Nolan Ryan isn't a gambler, but he went to Las Vegas in January to celebrate his 40th birthday. "Wasn't too lucky," he admits. "He told me he got sent home in his shorts," says Houston reliever Charlie Kerfeld.
The division-champion Astros are gambling that Ryan's tender right elbow, which put him on the disabled list twice last year, has recovered after a restful winter. Ryan rejected a doctor's proposal for Tommy John-type surgery because rehabilitation would have kept him out of a good portion of the season. If the elbow blows out now, Ryan will likely become a full-time rancher, and Houston will be in trouble. "Shoot, that guy's so competitive, I know he'll be out there fighting," says Astro first baseman Glenn Davis. "I don't care what the odds are."
Odds are Houston won't repeat; no Western Division champ has since the 1978 Dodgers. But the Astros have all the same faces in all the same places, including an excellent pitching staff headed by Cy Young winner Mike Scott, so they should at least be in the thick of the race. Trying to stay out of trouble, manager Hal Lanier spent the winter gathering advice from skippers who have had division winners turn sour on them. "Some admitted they went too easy on their players the year after," says Lanier, who hasn't.
Davis spent his off-season lifting weights and hunting deer. His description of the one that got away sounds like the Astros' frustrated pursuit of a pennant. "All winter I was looking for a deer to put over my fireplace," Davis says. "I never did see him, but I'm not going to give up. I know he's out there."
Batting average vs. lefties since '82, when he broke in: .200, .220, .295, .300, .304.
Batted .417 leading off innings in Late-Inning Pressure Situations.
Only player besides Rose with 200+ games in OF, at 3B and at 1B.
Career average of 62.7 RBIs every 100 games ranks just behind Dave Winfield (62.8).
Led NL in hits (80) and XBHs (30) off lefthanded pitchers.
Career total of 2,051 games in OF trails only Reggie (2,082) among active players.
Ninth player in history to catch as many as three no-hitters; Ray Schalk caught four.
Batted 138 points higher (.326-.188) with runners on than with bases empty.
Pitched at least seven innings in 30 starts, highest total in majors.
Opposing hitters batted .140 after the All-Star break.
Pitched a scoreless ninth all eight times he reached it. Then came Game 6.
2.51 ERA in the first three innings, 4.06 thereafter.
Opponents' career BAs: .273 by lefthanders, .196 by righthanders.
Tied NL record with saves in eight straight appearances (April 11 to May 2).