The Houston Astros are in first place in the American League for the first time in history. The Astros played their first game since being moved to the American League, hammering Texas Rangers All-Star pitcher Matt Harrison for the second consecutive time with five runs in 5 2/3 innings. Justin Maxwell hit two triples and stole a triple with a great catch in one of the bizarre corners in Minute Maid Park.
Maxwell debuted last April with a home run in a rally to beat the Atlanta Braves. Later in the season the Astros beat Harrison 7-0 in a similar game. However, Houston went onto lose 100 games again and Texas made their third straight playoffs – having averaged 93 wins a season during that stretch.
The two Texas teams were the only ones to play Sunday, so for one day Houston is 1-0 and Texas is 0-1 in the five team AL Central. Major League baseball moved the Astros to balance all six divisions with five teams each. Previously the AL had 14 teams and the NL 16 teams in order to only have interleague play during certain stretches of the season, but now there will always be at least one interleague series in progress.
Most teams start play Monday, with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim required to let their pitchers hit as they travel to Cincinnati for the first interleague series.
Maxwell just missed a homer with his first triple, as it hit the top of short left field porch and bounced high in the air before falling to the warning track for a triple. The play was reviewed using the instant replay rule for home runs. Maxwell went down the line in the more spacious right field to leg out his second triple.
The Astros lacked anything resembling an ace for opening day to match Harrison, but chose Bud Norris, who had a 5.52 ERA in Spring Training and 4.42 career ERA. The Rangers had the highest scoring offense in baseball last year, but Norris shut them out for five innings before getting into trouble in the sixth. After he gave up two runs in the sixth, Erik Bedard came in to get A. J. Pierzynski to fly out to center to keep the Astros ahead 4-2. Rick Ankeil drilled a three-run homer to put the game out-of-reach 7-2.
Bedard then threw three more scoreless innings, allowing only one hit to guaranty the Astros one day alone in first place.