Norris wins for Astros on biggest of stages

Norris wins for Astros on biggest of stages
April 1, 2013, 12:30 am
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Norris wins the first MLB game of the season

With the eyes of the collective baseball world converging on Minute Maid Park, on Houston and on Bud Norris, the Astros’ starting pitcher didn’t flinch.

Norris, who became the 22nd opening day starter in Astros history, stood on the rubber and delivered his first pitch -- a strike.

Eventually, he went five-plus solid innings, giving up just two runs in the Astros’ 8-2 win over the Texas Rangers on Sunday night.

The Astros have the best record in baseball. Bud Norris leads the majors in wins. Fleeting as that may be, on Sunday night, it felt pretty darn good.

“We’re excited with this one win,” Norris said. “To sit at 1-0 feels pretty darn good.”

Some questioned the move when Norris was named the starter for opening day. After all, the team returned Lucas Harrell, who won a team-high 11 games in the 2012 season. But new manager Bo Porter had a feeling about Norris. He thought he would rise to the occasion.

He was right.

“Bud Norris … big-time players, they get up in big games,” Porter said. “The adrenaline was flowing. His slider was outstanding tonight. It had depth. It was sharp. It was a putaway pitch for him tonight.”

Norris pitched 5 2/3 innings. He allowed two runs in the sixth inning but had given up just two hits through five.  

“Yeah, that’s a big stage,” third baseman Matt Dominguez said. “Bud pitched very well tonight. He had all his pitches. He was hitting his spots. He really set the tone tonight.”

“Early on in the spring when some people were telling (Norris) about his velocity and his numbers,” Porter said, “I pulled him to the side and said, ‘you are a third-tier adrenaline junkie. I watched you pitch in big games.’”

And Norris didn’t disappoint. He lived up to that big stage on Sunday night. He retired the side in order in three innings against the Rangers and allowed the Astros to take a 4-0 lead into the sixth inning.

“You gotta have confidence,” Norris said. “When the lights turn on, you gotta be ready to go. You have to trust yourself and be confident in what you got going on.”

When Norris was pulled from the game in the sixth inning, it wasn’t for a reliever. Instead, Porter made the first unusual coaching move of his rookie managerial season when he brought in starter Erik Bedard from the bullpen.

The move worked, however, as Bedard went 3 1/3 scoreless innings to record his first career save. Porter said the move was made with the thinking that Bedard will have plenty of time to recover before his scheduled start. Bedard is the fifth starter.

“He was outstanding to come in and get the job done obviously there in the sixth and to finish the game,” Norris said. “When you have two guys go out there and pitch the way we did, it’s really a testament to what he’s done and where we’re at.”

Justin Maxwell had a big game, going 2-for-3 with two triples. His two-run triple in the fourth inning started off the scoring. Rick Ankiel also had a big night, even though he didn’t start. Ankiel came off the bench to pinch-hit for Brandon Barnes and hit a three-run homer in the sixth inning.

The win was the 4,000th victory in Astros history, but more importantly, was the first win of the 2013 season. The Astros are projected to finish dead last in the division, some are even projecting them to be the worst team in the history of the game.

But as Sunday night turns into Monday morning, Bud Norris leads the majors in wins.

The Astros are the best team in baseball.

“It was outstanding,” Porter said. “It was an electric atmosphere.”

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