The Astros left town yesterday as a National League team for the final time. The immediate upshot is the loss of a recent cellar dweller to kick around. But from a historical perspective, this weekend's inconsequential series concluded what's actually been the longest-running divisional rivalry for the Reds.
Houston joined the National League as an expansion team in 1962. When the league split into two divisions seven years later, Houston and Cincinnati were slotted in the West. The West held its constituency until the 1994 realignment, which saw Houston and Cincinnati as the only West teams to leave for the new NL Central. So Houston's impending league switch brings an end to not only 50 years of head-to-head league competition, but also Cincinnati's last link to the Astroturf era of the NL West. Cincinnati's longest-running division rival is no more.
That history amounts to 839 games between the teams, the most against any one opponent for Houston. Any attempt to rank the top ones would require more time than even I'm willing to waste, so consider the below a recitation of 21 fairly interesting contests between the Reds and Houston. Slanted towards Reds wins, obviously:
21. May 23, 1962: Houston 2, Reds 0. Houston (then the Colt .45's) didn't win many games in its inaugural season, but it did win its first against the Reds. Houston's Ken Johnson edged Bob Purkey, a fine pitcher in the midst of his great 23-win, top 3 CYA season. Johnson must have been particularly satisfied. He pitched for the Reds in the stretch run of the preceding year's pennant chase, but the Reds failed to protect him and he was nabbed by Houston in the expansion draft. The Colt .45's played in the appropriately-named Colt Stadium, which still holds the highest mosquito-to-fan ratio of any park in Major League history.
20. April 9, 1990: Reds 8, Houston 4 (11). A lockout delayed the start of the 1990 season, putting the Reds on the road on Opening Day for just the third time. It was no matter to these Reds, as they opened their wire-to-wire campaign in the Astrodome with a bang. The bats shook off the spring rust for good when Barry Larkin's triple and Eric Davis' single plated four in the 11th to seal the first of nine straight victories.
19. Aug. 21, 2006: Reds 4, Houston 3. Willy Taveras led off, but it was his Astros that got off to the quick start. Down 3-zip, Rich Aurilia hit a 3R HR to tie it up in the 8th. Royce Clayton's single later that inning scored Brandon Phillips and accounted for the rest of the scoring. Aurilia stroked four hits as part of his gonzo, .925 OPS second-half. Unfortunately, nobody else for the Reds hit in the final months of what had started out as a promising season.18. Aug. 20, 1963: Reds 1, Houston 0. This is for the ol' left-hander. Joe Nuxhall threw 7 scoreless to earn the win. Vada Pinson's sac fly scored Pete Rose for the game's lone run.
17. July 30, 2004: Reds 3, Houston 3 (13). With two outs in the 13th, Jason LaRue sliced a game-ending double to score WMP from first. The Reds burned through the bullpen after Aaron Harang couldn't finish 6, but shut out the Astros for the last seven innings. Adam Dunn did what Adam Dunn does, going 1 for 4 with a solo HR, a walk, and two Ks.
16. April 17, 2009: Reds 2, Astros 1. Johnny Cueto didn't make it out of the 5th, and Roy Oswalt shut out the Reds for six innings. Naturally, the Reds won. The bullpen held fort until Ramon Hernandez hit a 2R HR in the top of the ninth. Francisco Cordero, as was his wont, allowed two hits in the 9th but escaped with the save after inducing a game-ending DP.
14. Aug. 30, 1964: Reds 7, Houston 6. Starters Ken Johnson and Joey Jay didn't make it out of the second as each team scored six. It remained that way until the bottom of the 9th. Vada Pinson singled with two outs and came home on Frank Robinson's double. The Reds would go on to catch Philadelphia and then lose the pennant to St. Louis on the final day, but Houston was well behind that trio.
12. July 8, 1962: Reds 13, Houston 12 (13). After Frank Robinson tied the game at 11 in the bottom of the eighth with a solo shot, the teams traded goose eggs until the 13th inning. Houston tallied one run in the top of the inning, but the Reds returned the favor in the bottom half. Marty Keogh's fourth hit, a solo dinger, tied the game. Leo Cardenas later singled with the bases juiced, driving in Robinson. The Reds used just five pitchers despite starter Jim Golden being anything but, throwing just two regrettable innings.
