We're at the fourth installment of this series on the top All-Star moments in Astros history. This one is a first for Houston, the first time an Astros pitcher started an All-Star Game, as J.R. Richard took the mound in 1980.
Richard had made his name as one of the most intimidating pitchers in the game since Bob Gibson. Part of that was because Richard had a little of Nuke Laloosh in him; he didn't always know where the ball was going to go. I'm being slightly facetious, but Richard did have his own Nolan Ryan streak of control problems along with big strikeout numbers.
He probably deserved to make the All-Star Game before this time, since he had won 74 games in the previous four seasons, including three straight seasons of 18 wins and an NL-leading 2.71 ERA in 1979. This was his breakthrough season, and he definitely deserved to be honored by starting the 1980 game.
He came out with a bang, too, getting Willie Randolph to ground out to lead off the first before walking Rod Carew. Richard then induced a grounder from Fred Lynn to third and struck out Mr. October, Reggie Jackson to end the inning.
Richard opened the second with a walk to Ben Oglivie, but came right back to strike out Carlton Fisk. Graig Nettles then fouled out to third base before Bucky Dent picked up the only hit Richard gave up with a single to right. With runners on first and third, Richard shut down the threat by striking out opposing starter Steve Stone to end the threat.
This game was on July 8. Richard would start another game on July 14, but had to leave after 3 1/3 innings when he felt his arm go "dead" and had trouble seeing Alan Ashby's signs. He was in the process of having a stroke that would end his career, culminating in his collapse on the field on July 30. Richard would never pitch in the majors again.
It was a bitter end to a brilliant, short career. At the very least, Houston fans got to see Richard start the All-Star Game and face down the best that the American League had to offer. The NL All-Stars went on to win the '80 game but it was Jerry Reuss who got the decision. It would be eight more seasons before an Astros pitcher started the All-Star Game, when Mike Scott got the nod in '88. The only other Astro to get the nod was Roger Clemens in 2004.