My first Minute Maid Park play-by-play.
The 2008 Houston Astros made their home debut tonight, so Astro-Girl and I proceeded to our usual Opening Day Stations in our partial season-ticket seats.
(Have you ever been asked what law you could pass, if ever you could pass, by fiat, a law? I've long had the answer, up to now: Opening Day should be a national holiday. (One of my students informed me that a holiday was not technically a "law," but never mind.) Now I think I've got it. In all 29 American baseball cities (can't help Toronto) that city team's home opener should be a city holiday. Close the schools, close the banks, have one big party.)
It's odd, having a home opener after your team has been on the road; odder still to have a home opener after a bruising seven-game road trip against, first, a pennant contender (San Diego) and, second, a hated division arch-rival (the Cubs).
Some teams are just, "Huh?" Last year, the Mets. Year before, the Phillies. This year, we may be looking at the Astros. They've got veteran power/average (Tejada, Berkman, Lee), promising youth (Pence, Towles, Bourn), and a massive upgrade defensively, with Bourn patrolling Minute Maid's immense center field, Pence (last year at center) moving his range and cannon arm to right, and Kaz Matsui (soon as he can, ah, sit down) taking over at second for the sainted Bidge. Plus, defensively, Towles has a better arm than Ausmus, though it remains if he can even come close to Ausmus's wizardry with the pitching staff: calling pitches, calling timeouts, the intangibles that made Brad essentially a second pitching coach on the field. Whatever the team lost, trading Adam Everett's range at short for Miguel Tejada's, they almost make up for it with Mickey's arm.
Offensively, the team has upgraded or stayed the same at every position. At catcher, Towles can hit for distance. Infield: Berkman will be better than last year--healthier, anyway. Matsui will improve over Bidge. Tejada v. Everett? Please. Wigginton will, merciful God, take us away from the Ensberg/Lamb psychodrama. Call it five upgrades.
The outfield? Position-by-position, Pence will be a huge upgrade over Scott/Lane in right. Bourn will be slightly down from Pence (not as much power). Lee will be Lee: pencil him in for 150 games, 35 homers, 130 RBIs, a .290 average. Call it a wash.
Starting pitching. So far, Backe, Chacon, Wandy and Sampson have actually exceeded expectations, and kept the Astros in every game they pitched. Their record in starts? 3-3. Meaning: it falls to the early disappointment, Royo, to pick up the slack.
Relief pitching. Well? They can't hold leads, they can't hold ties, they can't keep the team close in close games. Otherwise, they've been fine. Is "Valverde" Spanish for "Lidge"?