Solid pitching was really the only thing Houston needed to become competitive. Cabell, First Baseman Bob Watson, Shortstop Roger Metzger and Outfielders Cesar Cedeno, Greg Gross and Jose Cruz could play on anybody's club. It was the pitching and Virdon's demand for zero-defect baseball that brought everything neatly together.
In order to rectify last season's 16-42 record in one-run games, Virdon stressed fundamentals in spring training. "Taught us how to play baseball," is how Cabell puts it. Once the season began, Coach Bob Lillis assessed $2 fines for the little blunders that result in losses: missed signs, failure to hit behind the runner, overthrown cutoff men. In 1975 that system would have produced a sum approximating the national debt. But this season the Astros have played eyes-open, tight-fisted ball. Their record in one-run games is an outstanding 33-24, and Lillis has collected only $636 in fines.
Until the turnaround, Watson, Houston's leading hitter (.314, 99 RBIs and 16 home runs), was all set to pack off to another team. "This used to be a selfish club," he says. "Now everybody tries to contribute. I'd like to finish my career here. If we ever do win anything, I want to be around when it happens."
Watson has already been around long enough to play with his teammates in the World Series. Even if this series was played in a television movie, filmed in July for showing during the real World Series next month, it is another symbol of just how far the Astros have come. And where they might be going.