Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Look Back At The Astros-Mets 50-Year Rivalry

In 1962, the New York Mets and Houston Colt .45s made their National League debuts, the result of Bill Shea's promise to bring a third major league - the Continental League - into existence.  Once Major League Baseball made a deal to expand in 1961 and 1962 (Los Angeles and Washington were given American League expansion teams in 1961), the Continental League was put on the shelves and New York had a National League franchise again.

Except for the 1986 campaign, the Mets and Astros (the Colt .45s changed their name to the more politically correct Astros when they moved from Colt Stadium to the Astrodome in 1965) have never had a direct rivalry with each other.  However, they've still had many similarities and differences over the years.

With the Astros moving to the American League in 2013, today's game marked the final time the 1962 expansion mates squared off against each other in an intra-league game.  Let's look back at their rivalry over the years, doing our best to keep our tears from staining our scuffed Mike Scott baseball cards.

Mike Scott won 14 games in four seasons as a Met, but almost ended the Mets' championship dreams in 1986 as an Astro.

In 1962, the Mets finished the season with the worst record in modern baseball history, going 40-120 in their inaugural campaign.  They would go on to lose 100 or more games in each of their first four seasons, and five of their first six.  Meanwhile, the Astros never lost more than 97 games in any of their first six seasons.  In fact, they did not lose 100 games in a season until 2011, when they went 56-106 in their 50th year of existence.

The 1969 Mets won 100 regular season games en route to their first World Series championship.  It was the first time in franchise history that they did not finish with a losing record.  Although the Astros did not qualify for the postseason for the first time until 1980, the 1969 season was also the first time they did not finish with a losing record.  That team finished with a .500 record at 81-81.

The Astros didn't experience their first winning season until 1972, when they finished the year with an 84-69 record.  Interestingly enough, in 1973, the Astros also finished above .500, winning 82 games, the same total won by the Mets when they believed their way to the National League pennant. It's too bad the Astros didn't play in the NL East that year, where they would have competed for a division title.  In the NL West, their 82-80 record was only good enough for fourth place, 17 games behind the division-winning Cincinnati Reds.

Although the Astros have won six division titles and one split-season division title during the 1981 strike season, they did not win a playoff series in any of the seasons in which they finished in first place.  It wasn't until 2004 that the Astros finally won a postseason series.  In their 43rd year of existence, the wild-card winning Astros defeated the Atlanta Braves in five games in the best-of-five NLDS, before succumbing to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games in the NLCS.  They advanced to their first World Series the following year, but they were swept by the Chicago White Sox.  In both 2004 and 2005, the Astros won postseason series, the only times in club annals that they were able to do so, even though they failed to win a division title in those years.  By comparison, the Mets have qualified for the playoffs seven times (five division titles, two wild cards) and have won at least one playoff series in all but one of those seasons, losing to the Dodgers in the 1988 NLCS.

The Mets have had more postseason success than the Astros, but Houston has fared batter during the regular season and in head-to-head matchups.  In their first fifty years of existence, the Mets have had 23 winning seasons (seasons above .500) and 27 losing campaigns.  Meanwhile, the Astros can claim 24 winning seasons, 22 losing years and four seasons in which they finished with a .500 record.  The Mets and Astros have rarely been good at the same time, as both teams have finished with winning records in the same year only 13 times in 50 years.

In head-to-head matchups, the Astros have dominated the Mets in the regular season.  Houston has won 308 times in 567 games, with the Mets winning 258 times and one game ending in a tie.  Even the World Champion 1969 Mets, winners of 100 games during the regular season, had trouble against the Astros, losing ten times in 12 games.  Of course, when it mattered the most, the Mets won their only postseason matchup against Houston, taking the 1986 NLCS from the Astros in six games.

Lenny Dykstra and the Mets raised the roof at the Astrodome in Game 6 of the 1986 NLCS.

The Mets and Astros came into the National League together in 1962.  Both teams have experienced highs and lows over the years.  Both teams have had special players suit up for them, such as Nolan Ryan, Tommie Agee, Sid Fernandez, Dwight Gooden, John Franco and some guy named Mike Scott (all of whom were Mets before they became Astros) and Ron Taylor, Tommie Agee, Rusty Staub, Ray Knight, Carlos Beltran and Billy Wagner (who played in Houston before they came to New York).  Even Yogi Berra was important to both teams, managing the Mets to within one win of a World Series title in 1973 and serving as the Astros bench coach when they played the Mets in the 1986 NLCS.  But after this year, both teams will rarely play each other again, with the schedule makers determining how often they play each other in interleague play.

Although the Mets and Astros have rarely had a rivalry in the National League a la Dodgers-Giants and Cubs-Cardinals, it will be sad now knowing that the Mets will never play a National League game against their fellow expansion mates again.  The last 50 years have been full of similarities and differences between the Mets and Astros.  Today was no exception.

In the first-ever Mets-Astros game in 1962, the Mets came from behind to tie the game in the ninth inning, only to lose.  In today's final National League tilt between the two teams, the Astros came from behind to tie the game in the ninth, but this time the Mets pulled it out on Ike Davis' walk-off home run.  It was a fitting way to end the last intra-league game between these two teams.

It's a shame that this rivalry will never be the same again.

2 comments: said...

It is indeed a shame and completely unnecessary as well. More of the commissioner's meddling to alter tradition to fix a problem that never existed.

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