11. June 21, 2001: Reds 8, Houston 7 (11). Homer much? The teams combined for 9 four-baggers. Michael Tucker had two of them. Heck, Danny Graves hit one out. Naturally, the Reds scored the winning runs in the 11th on RBI singles from Ken Griffey and Sean Casey. Lance Berkman hit the second of his two Astroblasts in the bottom of the inning, but the solo shot wasn't enough.
10. May 22, 2004: Reds 8, Houston 7. Roger Clemens made eight starts against the Reds towards the tail end of his career, and this was likely his worst. The Reds beat him around like a used syringe for five innings, though Aaron Harang and the bullpen didn't fare any better. Doubles by Sean Casey and Ken Griffey in the 8th broke the tie. Houston looked like they would at least tie it in the 9th, starting the inning with a run on three straight hits against Danny Graves. But Lance Berkman was thrown out at the plate on the next play, and Graves held on to secure the win.
9. June 30, 1975: Reds 9, Astros 6 (12). A day after scoring three runs in the 9th and walking off in the 15th, the Reds rallied for four runs in the 8th and 9th to tie it up. Ken Griffey doubled with two outs in the 12th, giving Houston a tough choice of facing Joe Morgan or Johnny Bench. The Astros walked Morgan, who had hit the prior day's walk-off single. Bad decision. Bench homered, game over.
8. May 4, 2011: Reds 3, Astros 2. The Reds were being shut out and down two heading into the bottom of the ninth. No matter. Drew Stubbs and Chris Heisey walked and singled, respectively. Three straight hits from Votto, Phillips and the walk-off by Bruce sealed it. Reds win expectancy at the beginning of the inning was 8%.
7. April 26, 1986: Houston 1, Reds 0. Mike Scott had been a mediocre pitcher in his 20s, but thanks to a new split-finger fastball he dominated the National League in his early 30s. He went the distance in this game, allowing four hits and one walk against five Ks. Future Reds player and coach Billy Hatcher scored the winning run with two outs in the 9th on a passed ball.
6. Sept. 24, 2000: Reds 4, Astros 3. In the home finale, Chris Stynes stepped to the plate with two outs in the 9th, the Reds down a run. "I was hoping Alex (Ochoa) would get a home run. I didn't want another AB. The first three didn't go that well." Instead, Stynes blasted a two-run shot off Octavio Dotel to win the game.
5. Sept. 29, 1999: Astros 4, Reds 1. No year in the Wild Card era approaches the late season drama that 1999 offered for the Reds. The Reds had won five straight to pull even with the Astros when they arrived in Houston for the year's penultimate series. They won the first game 4-1, but lost the second by the same score. A rare error by Barry Larkin in the 4th allowed Jeff Bagwell to reach safely and resulted in three unearned runs for Steve Parris. The Reds' comeback attempts went for naught, as they stranded Chris Hamonds on second in the 8th and lined into a double play to end the game. The Reds dropped their final series in Milwaukee to cede the Central to Houston and set up Game 163 against the Mets.
4. September 11, 1979: Reds 9, Houston 8. 1979 was the closest the two teams finished at the top of the division, with the Reds winning the West by 1.5 games. Houston edged Cincinnati in the season series but probably wished it could get this one back. Down by two in the 9th, Houston led off with two hits but nearly killed the rally with a run-scoring GIDP from Jeff Leonard. Jesus Alou then doubled and was followed by an infield hit. But pinch hitter Art Howe struck out to end the game. The distinguished starters, JR Richard and Tom Seaver, each allowed four runs in less than six innings apeice.
3. August 6, 1962: Reds 1, Houston 0 (13). The Reds welcomed Houston to the bigs in 1962 with several memorable affairs, including two that went 13 innings. Bob Purkey threw 10 scoreless in this one - pretty good, except Houston's Turk Farrell threw 12 zeroes. Johnny Klippstein both relieved Purkey and hit the game-winning HR.. This was the first of three straight Reds shoutouts in Houston.
2. Aug. 3, 1989: Reds 18, Astros 2. The Reds blew it open right away, scoring 14 runs in the first. With 16 first-inning hits the Reds broke a century-old mark. Houston Manager Art Howe was perhaps a tad bitter, remarking that the Reds' "seeing-eye hits and loopers ... just fell in." Mariano Duncan and Luis Quinones both went 2 for 3 ... in the first inning.
1. Sept. 28, 2010: Reds 3, Houston 2. Clinchmas. 15 years in the desert ended with Jay Bruce's walk-off blast to the batter's eye, guaranteeing the Reds' division crown.