Through their first 61 seasons of existence to this point, the Houston Astros have played in a total of 9,656 regular season and postseason contests.
Rich with both good and bad moments, the Houston Astros have enjoyed 61 seasons of Major League Baseball. I thought it would be a fun thought exercise to do a series based on randomly generated plate appearances. I used random.org to generate a year from 1962 to 2022 (I landed on 1987), a game from one through 162 (98), and a plate appearance from one to 76 (six).
This particular combination of digits landed me on baseball-reference.com, a box score from July 26, 1987, and an inning called “first.”
The Houston Astros, coming into the action at 48-49 but somehow just 3.5 games back in a “middle-heavy” NL West (behind the 52-46 Cincinnati Reds), were on the road against the 53-44 New York Mets, who were 8.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL East. The game was the final contest in a four-game set, and the Astros were looking to earn a split.
Dwight Gooden (7-3, 2.78) was starting for the Mets. Already a three-time All Star and still just 22-years-old, Gooden and the Mets were at the time the defending MLB champs (incidentally eliminating the Astros in the 1986 NLCS). The Astros started Danny Darwin (7-6, 3.38). The then 31-year-old was in the 10th season of an eventual 21-season MLB career. Although Darwin never earned a selection to the All Star team, he did lead the NL in 1990 with a 2.21 ERA and a MLB-leading 1.027 WHIP while still with Houston.
In the top of the first inning, Billy Hatcher led off with a single against Gooden, then immediately stole second base. After a Bill Doran groundout, Hatcher was picked off second base, but somehow made it to third on a Gooden throwing error (failed rundown). Gooden then induced a Denny Walling infield fly out and a Glenn Davis 6-3 groundout.
Darwin quickly got Lenny Dykstra to fly out, and Wally Backman (our plate appearance focus), lined out to Astros shortstop Craig Reynolds. Darwin made it a 1-2-3 frame by getting Keith Hernandez to fly out to Hatcher.
As far as the focal point of this article, I could have picked a better one, but it was randomly generated. I’m going to stick with the random element, and publish as many of these as I can until somebody takes me away.
The Astros entered the Backman plate appearance with a 47 percent chance of victory and exited it with a 49 percent chance of victory. A leverage index of 0.61 indicates that the situation wasn’t particularly impactful. Still, any plate appearance can be the one that tilts a ballgame one way or the other. It just wasn’t in this case. That would come in the ninth inning.
Eventually, the Mets got on the board first with a fourth-inning one-out RBI-single from Hernandez, scoring Dykstra from second. Darwin exited the ballgame with the score still 1-0 after six innings. He had surrendered a total of four hits and one walk, striking out four and getting through a total of 22 batters.
Still 1-1 in the bottom half of the eighth, Charlie Kerfeld issued one out walks to both Dykstra and Backman, and was replaced by Dave Meads. Meads got Hernandez out before allowing Darryl Strawberry to load the bases with an infield single. Kevin McReynolds knocked in the go-ahead run by drawing a walk before Howard Johnson struck out.
Going into the top half of the ninth, the Astros had just a 16 percent chance of victory. Two quick outs courtesy of reliever Jesse Orosco had dropped Houston’s chances to just four percent, but then something happened. Caminiti and Davey Lopes both hit singles, then Gerald Young knocked in Caminiti to tie the score. Hatcher then hit the ball deep over the left field wall for a 5-2 lead.
A road win against the defending champs, and a series split to boot. The Astros improved to .500 (for at least a day), and moved up a full game on the Reds, who had lost 6-0 to the Montreal Expos.
Feeling nostalgic? I couldn’t find an archive of this particular game, but I did find this one from just two weeks prior to it.
The Astros went 27-37 through the last 64 games of the season to land in third place at 76-86. Having just tasted the playoffs, the team wouldn't return to postseason play until 1997.
So, what do you remember of Darwin, Hatcher, and the rest of the 1987 team? Before your time? This was dead-set in the era in which I was collecting ALL of the baseball cards I could get my hands on, but living in South Florida, I didn’t really have a team. I just loved statistics. Now I can look at more statistics than I could ever imagine back then.
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