In December I wrote about my trip to Green Bay to see the Texans play the Packers at Lambeau Field. Last week, I took another sports-related trip to see another Houston team play in person. This time I went to Houston to see the Astros play at Minute Maid Park for the first time, attending the final two games of the series against the A’s and the three-game series against the Yankees in the Astros’ final homestand before the all-star break.
My trip began in Austin, where I spent a day before heading over to Houston. I didn’t get to check out as much of the Texas capital as I would have liked in my limited time there, but I did get to check out Graffiti Park at Castle Hills, a public art display that anyone can contribute to, and the Congress Avenue Bridge bats, who emerge from underneath the bridge around sundown nightly during the spring and summer months.
Then it was off to Houston for the main purpose of the trip, to check out Minute Maid Park for the first time. It is the 12th current Major League Baseball stadium I have been to and, as an Astros fan, one that I’ve been wanting to go to for a while. I would have liked to have seen the stadium in person when Tal’s Hill was still there, but it was still a nice stadium even with that unique feature having been removed during the offseason. And with the Astros maintaining the best record in MLB, it was a good time to attend games there in person, with the team playing well and interest in the squad higher than it usually is.
Game 1 (6/28/17)
The Astros lost the first game of the three-game series against the A’s the night I was in Austin, but I was there for the second game of the series. SP David Paulino got the start for the Astros and SP Jesse Hahn took the ball for Oakland in a game that proved to be anything but a pitcher’s duel. Paulino shut down the visitors with a 1-2-3 top of the first, then Astros OF George Springer got the offense going with a leadoff home run in the bottom of the first, and the first Astros at-bat I would experience at Minute Maid Park. That got the train moving, as it does whenever an Astro player hits a home run at the stadium. Springer’s dinger was just the beginning of the scoring in the game, with the Astros scoring a total of nine runs in the first three innings. The A’s also got into the offensive action, scoring eight runs in the game, including seven between the second and fifth innings. The Astros tacked on a couple extra runs later in the game, eventually winning by a margin of 11-8. The home team totalled 17 hits on the night, with Springer’s leadoff homer the team’s only home run of the game. Oakland, on the other hand, scored their eight runs on eight hits that included five home runs, including two off the bat of OF Khris Davis. Hahn lasted just two innings, allowing six runs to score. Things weren’t much better for Paulino, who gave up seven runs in four innings. The Astros offense was able to make up for the subpar pitching, though, with all nine players in their starting lineup got at least one hit and six Astros recording multiple hits, including three-hit games for Springer and OF Josh Reddick.
That game also marked the 10th anniversary of when former Astros C/2B/OF Craig Biggio recorded his 3,000th career hit on June 28, 2007.
Game 2 (6/29/17)
The Astros’ bats continue hitting for the series finale against Oakland but the visitors’ bats cooled down, losing 6-1. The A’s scored first, taking a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning but it was short-lived as the Astros scored two runs in the bottom of the inning to take a lead that would last throughout the game. The player of the game was Astros SS Carlos Correa, who hit two home runs in the game, both two-run shots, in the fourth and sixth innings. Astros SP Brad Peacock only allowed the one run in his five innings of work, but he needed 106 pitches to get through the fifth. He walked six batters and struck out seven in a good but inefficient outing. The bullpen went four scoreless innings to protect the lead after Peacock departed.
For this game, I chose to stand on the home-run porch in center field, where there is a gas pump, seen below, that tallies every home run that the Astros have hit at the park since it opened in 2000 (known as Enron Field at the time).
Game 3 (6/30/17)
The Yankees are in town for the weekend, with a decent amount of their fans at Minute Maid. The Astros took an early 1-0 lead in the first inning and were up 3-1 after four, but things went downhill from there. SP Lance McCullers Jr. had a good outing, allowing three runs in 5.1 innings with six strikeouts, but the bullpen did not help him out. RP Michael Feliz was the first reliever in the game and gave up three runs — two earned — in just .1 innings. RP Reymin Guduan then followed him. He went .2 innings and was charged with three earned runs, thanks in part to RP James Hoyt, who gave up a grand slam to Yankees OF Brett Gardner in the seventh inning. In all, the Yankees scored nine runs in two innings — five in the sixth and four in the seventh — to go up 10-3 after seven. The Astros added a run in the bottom of the eighth inning to make it 10-4, but Astros manager A.J. Hinch realized the game was out of reach so he brought in OF Nori Aoki to pitch in the top of the ninth, the first time Aoki has pitched in a game since high school. He had trouble finding the strike zone at first, with nine of his first 10 pitches being balls, and he allowed one hit, two walks and three earned runs in his inning of work. Yankees slugger Aaron Judge served as the DH in the game, going 0-4 including flying out to center field off of Aoki for the final out of the top of the ninth inning.
