Through my 50-plus years of Houston Astros fandom, this week brought what I’m almost certain to be a first: I attended two games in one series.
It’s possible I’ve done it before, but I don’t think so. That goes for the regular season and the playoffs. I saw my first Astros playoff game in person in 2005, joining my dear college friend and junior-year dorm roommate Gerald and his kids, Haley and Russell, to watch our team outlast the Atlanta Braves in a six-hour, 18-inning marathon, winning 7-6 on Chris Burke’s laser into the left-field seats to clinch the National League Division Series in Houston in four games.
Since I haven’t lived in the Houston area since my college summers in the early 1980s — moving on to work at newspapers in Odessa, Fort Worth and now Dallas for 22-plus years after graduating from Texas A&M in 1983 — only on special trips for regular-season and playoff games have I (and often Kay) seen the Astros play in Houston over the past four decades.
And only since they joined the American League in 2013 have we thankfully had the opportunity to catch them in our backyard, playing the Texas Rangers on the north side of Arlington — about a 25-minute drive from where we’ve lived in the southwest corner of the city in the same home for 26 years as of Father’s Day.
When the season started in April after a lockout-delayed spring training, I checked the Astros’ schedule to see when they’d be in Arlington. Almost always, we pick a weekend series to see them, since my days off have been Sundays and Mondays for as long as I can remember, going back to my days at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (1987-2000).
So, I was disappointed to see that the Astros wouldn’t be visiting the Rangers on a weekend. Instead, their nine games in Arlington were scheduled on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in April, June and August, so I’d either need to go on a Monday off or ask my Dallas Morning News boss Denise for a day/night off to attend one of the others.
I decided I’d like to go to at least a couple of games, so I checked with some fellow Astros fans to see who might be up for going with me. I thought about the Monday night game on the Astros’ first visit in April but ended up skipping that series, partly because they came in slumping a bit (they lost the first game but won the next three).
My longtime friend and former Star-Telegram colleague Roger Pinckney, whose wife Diane I also worked with at the S-T, and I agreed we’d go to this week’s Monday game. I was already off, but he’d have to schedule a vacation day, and his adult son Andy decided to come with us. They had joined Kay and me for a forgettable Astros-Rangers game last year too — a late-August matchup where the home team crushed our guys 13-2.
My college friend and senior-year dorm roommate Bobby Nagel, who’d moved from Houston to Frisco north of Dallas with wife Annette last year, and I hadn’t gone to a game together since their move. They were coming back from a cruise Monday and couldn’t make that night’s game.
But they could make it to Wednesday’s game, an early afternoon “getaway day” contest, so Bobby ordered tickets for that one. As the series developed, the third game turned out to be the rubber match after the Astros and Rangers split the first two.
In addition to Bobby and Annette, their two grown kids, Amanda and Macie, and Amanda’s family — husband Jeremy and adorable kiddos Joshua (5) and Adleigh (3) — would be joining us. I haven’t seen ANY of them in years and had never met the little ones. Amanda and Jeremy are both teachers in Plano ISD.
As Bobby remembered while we were at the game, he and I hadn’t seen each other since October 2019, when we attended Game 1 of the ALCS between the Astros and Yankees at Minute Maid Park in Houston with Beverly Fluke, another college friend, and her husband, Bob. Aside from the company, that was a miserable game, won by the hated Yanks 7-0, but the Astros came back to win the series in six games before being upset by the Washington Nationals in the World Series as the visiting team won every game.
That’s an awful lot of buildup, but suffice to say I had a memorable, awesome time at both Astros games this week. Although Roger and I watched in frustration and misery as American League West-leading Houston blew an early 3-0 lead to lose Monday’s opener 5-3, we still had a great three and a half hours catching up and watching the Astros. Not only is Roger a hell of a nice guy, he’s great company and an Astros fan, and we had fantastic seats in Section 213 just to the left of home plate — so what more can you ask for?
