1985 - Season Recap
(c) Bob Hulsey

Mike Scott had come off a 5-11 campaign and looked for all the world as if he was destined to be no better than a journeyman. A hard thrower, the 30-year-old Scott seemed unable to set up his fastball. He was sent to Roger Craig, a former Houston pitching coach who touted the wonders of a new pitch called the "split-finger" fastball. Bruce Sutter had used it with devastating success to become the dominant closer in the league. A large hand was needed to make it work. The index and middle fingers were spread further apart than the traditional baseball grip. The effect was a pitch that looked like a normal fastball until it moved sharply downward at the last instant. Just as the knuckleball restarted Joe Niekro's career, Scott had found his second pitch.

The Astrodome celebrated 20 years of action on April 9th. Nolan Ryan was the Opening Day starter against the Dodgers. He pitched seven innings for a 2-1 triumph and survived the distractions of a surprise visitor to get the win.

Pitching milestones were a storyline of the 1985 campaign. Scott got his first win with the new pitch on April 22nd, allowing five hits in a 4-1 verdict over Cincinnati. He would notch 18 victories to lead the team. Ryan pitched his 200th complete game with a 6-2 victory over the Cubs on May 16th. Nolan recorded his record 4,000th strikeout on July 11th in the Dome against the Mets. Ex-teammate Danny Heep was the victim.

Niekro struggled to achieve his goal. He failed in six attempts to break Larry Dierker's franchise record for career victories. At one point he offered bribes to the hitters if they'd just give him some extra run support. When the time finally came, Joe broke the record in style, spinning a two-hit shutout to beat the Giants on June 9th. It was his 138th win as an Astro. In mid-September, Niekro was traded to the Yankees for two minor league pitchers, including lefthander Jim Deshaies. Joe could once again pitch alongside his brother Phil, signed by the Yankees after the Braves had cast him aside.

Not to be outdone in the milestone department was Jose Cruz who racked up his 2,000th hit on September 15th against San Diego. Cruz turned in another .300 average performance and the offense showed signs of explosiveness. They won by some un-Astro-like scores of 10-7 over Cincinnati, 10-0 over Montreal, 11-0 over San Diego, 10-0 over Philadelphia, 12-4 over the Mets, 12-9 over the Padres, 11-4 over Chicago and 17-2 over St. Louis.

The hitters took off after Glenn Davis was called up from the minors in June. He powered 20 home runs with 64 RBIs. Some of the new guys followed his lead. Kevin Bass belted 16 long balls, Bill Doran swatted 14 round-trippers and Mark Bailey added ten. The club banged out 121 home runs, their most since 1973.

On the last day of the season, the Astros had dollar signs in their eyes. A win over San Diego would tie them for third place and give each player a $700 payout. Alan Ashby's homer in the seventh inning made the difference. 6'-6", 270-lb. rookie Charlie Kerfeld pitched six innings in relief for the victory while Dave Smith claimed his 27th save. The Astros completed an 83-79 campaign and, while few noticed, the pieces were beginning to form for one of the most exciting seasons in team history.

83-79
4th place, NL West

Key BattersHRRBIAVG
C Mark Bailey 1045.265
1B Glenn Davis 2064.271
2B Bill Doran 1459.287
3B Phil Garner 651.268
SS Craig Reynolds 432.272
LF Jose Cruz 979.300
CF Kevin Bass 1668.269
RF Jerry Mumphrey 861.277
IF Denny Walling 745.270
IF Dickie Thon 629.251
OF Terry Puhl 223.284
C Alan Ashby 825.280
Key PitchersWLERA
SP Bob Knepper 15133.55
SP Nolan Ryan 10123.80
SP Mike Scott 1883.29
SP Joe Niekro 9123.72
SP Ron Mathis 356.04
CL Dave Smith 952.27
RP Frank DiPino 374.03
RP Bill Dawley 533.56
RP Jeff Calhoun 252.54


Niekro: Franchise record for wins.
(c) Houston Astros

Ashby: Caught three no-hitters.
(c) Houston Astros


From The AstrosDaily Media Library

Video:
1982-1985: Waters of Mediocrity - From "The Houston Astros: A Silver Odyssey" - The Astros find staying on top is harder than it looks. (1:37, MLB Video)

Audio:
Apr 9, 1985 Nolan Ryan gets a special visitor during the Dome's 20th Anniversary. (0:45, Doggett - Dodgers)
Apr 9, 1985 Dickie Thon gets his first official hit since the previous year's beaning. (0:53, Doggett - Dodgers)
Jul 11, 1985 Nolan Ryan fans Danny Heep for the 4,000th strikeout of his career. (0:52, Dierker - Astros)
Aug 20, 1985 Mark Bailey helps to rout the Cardinals with a grand slam. (1:09, Buck, Hrabosky - Cardinals)


Trades and Transactions

Nov 8 1984 - granted free agency to Mike LaCoss(P). LaCoss signed with KC-A as free agent on Feb 19

Nov 8 1984 - granted free agency to Vern Ruhle(P). Ruhle signed with Cle-A on Dec 22

Jan 3 1985 - Supplemental Free Agent Draft
- 14. drafted Jeff Baldwin(P)

Apr 8 1985 - released Joe Sambito(P)

May 30 1985 - signed Tony Eusebio(C) as non-drafted free agent

Jun 3 1985 - Summer Free Agent Draft
- 1. drafted Cameron Drew(OF) (#12 pick overall)
- 6. drafted Mike Simms(OF)
- 9. drafted John Fishel(OF)

Jul 10 1985 - traded Enos Cabell(IF) to LA-N for Rafael Montalvo(P) and German Rivera(IF)

Sep 15 1985 - traded Joe Niekro(P) to NY-A for Jim Deshaies(P), Dody Rather(P) and Neder Horta(IF). Hou received Horton on Sep 24 and Rather on Jan 11.