x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Astros are finally taking off

Brad Mills and his boys find their feet in the majors after enduring an unenviable losing streak.

The major league is new territory for Brad Mills, the Houston Astros manager, left.
The major league is new territory for Brad Mills, the Houston Astros manager, left.

Brad Mills waited decades to become a major league manager. And when he finally got his chance, he thought it might take that long to win. At the end of last season, Mills was named manager of the Houston Astros. He had served the previous six years as the bench coach of the Boston Red Sox, working with Terry Francona, the manager, his closest friend in the game.

Before Boston, there were coaching stints in Philadelphia and 11 seasons as a minor league manager. After the 2008 season Mills interviewed - unsuccessfully - for the managerial vacancy with the Seattle Mariners. There were times when he wondered if he would realise his dream. Then, last October, Mills was hired to manage the Astros. Like most first-time managers, he did not inherit the most talented roster. He knew it was unlikely the Astros would contend right away. Mills stressed fundamentals in spring training, hoping his young club would learn to play the game properly, if not always successfully.

But he could never have imagined what his first two weeks on the job would be like. The Astros dropped the opener, then another and then another. They were shut out twice in their first four games and three times they lost by five or more runs. They lost two games by a single run. In one particularly bad stretch, the team allowed 27 runs in three games. Mostly, the Astros just kept losing: eight in a row to start.

On their ninth try, they got one right, beating the Cardinals, 5-1. Mills's long wait was finally over. "It was kind of funny," Mills told the Houston Chronicle after the team finally won. "After [the losing streak] went to three, there were a lot of [friends] calling. "It went to five and there were a lot of people calling. By the time it went to eight there weren't too many people calling. I think they decided not to say anything."

Mills may be taking a few more calls now. The Astros avoided matching the worst start in franchise history. They have been getting solid pitching and good hitting in the last few days, and have won three out of their last four games. sports@thenational.ae