Texas Rangers v Houston Astros

It might not end up being the Houston Astros year but March 31st was certainly the Houston Astros’ night. Everything went the way of the scrappy club predicted to lose more games than any team in baseball. The Stros made their American League debut in style, showing off their flashy new uniforms and blasting their cross-state — and new division — rivals the Texas Rangers 8-2.

Everything that could go the Astros way did. The play featured in the image above, wherein Justin Maxwell picks a ball off the grass after making a valiant diving effort, was ruled a catch. Pinch hitter and fourth outfielder extraordinaire Rick Ankiel hit a key three-run homer off reliever Derek Lowe.

The Astros brought in their fifth starter, reclamation project Erik Bedard, to pitch in relief and he ended up throwing three and one-third sparkling innings, allowing just a broken bat single in the ninth for the highly unusual save.

From the look of things, “highly unusual” is going to be uttered in the same breath as “the Houston Astros” quite a few times this season.

Source: FanGraphs

The Astros might well lose 100 games again this year. They might surprise some people and only lose, I dunno, 90. Either way, they are not exactly a championship club right now. What they are, however, is interesting. And maybe a little bit of fun as well. They have bold leadership and snazzy threads and the guts to do things very, very differently.

Different isn’t always better but it was on this night. Hell, if new manager Bo Porter can get the players to buy into a legitimate longman out of the pen, he deserves a parade. That is the kind of progress we can all root for. Justin Maxwell played like somebody worth rooting for, knocking two triples (!) and making one and a half great defensive plays in center field. The stand-in face of the Astros franchise lived up to his modest billing, for one day at least.

The Rangers have 161 more games to play in 2013. They have oodles of talent and the crushing weight of expectations to motivate them. What they might not have for long is Ron Washington. I know he’s a saint and the players love him but good god what was he up to this evening? Bringing Derek Lowe out of the pen with two men on in a two run game.

Derek Lowe is a lot of things but, for my money, he isn’t the kind of reliever I’d go to in what ended up being the decisive moment of the game. Not the highest leverage moment but a higher leveraged situation for a mop up spot starter. Easy to second guess after Rick Ankiel took the veteran ground baller deep but, Wash, seriously? Don’t worry, Rangers fans: Coach Ron knew to bring the infield in down five runs in the eighth inning so all hope is not yet lost.

The Astros are in first place. They are undefeated in the American League. Enjoy this day, scant few Astros fans. The next few months stand to be a little rough so enjoy this feeling and hope that the team on budget might just turn some heads in 2013. Isn’t that what Opening Day is all about?