitch that was devastatingly slow! Hitters were tied in knots just waiting for his pitches to arrive at the plate. Their timing ruined, batters would flail into pop-ups and dribblers. The pitch was so slow that it made his "fastball" equally effective. The 35-year-old set a new club record with 36 saves while leading the team with eleven victories. He had a hand in more than half of the Houston wins that season.
Halfway through the campaign, the team limped along in fifth place. On June 28th, they were shook by a mild earthquake while in Los Angeles. They were nine games below .500. To a man, they hoped the temblor was not an omen of the big trip to come.
With the second-worst road record in the league, the Astros began their 1,337-mile odyssey in Atlanta on July 27th where they toppled the Braves, 5-1. Onward they ventured to Cincinnati, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Chicago before a 36-hour overnighter in Houston. Then it was back to the air for St. Louis and Philadelphia before they could put a home jersey back on. Players were given additional meal money and laundry money for the long journey.
The concentrated time spent on airplanes and buses helped to bring the club together. Their play improved, going 12-14 on the mammoth trip. On their first game back in the Dome, rookie Andujar Cedeno became the third Astro to hit for the cycle. They still lost to the Cardinals, 5-3, in 13 innings.
The rededicated unit put on a final spurt to reach the .500 mark at 81-81. It was fitting for Jones to finish the season on a positive note. The young Astros ended in fourth place but they had to feel good given how far they'd come.
Steve Finley led the club in average (.292), hits (177) and stolen bases (44). Craig Biggio, who converted from catcher to second baseman, swiped 38 bases and hit .277. Jeff Bagwell swatted 18 home runs and drove in a team-leading 96 runs. It is rare for any player to play all 162 games in a season but Finley, Biggio and Bagwell each did it in 1992. Given the grueling schedule, perhaps that feat was the most astounding one of all.By Astro Daily
- Houston Astros