For one night, the eyes of Texas (and the nation) were upon them.
For one night in what could be a long season, the Astros held everyone’s attention.
Expectations are so bad, both in Houston and among national baseball writers, that the Astros couldn’t just show up for their first game as an American League team against the Texas Rangers.
They needed to make a statement.
The Astros didn’t need to win. That might have been asking too much. They just needed to compete. They needed to show they could play with the big boys, that they hadn’t damaged the Integrity of the Game.
Houston’s no-name roster may be a source of amusement for the rest of MLB, but they can play . Who’s in center? His name is Justin Maxwell and he put a couple of exclamation points on Opening Night with a highlight-reel catch in center and a two-run triple in the bottom of the fourth. The 29-year old Maxwell had 534 major league plate appearances heading into Sunday, his first time on an Opening Night roster.
He also led the Astros with 18 home runs last year, and that power/defense combination at a premium position should get him noticed soon enough.
How about Houston’s starter Bud Norris? The only way his name has been mentioned for month is in trade rumors. When the 28-year old right-hander was given the Opening Night nod, he said it was nice to be off of the “B-team.”
After striking out five in 5 2/3 innings of near-flawless work, Norris should get an “A” for his effort. He outdueled the Rangers’ Matt Harrison at home, where Norris posted a 1.77 ERA last season.
What about Jose Altuve, who had another multi-hit game? Everyone’s Favorite Second Baseman had 51 multi-hit games last season in 147 games played.
What about Rick Ankiel? The itinerant outfielder made Houston’s Opening Night as a non-roster invite to spring training. His pinch-hit three-run home run of Derek Lowe in the bottom of the sixth broke the game open and helped Houston coast to its first victory of the season.
The Astros didn’t have to win Sunday, but it sure helped that they did.
After Sunday, the losses may start piling up. After Sunday, the team will fall back into obscurity, followed by only the most fervent of fans. The national writers will go home and may not check back in on this club until the July trade deadline.
For now, though, Houston did what it needed to do. On baseball’s grand Opening Night, the Astros showed everyone they could hang with the big dogs in the American League.
It was only one game.
It was a start.