The 1990s would see the Astros bring up from the minors a steady stream of outfield candidates with high expectations. There was Eric Anthony, who could hit the ball far, just not frequently. He was traded to Seattle after the 1993 season for pitcher Mike Hampton. There was Kenny Lofton who got the "cup of coffee" in 1991 before being dealt to Cleveland. In 1994, it was James Mouton whom the crowd serenaded with "Mooooo" as they had done for Jose "Cruuuuuz" for many years. He stayed for four years but saw his playing time diminish each season.
The latest "can't-miss" kid was Brian Hunter who looked like a clone of Gerald Young. He was lanky, thin and blazingly quick. He was called up in June of the 1995 season and hit .302 with 24 stolen bases.
In his first full season as an Astro, Hunter led the club with 35 steals while batting .276. But Brian walked just 17 times while striking out on 92 occasions. He infuriated Terry Collins with defensive and baserunning mistakes. A rib injury complicated matters but pitchers were starting to find the holes in his swing. How many times had the front office wished they hadn't traded Lofton?
At least they could console themselves with the theft of Jeff Bagwell. That 1990 deal continued to pay big dividends as Jeff, now sporting a thickly-padded batting glove over his fragile left hand, paced the ballclub with 31 homers, 120 RBIs and a .312 average. His 48 doubles led the league.
Derek Bell's average fell to .263 but he protected Bagwell in the batting order to the tune of 17 home runs, 113 RBIs, 40 doubles and 29 steals. Sean Berry, acquired before the season from Montreal, took over at third base and swatted 17 long balls, drove in 95 runs and batted .281. Along with Craig Biggio, the heart of Houston's lineup had a consonant in common. They were dubbed "The Killer B's".
While the "B's" buzzed the basepaths, the pitching staff underwent more changes. 22 hurlers took the mound for Houston during the course of the season. Shane Reynolds, perhaps the least heralded of Houston's arms, quietly led the club with 16 victories. Darryl Kile bounced back from a 4-12 season to win a dozen. Hampton emerged as a starter and claimed ten wins. As for Doug Drabek and Greg Swindell, they finished the year with losing records and left town, seemingly as human reminders to Drayton McLane about big-name free agents. It's a lesson that has stuck with him ever since.
Another lefthander that saw action was Billy Wagner, a hard-throwing reliever who could light the third digit on those radar guns. He came up in mid-season and won two games while saving nine. He fanned 67 batters in 52 innings.
The Astros finished with an 82-80 mark but landed in second behind St. Louis while Ken Caminiti and Steve Finley led San Diego to a division crown. Terry Collins was sacrificed on the altar of dashed pennant hopes.
After the season, Hunter was sent to Detroit in another mega-trade. Shortstop Orlando Miller and pitchers Doug Brocail and Todd Jones went with him. Detroit gave up catcher Brad Ausmus, who would immediately straighten up the mess behind home plate. A throw-in to the deal was an excitable Dominican pitcher named Jose Lima. The Astros wouldn't need Hunter in the lineup. They had an outfielder named Bob Abreu to take his place. The scouts said he couldn't miss.By Astro Daily
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