The Houston Astros have been around in one form or another for over 60 seasons now.
Today’s article is about when they were “another.” The Astros made their debut in 1962 as the Houston Colt .45s, and used the moniker for three campaigns before coming to their senses.
I used the random number generator over at random.org in order to choose a year, honed in on this date, and pored over the box score for the most impactful plate appearance in the contest.
The Houston Colt .45s entered the contest on June 4, 1964 with a 21-27 record. To date, this was the best 48-game won-loss record over their brief history. The resultant .438 winning percentage was good for ninth in the 10-team National League, better only than one team.
As luck would have it, that club was the opponent on today’s focus, the similarly fledgling New York Mets. The Mets were 15-32, with a deplorable .319 winning percentage. Neither team would so much as sniff the postseason until the “Miracle Mets” of 1969.
The Mets were relying on left-handed starter Al Jackson, a five-foot-10 native of Waco, TX. In his fifth major league season of an eventual 10-season career, Jackson entered the game with a record of 3-7, a decent 3.67 ERA, and a 1.167 WHIP, along with an opposing slashline of .242/.295/.368.
The Colt .45s turned to then-two-time All Star righty Turk Farrell. Farrell entered the game with a 7-1 record, a 2.14 ERA, a .220/.277/.332 line, and a 1.055 WHIP. Studly stuff, to be sure. In his ninth season of major league play, Farrell would eventually pitch 14 seasons at baseball’s top level, including five-and-a-half seasons for Houston.
Setting the Scene
Jesse Gonder got the Mets on the board first with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the first. In the top of the second, Bob Lillis paid it back with an RBI-single scoring Bob Aspromonte. Roy McMillan brought home another run in the bottom of that inning with another sacrifice fly off Farrell. Rusty Staub took first base leading off the fourth by getting hit by a pitch.
The Random Plate Appearance
With Staub on first, Colt .45s catcher John Bateman drove a double to deep left field on a rope. Staub moved to third. Even though it wasn’t a scoring play, the encounter tipped the scales by a game-high .150 WPA. Houston started this particular plate appearance with a 41 percent chance of victory, and ended it with a 56 percent chance.
The Rest of the Game
After Farrell struck out, Lillis drove Staub home with a single, followed by a two-run single courtesy of Eddie Kasko. Now leading 4-2, the Colt .45s had only to protect the lead.
Houston added to their lead in the sixth on a Mike White RBI-groundout. George Altman answered in kind in the bottom of the inning with an RBI-single off Farrell. Pulled at that point in favor of Don Larsen, Farrell earned a victory by striking out three over 5 1⁄3 innings. He gave up three runs, all earned, on seven hits and a pair of walks.
The .45s pulled away in the seventh when Jim Wynn then Staub each scored on separate errors for a 7-3 lead. Larsen earned a 10-out save, and when's the last time that you remember that happening? Larsen whiffed two over 3 1⁄3 hitless innings, walking one.
I couldn’t find this particular game, or any game from 1964 (except for radio archives, go figure) on YouTube. I did find this Colt .45s “autopsy” video. It’s worth a few minutes.
Neither Houston nor the Mets cleared the 40 percent mark the rest of the way. Still, the Colt .45s finished 13 games ahead of New York, closing the season at 66-96. Farrell made his third All Star team (of four). The Colt .45s no more, the rechristened Houston Astros would play the next 15 seasons without postseason baseball before finally making the playoffs in 1980.
Check back next Saturday as we take another look into Houston MLB history.