The Houston Astros had had a rather tumultuous last few years as they prepared to play the Toronto Blue Jays on August 2, 2014. In 2011 Jim Crane attempted to become the owner of the club. The approval process was delayed after allegations of discriminatory hiring practices in his air freight business were raised. In October 2011 Crane met with Commissioner Bud Selig to attempt to resolve the issues. The meeting was described as constructive.1 On November 15, 2011, it was announced that Crane had agreed to move the Astros to the American League beginning with the 2013 season.2 Each league would thus have 15 teams. Shortly thereafter, the sale to Crane was approved.
While rebuilding, the Astros had struggled on the field. They finished the 2011 season with a record of 56-106. The 2012 season was even worse – 55-107. During the 2012 season the Astros made a significant move that would impact the franchise for years to come, Jeff Luhnow came from the St. Louis Cardinals to become general manager.3
In 2013 the Astros finished the season with a 51-111 record, the worse in franchise history. However, Luhnow was not discouraged; he was committed to the rebuild. Because of these three dismal finishes, the Astros had the first pick in the amateur draft three years in a row. In 2012 they selected Carlos Correa. In 2013 the pick was Mark Appel, and the 2014 selection was Brady Aiken. Appel was later traded while Aiken was not signed. (The Astros had selected George Springer in the 2011 draft with their first pick, and 11th overall.)
As the Astros entered the 2014 season, there was some optimism concerning the team. Jose Altuve, the Astros’ diminutive second baseman at 5-feet-6-inches, was an emerging star. The club’s high hopes for first baseman Jon Singleton led them to give him a contract for $10 million before he ever played a major-league game.4 Fueling this optimism was a Sports Illustrated cover stating that the Astros would win the World Series in 20175 and an article describing how the club was using advanced analytics to pursue success.6
It was with this subdued optimism that Astros fans entered Minute Maid Park to see the team take on the Toronto Blue Jays on the evening of August second. The Astros’ record stood at 45 wins and 65 losses. Toronto had a record of 60-51 and was one of the contenders in the American League East. The Astros had won the previous night, 3-1.
The opposing pitchers were left-hander Brent Oberholtzer for Houston and R.A. Dickey for Toronto. The Blue Jays had acquired Dickey from the New York Mets after the 2012 season.7 After a great year in 2012 with the Mets, Dickey had been somewhat of a disappointment with the Blue Jays for two seasons. The Astros were managed by Bo Porter and John Gibbons was at the helm of the Blue Jays.
In the bottom of the first the Astros struck back. Altuve doubled to left field. Robbie Grossman struck out but Chris Carter also doubled to left field, scoring Altuve. After another out, Singleton singled, scoring Carter. After one inning the Astros led 2-1.
Oberholtzer and Dickey faced only three batters in the second. In the top of the third, Anthony Gose led off with a walk and later scored on Jose Bautista’s double, making the score 2-2. The Astros went down in order in the bottom of the inning. In the top of the fourth the Blue Jays loaded the bases on singles by Danny Valencia and Josh Thole plus an error by first baseman Singleton on a grounder by Gose. But Oberholtzer got Reyes to fly out for the third out. In the bottom of the inning, Singleton doubled to deep left-center field with one out but the next two batters failed to bring him home.
Oberholtzer retired the Blue Jays in order in the Blue Jays’ fifth. In the Astros’ half, Altuve singled to center field. Always a threat to steal, he drew an errant pickoff throw from Dickey and electrified the crowd by not stopping at second base. Valencia, the Blue Jays first baseman, threw wildly to third, and Altuve scampered home. There was no doubt that Altuve was one of the more exciting players in baseball.
After Altuve’s remarkable baserunning, Grossman grounded out, but Carter hit a home run to deep left field. Jason Castro followed with a single but Dickey got Mark Krauss to ground out, ending the inning. The Astros led 4-2.
