It's a long list to go through. There were 22 pitchers in all and we've reavealed them slowly, starting with 22-17, then 16-11 and 10-6. Now it's time to pull the curtain back on the top five Astros opening day starters.
#5 Mike Scott (1987-1991) - Scott was the driving force behind the Astros NL West crown in 1986, and if Bob Knepper and Dave Smith had gotten three more outs in Game 6 of the NLCS, Mike Scott would have been handed the ball in Game 7, meaning the Astros would have a World Series title and Bill Buckner would only be remembered as one of the better hitting first basemen in baseball. He won the Cy Young Award in 1986 and was the leader of the Astros rotation for the next five seasons. Scott won 86 games between 1985-89 but was just 9-15 in 1990-91 and out of baseball in 1992.
#4 Larry Dierker (1968, 70-71, 75) – Dierker’s tenure with the Astros stretches longer than any other person, and because it’s been so long since his playing days it’s easy to lose sight of just how good a pitcher he was for the Astros. He’s still first on the team’s all-time list in starts, first in complete games and third in wins. The Astros were also 4-0 in the games he started on opening day.
#3 Roy Oswalt (2003-2010) - Oswalt may have been the most talented pitcher to ever wear an Astros jersey, though he never won a Cy Young Award, finishing in the top five in voting five times. He is just one win shy of Niekro on the Astros’ career wins list, was an three-time all star and was the opening day starter a team record eight times. So why isn’t he higher on the list? The Astros were just 2-6 in his starts on opening day.
#2 J.R. Richard (1976-1980) – Richard may have been the most intimidating pitcher that ever stepped on the mound for Houston. Standing 6-feet 8-inches tall with a fastball that lived in the high 90s, Richard struck out over 300 batters in 1978 and 1979. He started the All Star Game in 1980 but his career was over less than a month later when he suffered a stroke on July 30. In the years preceding 1980, Richard was devastating. Richard won 74 games from 1976-79, never throwing less than 267 innings and never having an ERA higher than 3.11.
#1 Nolan Ryan (1982, 85-86) – Why is Ryan No. 1? You can’t go against John Wayne. Ryan’s status, especially in Texas, is mythical. He broke Walter Johnson’s all-time strikeout record in an Astros uniform, and passed Sandy Koufax with five no-hitters in an Astros uniform. On top of that he was the iron man, blowing people away with a blazing fastball well into his 40’s and when the season was done he went back to work on his cattle ranch. The fact that he left the Astros twice to go to the Rangers is disconcerting, but we blame the first one on John McMullen and the second on Drayton McLane. Ryan is infallible. And when we see him in a Rangers uniform putting Robin Ventura in a headlock, we just remember the good times.