The Phillies are somehow going to the World Series. I’m just as shocked as you are. But it’s really happening! As you may have heard, on Friday they face the Houston Astros, a franchise whose questionably-acquired Commissioner’s Trophy and ruthless domination of the American League over the past five years has illuminated them for the leaguewide villains they are. However, before they became the First Order to the Yankees’ Evil Empire, they were a generally mediocre franchise trying their best to keep it together long enough for Texans to remember that other sports exist before high school football shows up again. As it happens, the Phillies’ history with the Astros stretches back across 60 years, with some early moments standing out in particular. Let’s take a look back at some of those notable meetings, shall we?
April 13, 1962: Meet-Cute
Upon beginning play in 1962, the once and future AL powerhouse Houston Astros were originally the National League expansion franchise Houston Colt .45s. The team moniker was plucked from a “Name the Team” contest in part because one of the founding owners wanted to pursue a sponsorship deal with the Colt Firearms Company. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work out. But it would be pretty funny if the franchise decided to revisit the question as MLB prepares to feature jersey ads next season.
When they first locked eyes from across the room on April 13, 1962, the Phillies were coming off of a split opening series in Pittsburgh. This 1962 squad sought to improve on an atrocious 1961 performance that wound up at 47-107, good enough for a last place finish 46 games behind the first-place Reds. That team lost 23 games in a row, which is still the 3rd longest losing streak in MLB history. The Colt .45s, meanwhile, had just opened their inaugural season with a 3-game sweep of the Cubs at Colt Stadium in Houston. Now it was time to take their show on the road, and they pulled up to Connie Mack Stadium ready for their first-ever road series in the National League. And if there’s one trope Philadelphians love, it’s Southerners arriving to make their way and try their luck in the big city.
So how did this first date go? The Phillies beat the Colts 3-2 that evening on the back of a complete game from starter Jack Hamilton. The Colts threatened to do serious damage at multiple points in the game but never strung enough opportunities together despite notching 7 hits. The Phillies, meanwhile, scratched across 3 runs on 4 hits against Houston starter Turk Farrell and reliever Bobby Tiefanauer. This game was a sign of things to come, as the Phillies went 17-1 against Houston en route to their first winning season in nine years. They would only finish in 7th place given that four teams had more than 90 wins, but sometimes a record over .500 feels like a raincloud in a drought. Meanwhile, the Colts would finish at 64-96 in 8th place and 16 ½ games behind the 7th-place Phillies. Woof.
May 17, 1963: Harry Hears a Houston No-Hitter
The 1963 Colt .45s would continue their ongoing quest of futility, but that team shares two interesting points of overlap with Philadelphia baseball.
1963 marked the first season that Harry Kalas called a major league baseball game. After spending the early 60’s broadcasting games locally in Hawaii, he was called up to the bigs in the Colts’ employ, kicking off a broadcasting career that would span more than 45 years, multiple stadiums, four World Series appearances, two championships, and countless memories. The Astros are pretty evil now, but without them we might not have ever been graced by Harry the K. So thanks for that, Houston, I guess.
And on a less fun note, Don Nottebart threw the Colts’ first no-hitter on May 17, 1963 to beat the Phillies 4-1 in Houston. That’s him in the lead photo standing next to Phillies legend Jim Bunning. It only took until the franchise’s second season to complete the feat, and honestly? Good for them. The Padres have been around since 1969 and they didn’t throw their first no-hitter until 2021. Houston had seen two no-hitters before they changed their name to become the Astros. Hey, speaking of becoming the Astros...
Opening Day 1965: Behold the Astrodome
Did you know that the Phillies were part of the first MLB game ever played in an indoor arena? You do now! I think that this is a great piece of trivia which deserves wider attention. The Astrodome, designed to defend against the notoriously muggy and unpleasant Houston summer, was the world’s first domed multipurpose stadium. It’s now viewed as a fascinating detour in sports architecture that people eventually realized they hated to play in, but the hype surrounding its opening cannot be overstated. They played baseball indoors! In air conditioning! And (eventually) on fake grass! The future was finally here, it seemed, and on April 12, 1965, the Phillies were on hand to inaugurate the Astrodome for regular season play in a match fortuitously called by Harry Kalas.
Philadelphia continued their franchise dominance as starter Chris Short pitched a complete game shutout of the newly-christened Houston Astros in the home opener of the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” Short’s performance, limiting Astros hitters to 4 hits and striking out 12, was an auspicious start for a club coming off of an all-time epic collapse in the Phold of ’64. Gene Mauch would not pilot his squad close to sniffing the pennant that year, but there were bright spots en route to a winning record, including a phenomenal sophomore season from reigning Rookie of the Year Dick Allen. The inaugural season for the Astros and the Astrodome, comparatively, could hardly have gone worse on the field. Even future Hall of Famer Joe Morgan’s breakout season couldn’t salvage things, as they finished at 65-97 in 7th place above the truly hopeless Amazin’ Mets.
We’ll Always Have Harris (County)
The relationship continued to go very well for the Phillies as they amassed a 212-169 record over Houston throughout the 1980s. However, the early days of punching down on the Texan expansion team ended long ago, as the Astros used the 1990s and 2000s to beat up on the malaise-era Phillies and pull nearly even. As things presently stand, the Phillies remain on top with a .512 winning percentage against Houston at 297-283, which will hopefully become 301-283 quite soon. You might remember that the Phillies already beat Houston in an all-time, wildly intense postseason series once before. How hard can it be to do it again?