Both teams went out in order in the sixth and seventh. In the top of the eighth, Mike Foltynewicz made his major-league debut for the Astros. He retired the first two batters, striking out Bautista. Colby Rasmus pinch-hit for Reimold and walked. With the tying run on base, Porter replaced Foltynewicz with Tony Sipp. Gibbons countered by sending Juan Francisco to bat for Valencia. On a 2-and-1 count, Francisco hit what looked like a sure home run to right field. However, Grossman made a leaping catch at the wall, pulling the ball out of the stands and preserving Houston’s lead.8 As Grossman made his way to the dugout, he was congratulated by his teammates and greeted by an ovation from the crowd.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Astros pulled away. Carter led off with a single, chasing Dickey. Left-hander Brett Cecil replaced him. Carter stole second and scored on Castro’s home run to left field. L.J. Hoes singled, bringing up Singleton, who hit a long drive to deep right-center field that Gose, the center fielder, could not catch. Singleton tried for an inside-the-park home run. Home-plate umpire Jordan Baker called him out but the Astros signaled for a review of the play. The call was reversed and Singleton was ruled safe, delighting the fans.9 The Astros now led 8-2. Chad Jenkins replaced Cecil and got out of the inning with no further damage.
Paul Clemens was called on by the Astros to finish the game and he retired the Blue Jays in the top of the ninth. Brett Oberholtzer was the winning pitcher and Dickey was the loser. The hitting heroes were Chris Carter with three hits, two RBIs, and a home run, and Jon Singleton, with three hits, a home run, and three RBIs. Altuve had two hits and excited the crowd with his baserunning.
As the season progressed, the Astros played better baseball and avoided losing 100 games for the first time since 2010. Altuve led the American League in hitting (.341), hits (225), and stolen bases (56). The rebuild of the Astros was starting to bear fruit. As for Jon Singleton, one of the stars of the game, the Astros’ long-term investment did not pay off as he disappointed and was eventually released in May 2018 after three drug suspensions.10
Most of the attendees of the 44th convention of the Society for American Baseball Research attended the game. At a pregame session for the members, Astros general manager Luhnow and Sig Mejdal, the leader of the club’s analytical department, discussed the team’s rebuild. Mejdal was a former NASA engineer and blackjack dealer. Like Luhnow he came to the Astros from the Cardinals. After listening to both executives, many of the SABR attendees were thinking that Sports Illustrated might have been right in pegging Houston to win the World Series in 2017.
In addition to the sources mentioned in the Notes, box scores and play-by-play accounts for this game can be found on baseball-reference.com.
1 Zachary Levine, “Jim Crane Has ‘Constructive Meeting’ with Bud Selig,” October 10, 2011, blog.chron.com/ultimateastros/2011/10/10/jim-crane-has-constructive-meeting-with-bud-selig/.
2 Cork Gaines, Business Insider, “Major League Baseball Blackmailed the Astros Into Switching Leagues,” November 17, 2011, businessinsider.com/astros-american-league-2011-11.
3 MLB.com, “Astros Name Jeff Luhnow as New General Manager,” December 7, 2011, mlb.com/news/astros-name-jeff-luhnow-as-new-general-manager/c-26125700.
4 Jerry Crasnick, “Jon Singleton Gets Long-Term Deal,” June 3, 2014, espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/11021397/jon-singleton-signs-long-term-deal-houston-astros.
5 Ben Reiter, “About That Prediction … How the Astros Went From Baseball’s Cellar to the 2017 World Series,” Sports Illustrated, June 24, 2017, si.com/mlb/2017/10/24/houston-astros-sports-illustrated-world-series-prediction.
6 Ben Reiter, “Houston’s Grand Experiment,” Sports Illustrated, June 30, 2014, si.com/vault/2014/06/30/106479598/astromatic-baseball-houstons-grand-experiment.
7 Ben Nicholson-Smith, “Blue Jays Acquire R.A Dickey,” December 17, 2012, mlbtraderumors.com/2012/12/team-to-acquire-ra-dickey.html.
8 Brendan Kennedy, “Blue Jay Bats Leave Dickey in the Lurch,” Toronto Star, August 3, 2014: S1.
10 ESPN, “Astros Release Currently Suspended Ex-Top Prospect Jon Singleton,” May 22, 2018, espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/23571542/houston-astros-cut-suspended-ex-prospect-jon-singleton.