I have never considered myself to be a worrier by nature. Then along comes something to make me challenge the veracity of that notion.
Namely, the 2017 Houston Astros baseball season.
I’ve been an Astros fan for decades, long before the Astrodome became a tool shed for NRG Stadium, back when it was still rightfully renowned as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” As such, I should be enjoying the heck out of this season. And I am.
And yet I keep waiting for the roof to cave in. I can’t help it. It’s what I know.
Even after dropping a pair of consecutive games to the Kansas City Royals entering Wednesday night’s action, the Astros boasted the best record in baseball. By far. We’re talking a historically great pace — 42-18, a .700 winning percentage. Houston is 10 games over .500 at home, and a ridiculous 14 over on the road. Going into Wednesday, the Astros led the American League in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, runs, ERA, WHIP and strikeouts per nine innings.
It’s all so … weird. Not just the fact that the Astros are in the American League, either. (Even after nearly five years, I still haven’t completely gotten used to the Junior Circuit.)
Astros fans aren’t accustomed to such luster. That’s not to suggest that the franchise hasn’t fielded a boatload of legendary players or some highly successful teams. We admired the pop of the Toy Cannon, Jimmy Wynn. We cruised around the bases with Jose “Cheo” Cruuuuuuuuz. We hitched a ride on the Ryan Express, screamed “Yes!” as Mike Scott delivered a no-no when the ’Stros needed it most, and we admired the sting of the Killer B’s, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio.
We lived through the agony of the longest postseason game ever played – twice (in ’86 and again in 2005). Also in 2005, we danced with glee after — at long last — a trip to the World Series, only to see it go by quicker than J.R. Richard’s chin music.
Been here before
That 1998 bunch was pretty stinkin’ good. The ’Stros were rolling along at a breakneck clip, then rented a Big Unit for the stretch run. Randy Johnson helped chuck Houston to a 102-60 record — the best in franchise history — only to see it all disappear against Kevin Brown’s wicked voodoo offerings in the NLDS.
More often, the ’Stros have trended mediocre to bad. Or worse yet — resembling the sludge you find on the cellar floor. There have been times Astros fans have been tempted to wear a paper bag over our orange hats and rainbow jerseys. (Man, we look cool, don’t we?) From 2011-13, the Astros reached a new level of losing, recording a new franchise record for single-season losses in three consecutive seasons, with 106, 107 and 111 defeats.
Sadly, the joke at the time was that the Astros still had enough talent to win the World Series — the Triple-A World Series.
But by bottoming out like it did, Houston set itself up for a rapid launch back to relevance. The team used its litany of high first-round picks on several players who have now developed into club cornerstones – George Springer, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman.
What those guys have done this year is borderline insane. Bronx Bombers stuff, even. (Call ‘em the Buffalo Bayou Bashers, maybe?)
In a glorious May, the Astros went 22-7 and scored 40 runs, a franchise record for a month. Their record to this point in the season is the best in the franchise’s 57-year history — going back to the Colt .45 days — and they owned a 12-game lead in the AL West entering Wednesday. Oh, and remember those old struggles against the Texas Rangers? Amend your Texas history books, because that’s in the past. Houston has put a shiny silver boot in the Rangers’ collective behinds this year, having won six of seven matchups thus far.
Over the offseason, Houston GM Jeff Luhnow stockpiled several steady veteran hitters, Josh Reddick, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. They’ve added depth to a batting order that already featured the likes of Springer, Correa and my personal favorite player, Jose Altuve, the Little Slugger That Could, a guy you just want to put in your pocket and take home as a souvenir. Now the Astros lineup has more hits than the Beatles.
Gloom of history
For this particular Astros fan, it’s been euphoric and torturous at once. It just all seems so good to be true. Eleven-game winning streak? Cool, but it won’t last forever. (It didn’t.) Dallas Keuchel to the DL? Yeah, that seems about right.
I’m not a negative person by nature. It’s just I’ve seen this movie before. Sports disappointment is as familiar to Houston folks as 99-percent humidity.
I’m trying to enjoy the ride, really I am. It’s been exhilarating so far.
But when you ride around Houston-style, you’re always ready for the inevitable traffic jam.