Is Houston Astros' Opening-Day Loss Cause for Concern?

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Is Houston Astros' Opening-Day Loss Cause for Concern?
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New year, same result for the Houston Astros.

Roy Oswalt takes the mound and, for the first game of the season and coming off a season of injuries, pitches a decent game: six innings, seven hits, three earned runs, three strikeouts.

His team goes out and gets four hits against two-time Cy Young Award-winning San Francisco Giants hurler Tim Lincecum. They also strike out seven times, draw no walks, and score no runs.

End result: Giants 5, Astros 2.

If Waylon Jennings were still alive, he no doubt would throw his arm around Roy O and offer to write a song of condolence for him. Opening night was a typical depressing country music song for the Astros and Oswalt, minus the loss of sobriety, your girlfriend, your pickup truck, your chewing tobacco, and your basset hound.

Just think of what it would've been had Barry Bonds still been playing for the Giants. He probably would've drawn 15 intentional walks and then hit a home run that would've landed somewhere near Amarillo. And he still would've found time to be grouchy towards autograph seekers.

Okay, it may be first-game jitters, but I'm already frustrated. The Houston Astros will never, ever, ever, ever become a World Series-caliber team until they learn to get hits off the great pitchers. Sorry, but four scattered hits isn't getting it done.

This reminds me of all the times the Astros' bats have consistently grown frustratingly quiet against Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Carlos Zambrano, and Chris Carpenter.

I remember how Glavine owned the Astros in the 2001 NLDS while Maddux pitched decently against Houston. It seemed like Houston had simply struggled against better pitching, until the Arizona Diamondbacks proved a team with good, solid clutch hitting could get hits and score runs off The Professor and Tommy G.

(Or maybe the NLCS umpires actually made Maddux and Glavine throw strikes instead of giving them a strike zone the size of Montana).

Over the years I've seen many Houston hitters come and go. I remember that dreadful 1987 season when Rafael Ramirez led the Astros in hitting with a .276 batting average. There have been the many hitting coaches hired and fired.

Maybe the Astros should just get back to the basics of hitting. Perhaps hitting coach Sean Berry should have the Waylon Jennings/Willie Nelson hit "Luckenbach, Texas" blare through the loud speakers as he takes a Vince Lombardi approach to improving Houston's hitting.

Sean Berry (holding a ball): Gentlemen, this is a baseball.

Astros players (wide-eyed in unison): Wowwww!

SB (holding a bat): Gentlemen, this is a baseball bat.

Players (wide-eyed in unison): Ooooooo!

SB: Your job is to use this bat to hit this ball and get to first base before the other team has a chance to get you out. Got it?

Players: Yes, coach.

SB (uses the bat as a pretend guitar, strums and sings): "Let's go to Minute Maid Park, Texas, with Bagwell, Biggio, and the boys. This hitless life we're livin' has got us feuding like Cecil Cooper and Ed Wade. Between Bob Knepper pain songs, Drayton McLane's train songs, and blue eyes cryin' in frustration in the rain, out in Minute Maid Park, Texas, we don't want Astros hitters feelin' no more pain."

Maybe tonight will be different. I hope so. Successful baseball's like a stew: It requires the right ingredients mixed together and cooked properly. If opening night's indicative of Houston's hitting for 2010, then Houston, we have a problem.

Richard Zowie blogs about the Houston Astros and longs for the day when the team's the talk of baseball. He's looking forward to April 10, when the Astros will wear REAL uniforms when they don their throwback, blue-and-orange shooting star look and temporarily ditch the Astros-on-a-Train motif. Post comments here or e-mail richardzowie@gmail.com .

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