On Wednesday as we sat on the front row of Section 210 just past third base, the Astros built another early lead — but this time, they piled up six runs in the first inning. And this time, there was never any real worry that the Rangers would climb back, as the Astros added on with home runs by catcher Martin Maldonado and struggling first baseman Yuli Gurriel (last year’s AL batting champ) to win easily, 9-2.
To make it an even more improbably memorable day, Astros starter Luis Garcia and reliever Phil Maton accomplished the rare baseball feat known as an immaculate inning — which, as big a baseball fan as I’ve been for as long as I have, I went many years not realizing as “a thing.” Both posted pristine innings, in the second and seventh, by retiring THE SAME THREE HITTERS on nine consecutive strikes — giving the Astros a feat that no team had ever managed twice in one game. In fact, in MLB history, there’d only been 103 immaculate innings thrown period, so that shows you the record-book rarity of what those guys did.
I’ll be honest: I did so much visiting that when Garcia achieved his immaculate gem, I didn’t realize it because I hadn’t been paying close enough attention. Some fan I am. It took Roger — my buddy who’d gone to Monday’s game with me — sending a text to an Astros fans group chat we keep open, saying, “I just realized Garcia had an immaculate inning in the 2nd!” When Maton threw another in the seventh, we were all on top of it. So was Roger: “Maton just did it! In the same game! Same 3 Rangers hitters, incredible!”
The first inning lasted forever. Officially, the game’s first pitch was thrown at 1:08 (instead of the 1:05 start time), and by the time the Astros scored their 6 runs and Garcia labored through 30 pitches while giving up a run in the bottom half, it was almost 1:55. (I didn’t look at my watch until about a minute after the inning ended, so my estimate is that it lasted 46.)
But after that dragged-out frame, somehow the game in front of just under 25,000 fans was played in less than three hours — 2:45, in fact, meaning the last eight innings were probably played in just a smidge under two hours. That’ll happen when your pitchers limit the other team to six baserunners — four hits, a walk and an error (when a line drive broke through the webbing of shortstop Aledmys Diaz’s glove) — and you strike ’em out 14 times.
For Dusty Baker, in his third season as the Astros’ manager, it was a great way to celebrate his 73rd birthday. It also gave him 2,026 career wins as field boss of five major-league teams, all of which he’s guided to the postseason. He’s still looking for that elusive first World Series title. It’s my gut feeling he’ll retire after this season, so if he’s going to take one into the Hall of Fame, this may be his last shot.
As we were walking down to go back out into the 100-degree heat after sitting in air-conditioned comfort with the roof of Globe Life Field closed (THAT’S why the residents of our fair city approved bonds in 2016 to build the stadium with the retractable roof), I realized we hadn’t taken a group photo. We went over to an open area with the field and one of the video boards as a backdrop, and I asked a nearby Arlington police officer if he had time to take a picture of us. (He ended up taking 10.)
I chatted with the officer for a moment afterward and said I realized he was probably a Rangers fan and thanked him for taking photos of us, since several of us were wearing Astros gear. Not a problem, he said — sharing that he’s a St. Louis Cardinals fan, along with the boast that his franchise has plenty of championships (I checked, and they’ve won 11 to lead National League teams and second to the Yankees’ uncatchable 27).
One quick note about my longtime friend Bobby, whom I’ve known since our freshman year at A&M. An early-to-bed-and-early-to-rise guy, he not only managed to attend an early afternoon baseball game with us. Waking up at his usual 5:30, he also ran almost 4 miles that morning AND got in a round of golf (I assume only nine holes, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he somehow squeezed in 18). He’s run almost 30 half-marathons in a slew of states and five full marathons. I don’t know where he gets the energy to do what he does. Bobby, who’s 62, retired this past spring but is still working 10 hours a week for his old civil engineering company.
Late in the game and while I was making the long walk back to my car, I felt a building sore throat. I chalked it up to all the talking I’d spent the afternoon doing. More on the real cause in my next post on Father’s Day.
Hint: It wasn’t from talking.