July 15, 1998
Unlike the first two scary moments, I was watching this game on television when it happened. The first place Astros brought in their closer to protect a one-run lead in the ninth against the expansion Diamondbacks. What looked to be an easy win soon turned into one of the scariest moments in Astros history. With one on and one out Kelly Stinnett stepped into the batter’s box. Stinnett swung at the first pitch from Wagner and hit a line drive that would strike the Houston lefty on the head, near his left ear. Wagner went down immediately, writhing in pain. The ball landed in foul territory near the third base dugout and Stinnett reached first base easily. Members of the Astros medical staff rushed to the aid of Wagner.
Wagner was down for an extended period of time, but didn’t lose consciousness. Thoughts of Dickie Thon came rushing back into my head. Replays showed that the ball had hit near Wagner’s temple. Wagner had to be taken off the field on a stretcher. It didn’t look good for the young lefty. I was convinced that he wouldn’t be pitching again any time soon. Thankfully Wagner’s injury wasn’t as serious as it could have been. He was diagnosed with a concussion and was placed on the 15 day disabled list. Wagner would bounce back and return to the Astros less than a month later, after a short minor league rehab assignment. Wagner would have no lasting effect from the injury and would go on to accumulate 30 saves that season.
The following season Wagner made his first All-Star appearance and recorded 39 saves. He continued to pile up ridiculous strikeout numbers and finished fourth in the Cy Young balloting. Wagner suffered an arm injury in the forgettable 2000 season and missed most of the year. But he would bounce back again and make the All-Star team in 2001. Wagner would go on to have a 16 year big league career, spending his first nine seasons with the Astros. Wagner still holds the Astros career record for saves, (225) and ranks fifth all-time with 422.
Tomorrow I will unveil my scariest Astros moment. But let’s take a look at a few that didn’t quite make the cut.
Let’s get into the wayback machine for a couple of early startlers. When breaking ground for the new Harris County Domed Stadium, pistols were used instead of the traditional shovels. That had to be a little scary, especially for those in the immediate vicinity who may not have been aware of what was going on.
Then there was the problem of not being able to grow grass inside the ‘Dome. That had to be really scary after spending millions to build the ‘Dome. Astroturf to the rescue!
Don’t forget about Jeff Bagwell and his fifth metacarpal. Bagwell broke the small bone in his hand in 1993 and 1994. His 1993 season ended early. Everyone’s season ended early in 1994 due to a labor dispute. The year without a World Series, THAT was certainly scary.
In April of 2010 Lance Berkman hit a line drive that nailed Chris Jakubauskus square in the noggin. The ball did a U-turn and was almost caught by a leaping Jason Jaramillo, who was behind the plate. Scary! Jakubauskus would miss the rest of the season but was back in the big leagues in 2011.
I will have the final chapter in this series tomorrow. Stay tuned.