On this date in 2006, the Houston Astros played the Pittsburgh Pirates.
After thoughtful consideration and suggestions from the comments, I tweaked my selection process for a less “random” random plate appearance. I randomized the year, picked today’s date, and searched for the most impactful plate appearance in the contest. I landed on 2006.
Over their first 60 seasons, the Houston Astros have tasted the sweetness of victory and the agony of defeat in near-equal bites. Currently sporting a .499 franchise winning percentage, the 2006 Houston Astros entered their contest on May 28 with a 25-25 record, seven-and-a-half games behind the National League Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals. Their opponents, the Pirates, were dead last in the same race, at 16-33.
Of course, the Astros were in the midst of their post World Series loss hangover. They had made the postseason in six of the previous nine campaigns, culminating in their first ever World Series appearance. After getting unceremoniously swept by the Chicago White Sox, there would be nine straight years of no postseason for Houston.
But Houston fans didn’t really know that at the time. In baseball, perhaps more than in anything else, hope springs eternal. This year could be the year...said everyone, every year, forever, in every city with a team.
The Bucs started Oliver Peréz (2-5, 6.04) on the hill. He was in his fifth major league season and with his second team after starting his career with the San Diego Padres. Pérez is still a very active player, now in his 20th season, he’s with the Arizona Diamondbacks for a second tour. He also pitched in 22 games for the Astros in 2015.
The Astros turned to rookie right-hander Fernando Nieve (1-3, 5.36). Nieve would pitch in a total of 99 major league contests, including 11 starts and 40 relief appearances for Houston.
Setting the Scene
Neither team got on the board until Jason Bay touched Nieve in the fourth inning with a solo home run. Jose Bautista put the game nearly out of reach in the seventh with a three-run homer to make it 4-0, Pirates. Relieved by Mike Gallo two batters later, Nieve finished the night in position to suffer the loss. He allowed the four runs, all earned, on two walks and six hits, striking out five and getting 69-of-103 pitches over the plate to finish with a 49 GameScore.
The game remained 4-0 in favor of Pittsburgh until the top of the ninth. Morgan Ensberg, Mike Lamb, and Preston Wilson opened the inning with back-to-back-to-back singles, followed by a Jason Lane walk to put the Astros on the board. Eric Bruntlett singled in Lamb, Mike Gonzalez walked in Wilson, and and Brad Ausmus drove home Lane with a sacrifice fly to even the score. Lance Berkman grounded out with runners on first and second to end Houston’s chances in regulation.
Chad Qualls burnt through the Pirates in the bottom of the ninth, inducing two ground outs and collecting a whiff, while taking only nine pitches to accomplish it. The Astros led off the top half of the 10th with consecutive singles by Ensberg and Lamb.
The “Random” Plate Appearance
Enter Wilson with two on and nobody out. After taking two quick strikes, Wilson fouled off a pair then took ball one on the fifth pitch of the plate appearance. On the sixth offering, Wilson drove one right up the middle to score Ensberg. Lamb moved to second on the play, but the damage was done. Houston had started the plate appearance with a 70 percent chance at victory, and Wilson added 19 percent WPA in this plate appearance.
The Rest of the Game
Through the rest of the top half of the 10th, Lane bunted the runners up a base on a sacrifice, then Lamb was caught stealing home. Bruntlett flew out to end the frame. It was all over but the crying for the Buccos, even though Ronnie Paulino opened the inning with a single off reliever Brad Lidge. Mike Edwards sacrificed Lidge to second, but Ryan Doumit struck out and Jack Wilson grounded out to first, stranding pinch runner Jose Hernandez
I couldn’t find any footage of this particular contest, but this is the closest I could find. Check it out if you miss the mid-2000’s version of the Astros.
After the Astros won this contest, they were the only NL Central team that won more than they lost through the rest of the campaign, going 56-55 to finish 82-80. It wasn’t enough, as the Cardinals clung to a 1.5 game lead to end the season.
Despite having the worst record of the eight postseason teams, the Cardinals defeated the Padres, three-games-to-one and the New York Mets in seven games before taking down the Detroit Tigers in five for the World Championship.
Ausmus would go on to win his third and final Gold Glove at the age of 37. Berkman made his fourth All Star team and finished third in the NL MVP race. Biggio, already 40, played through this season and the next, finishing with 3,060 hits and getting into the Hall of Fame in his third year of eligibility, in 2015.