In an alternate universe, the Astros are scheduled to play the Royals later today at the alluring Kaufman Stadium. Spring is firmly in the air and a deadly pandemic isn’t reshaping society as we know it. Overpriced tickets and mediocre concessions are among the few, if insignificant, scourges of the day for a baseball fan. In this reality, George Springer leads the Astros with 13 dingers while a makeshift rotation led by Zack Greinke holds down the fort as Justin Verlander inches closer to a potential return. The club by the way holds a slight lead in the AL West just 34 games into the season. Boos and jeers are obviously present on the road as fallout from the sign-stealing scandal, but the vitriol ebbs and flows based on the day and opponent. Although strife and trouble remain in this other world, a couple hour respite in the form of a baseball game is still readily available.
However, this is simply not the true reality of today. The world remains in higher than usual turmoil and baseball is not high on the priority list right now for a lot of people. For good reason, I might add. That said, I do search for a brief reprieve at various points of the day and baseball still fits the bill. Past baseball, sure, but you have to take those reprieves where you can find them.
In one instance a couple of weeks back, I decided to rewatch a game from September 13, 2007 when Woody Williams and Steve Trachsel went head-to-head at Minute Maid Park. Don’t let the excitement overwhelm you.
If this pitching matchup fails to catch your attention, I don’t blame you. It wasn’t a high-stakes showdown between two great pitchers in the thick of a pennant race; no, both pitchers were honestly shells of their past selves by this point in time. After all, Williams made only one more major league start after this game and he lasted just 1⁄3 of an inning. Trachsel would appear in just eleven more games as a major league pitcher after this one. While the Cubs were jostling with the Brewers atop of the NL Central, the Astros were fighting to stave off a last place finish. Houston was merely hoping to play the role of spoiler to Chicago’s postseason hopes.
The game itself got off to an ominous start, thanks to a leadoff home run by Alfonso Soriano. Just like that the Astros win expectancy dropped to 40.4 percent.
The first inning was really the story of this game. In addition to Soriano’s solo blast, Aramis Ramirez hit his own three-run shot to the Crawford Boxes to extend the early lead to 4-0 before a single out is recorded. The win expectancy was now 17.3 percent. There was a reason that the Astros were 63-82 heading into the game and it was made apparent from the very first at-bat.
And who else besides me forgot Eric Munson was the Astros backup catcher in 2007?
I actually spent half the game wondering why the Pirates ever freaking traded Aramis Ramirez to the Cubs in the first place back in 2003. The Astros, for agonizing context, finished one game back of Chicago in the NL Central to miss the postseason altogether. Ramirez and his fellow trade mate, and former Astro, Kenny Lofton posted a combined 3.0 fWAR for the Cubs following that season’s trade deadline. It is possible that the Astros would’ve won the NL Central that season if the Cubs didn’t acquire Ramirez and Lofton. A trade made possible thanks to a season-ending injury to Corey Patterson.
The Astros were never particularly close to winning that day. A pair of solo home runs by Carlos Lee and Mark Loretta in the fourth inning did halve the Cubs lead to 4-2, but it was all for naught. Chicago would eventually add to the lead with a pair of solo home runs of their own with Daryle Ward in the fifth and Cliff Floyd in the seventh. The Astros were basically listless that day. Only one baserunner would reach in the final three frames for Houston — a walk by Josh Anderson with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
That said, it was nice to break up the monotony of daily life. The game brought back some fond memories of seasons past, even the losing ones. If anything else, this current reality has taught me to not take things for granted, even bad baseball.