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The Astros gave their name to Astroturf, the plastic grass that came into baseball because the real thing died indoors. It was a new problem, for the Astrodome was the first domed baseball park (opened in 1965), an attempt to avoid the Texas heat. The stadium was the brainchild of Astros owner Roy Hofheinz, who had a Texan's sense of size and spectacle.
The club was originally to be in the proposed Continental League, an operation forestalled by the major leagues with the old tactic of offering the soundest owners new ML franchises. Unlike the Mets, the Astros (then called the Colt .45s) immediately went with youth under the direction of GM Paul Richards, a master talent evaluator. Products of the Astros' farm system in the 1960s included Joe Morgan and Rusty Staub. The strategy didn't make them instant contenders, like the AL's Angels, but it kept them above the Mets. The club reached the .500 level in the first year of divisional play, 1969, and contended off and on through the 1970s, which featured Cesar Cedeno, called "The New Wille Mays" by manager Leo Durocher. The arrival of overpowering pitcher J.R. Richard in 1976 made the team even stronger. He suffered a career-ending stroke in 1980, but the club went on to its first division title that year, led by franchise favorite Jose Cruz, the reacquired Morgan, and 20-game-winner Joe Niekro. They finished in a tie with the Dodgers but won the one-game playoff. The team won the second half of the 1981 strike-split season, but this time the Dodgers prevailed in postseason play. Led by Cy Young winner and split-finger fastballer Mike Scott, the Astros captured another division title in 1986, but lost to the Mets in a storied LCS that featured Scott's MVP performance in a losing cause, Nolan Ryan's nine innings of two-hit, 12-strikeout pitching to a no-decision in Game Five as the Astros lost in 12 innings, and the climactic Game Six, a 16-inning topsy-turvy marathon won by New York. (WOR)