1978 - Season Recap
(c) Bob Hulsey

The Astros appeared to have a ceiling above them in more ways than one. While the Reds and Dodgers took turns dominating the division throughout the decade, the Astros seemed to be stuck in the neutral. 1978 proved to be a down year as the Astros fell to fifth place with a 74-88 mark. Part of the problem was money. The Astros were not active in the newly-formed free agent market and could not afford to bring in players who would cost a lot. Most of the Houston stars were developed by the club or acquired cheap like used cars. Ford Motor Credit Co. was actively searching for a buyer.

There was no depth to overcome ailments. Cesar Cedeno was lost for most of the season with a knee injury. Art Howe suffered a broken finger. The catching situation was a mess. So needy were they at one point that the Astros flew Luis Pujols in by helicopter from the minors where he was promptly dropped into action. Pujols batted .131 the rest of the season.

Jose Cruz took over as the leader on offense with a .315 average, 83 RBIs and 37 steals. Bob Watson, on a bit of a down year, still led the club with 14 homers. Enos Cabell set a club record with 195 hits. He also batted .295, drove in 71 runs and stole 33 bases.

The only man on the pitching staff who had an outstanding season was J.R. Richard. He fired back-to-back shutouts in May. In his last outing on September 28th against Atlanta, he struck out six to give him 303 strikeouts for the season. He was the first National League righthander to reach that plateau. To cap his day, J.R. homered off Larry McWilliams and won his 18th game of the year.

The Astros had a Hollywood ending to a game at Los Angeles on April 21st. Up by two with two men on in the bottom of the ninth, Watson stabbed a liner at first base and stepped on the bag for the second out. He then fired to Roger Metzger at second base who beat the Dodger runner to the bag, completing a triple play to win the ballgame. But Hollywood would wear Dodger Blue the rest of the season as L. A. won the National League crown.

While the year was lackluster, the pieces were beginning to fall into place for the future. Denny Walling, Dave Bergman and Rafael Landestoy were becoming talented reserves. Joe Niekro and Ken Forsch were turning into dependable starting pitchers. Lefty Joe Sambito was getting comfortable as the bullpen closer. The Astros were getting nearer to challenging for the first pennant in their history.

5th place, NL West

C Luis Pujols 111.131
1B Bob Watson 1479.289
2B Art Howe 755.293
3B Enos Cabell 771.295
SS Rafael Landestoy 09.266
LF Denny Walling 336.251
CF Terry Puhl 335.289
RF Jose Cruz 1083.315
IF Julio Gonzalez 116.233
OF Cesar Cedeno 723.281
IF Dave Bergman 012.231
C Bruce Bochy 315.266
Key PitchersWLERA
SP J.R. Richard 18113.11
SP Mark Lemongello 9143.94
SP Joe Niekro 14143.86
SP Tom Dixon 7113.99
SP Joaquin Andujar 573.42
CL Joe Sambito 493.07
RP Vern Ruhle 332.12
RP Ken Forsch 1062.70
RP Floyd Bannister 394.81

Richard: Righty strikeout record.
(c) Houston Astros

Sambito: becomes a dominant closer
(c) Houston Astros

From The AstrosDaily Media Library

1975 to 1978: A Change in Leadership - From "Houston Astros: A Silver Odyssey" - New men in charge and some shrewd personnel moves bring the budget-minded Astros back to contention. (2:07 - MLB video)

May 16, 1978 Terry Puhl and Enos Cabell team up against Steve Carlton. (1:06, Musser - Phillies)
Jun 28, 1978 Bob Watson breaks a scoreless tie with this shot. (0:55, Nuxhall - Reds)
Jun 28, 1978 Tom Dixon records his first big league shutout. (0:19, Brennaman - Reds)
Sep 19, 1978 J.R. Richard sets a league strikeout mark. (0:38, Elston - Astros)
Sep 28, 1978 J.R. Richard reaches 300 strikeouts against Atlanta. (0:40, Elston - Astros)

Trades and Transactions

Nov 18 1977 - Winter Major League Draft
- 3. drafted Oscar Zamora(P) from Chi-N

Nov 25 1977 - signed Jesus Alou(OF) as free agent

Nov 28 1977 - sent Art Gardner(OF) to SF-N for cash

Dec 5 1977 - traded Leon Roberts(OF) to Sea-A for Jimmy Sexton(IF)

Mar 27 1978 - released Danny Walton(OF)

Mar 28 1978 - signed Vern Ruhle(P) as free agent

Mar 29 1978 - sent Mike Stanton(P) to Tor-A for cash

Mar 30 1978 - traded Jim Fuller(OF) to Pit-N for Dave Augustine(OF)

Jun 6 1978 - Summer Free Agent Draft
- 1. drafted Rod Boxberger(P) (#11 pick overall)
- 2. drafted Danny Heep(IF)
- 12. drafted Tim Tolman(IF)

Jun 8 1978 - traded Bob Coluccio to StL-N for Frank Riccelli(P)

Jun 9 1978 - sent Ed Herrmann(C) to Mon-N for cash

Jun 15 1978 - sent Roger Metzger(IF) to SF-N for cash

Jun 23 1978 - sent Roy Thomas(IF) to StL-N for waiver claim

Jul 1 1978 - traded Joe Ferguson(C) and cash to LA-N for Rafael Landestoy(IF) and Jeff Leonard(OF). Hou received Landestoy on Jul 7 and Leonard on Sep 11

Sep 2 1978 - traded Dan Larson(P) to Phi-N for Dan Warthen(P)

Sep 5 1978 - released Gene Pentz(P)