2001: Larry Dierker
Aug 3, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; A view of the promotional bobble heads featuring former Houston Astros starting pitcherRoy Oswalt
before the game between the Astros and the Toronto Blue Jays at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
2001 looked like a year the Astros could have easily fizzled out. Larry Dierker in my mind put together his best managerial work of his career leading the Astros to a 93-69 record. The Astros were coming off of a very disappointing 72-90 season and found themselves in transitional state on the pitchers mound. Mike Hampton had left for free agency following the 1999 campaign, Jose Lima had fallen apart thus being traded, and Shane Reynolds was aging quickly.
Two youngsters emerged that absolutely changed the game for the Astros. Wade Miller became the staff workhorse threw 214 innings while compiling a 3.40 era. To add to the story, a rookie by the name of Roy Oswalt dominated the National League from the start. Oswalt pitched eight times out of relief, before making 20 starts and winning 14 games. Roy would become the face of the Houston Astros pitching staff and lead the Astros to an NL Central crown.
Whatever the pitching may have lacked compared to the late 90’s was pretty much made up for by a dynamic offense. Lance Berkman had arrived in full superstar fashion, batting behind Jeff Bagwell and hitting 34 bombs. Bagwell lead the team in home runs with 39, and Moises Alou hit 27 home runs in only 136 games. That power was all set up by Hall of Fame leadoff man Craig Biggio, who had an impressive season returning from season-ending ACL surgery in 2000.
The Astros engaged in a wild NL Central race that ended in a first place tie with the St. Louis Cardinals. Fortunately for the Astros they won the tiebreaker giving the Astros the division and the Cardinals the Wild Card. However the Cardinals would like you to believe they were “Co-Champions.” As sad as this may sound, this was the last Houston Astros division title, and last divisional title as an NL squad.
Larry Dierker did a phenomenal job making this team work. The Astros could have absolutely fell apart with a major transition in the starting rotation, Craig Biggio not playing elite like in the late 90’s, and Moises Alou battling on and off injuries. However, another first round exit spelled an end to Dierker in Astros pinstripes. He would be replaced in 2002 by Jimy Williams who was widely considered a failure by the Astros faithful.
Next: 1986: Hal Lanier