While this game didn’t go as well as I would have liked, it’s entertaining to see a position player pitch, and I believe that was the first time that has happened at a game that I have attended in person.
Despite the blowout loss, many of the fans stuck around for the whole game and stayed for the postgame fireworks that the Astros have following every Friday night home game. With the roof being closed all week due to the heat and humidity, it was the only chance for me to experience Minute Maid Park with the roof open.
Game 4 (7/1/17)
Saturday featured another competitive game to begin the month of July, with neither team scoring until the Astros put two runs on the board in the bottom of the fifth thanks to a home run from 1B Yuli Gurriel. Astros SP Francis Martes lasted five-plus innings before giving way to the bullpen, which blew a lead for the second straight game. RP Will Harris took over with runners on first and third and nobody out in the top of the sixth inning. Yankees OF Jacoby Ellsbury was the first batter Harris faced, and he walked to load the bases. C Gary Sanchez then singled, putting the Yankees on the board with an RBI. SS Didi Gregorius then batted with the bases still loaded, and he hit his first career grand slam — the second straight game the Yankees hit a grand slam off of an Astros reliever. That five-run inning put the Yankees up 5-2. The Astros got a run back in the bottom of the sixth with a Correa home run, but Yankees OF Clint Frazier hit a solo homer in the seventh inning to put the visitors up by a score of 6-3. Then the bottom of the eighth inning happened. Yankees RP Dellin Betances began the inning by striking out Springer, then walking 2B Jose Altuve, who would steal both second and third. He would score on a Correa groundout. C Evan Gattis followed that up with a solo home run that made it a one-run game. Betances then walked DH Carlos Beltran, who was pinch-run for by Reddick. Reddick advanced to second on a botched pickoff attempt and then stole third base. OF Marwin Gonzalez walked, putting runners on the corners with two outs. Yankee manager Joe Girardi brought in closer Aroldis Chapman, looking for a four-out save. But the first batter he faced, Gurriel, doubled. Both runners scored on that hit, giving the Astros a 7-6 lead. Chapman then struck out 3B Alex Bregman to end the inning, but not before four runners crossed the plate to give the home team the lead. Astros closer Ken Giles came into the game in the ninth to close it out. He got pinch-hitter Judge and Frazier to both pop out to Gurriel at first base for the first two outs of the inning. Then Gardner came up to the plate …
Gardner singled but, for some reason, took a very wide turn around first base thinking about going to second. He finally thought better of it and dove back toward first, but the relay from Reddick to Correa to Gurriel was in time to get Gardner on the game-ending 7-6-3 putout. Astros win the game 7-6 on a bad base-running play by Gardner.
Game 5 (7/2/17)
The final game of my trip to Minute Maid Park — and the Astros’ last home game before the all-star break — lacked the excitement of the night before. Yankees SP Luis Severino didn’t have his best stuff, giving up three runs in the second inning on a two-run home run off the bat of Gonzalez and a Reddick RBI double. The Astros then scored a couple more times in the fourth inning with a two-run double by Correa to make it 5-0. They would add another run in the sixth and two more in the seventh for a 8-0 lead. Yankees 1B Chris Carter tallied an RBI single in the top of the month for a meaningless run that only served to avoid the shutout. The Astros won the game by a final of 8-1. Astros SP Mike Fiers had a similar game to Peacock a couple days earlier in which he pitched well but inefficiently. He was only able to go four innings, walking four batters and striking out seven. RP Chris Devenski relieved him, recording four strikeouts in two innings of work that allowed him to pick up the win.
Based on the five games I went to there, I like Minute Maid Park. Even though it opened 17 years ago, it still feels like a new stadium, with good views of the field from all over the stands. Even after getting rid of Tal’s Hill, the stadium has some unique features that make it easily identifiable, including the train and the home run-tracking gas pump on the home run porch in the outfield, which itself is a nice place to stand and watch at least part of the game — and a good spot to try to catch balls during batting practice or if a home run is hit there during a game.
So my journey to Minute Maid Park ended with the Astros going 4-1 in five games. Here are some more pictures I took at the stadium and around Houston.