With eight straight losses to start the season and facing the prospect of matching a team record with a ninth, the Astros finally won a game on Thursday afternoon, topping the Cardinals 5-1. But for new Houston manager Brad Mills, who spent six years as a bench coach under Terry Francona with the Red Sox, one thing is certain: He's not in Kansas anymore.
No, the Boston and Houston franchises are plenty different. While general manager Theo Epstein aims to have the Red Sox in the World Series conversation every season, a local writer suggested Wednesday that "the Astros aren't very good and may not be for a while."
Yet when the Houston job opened up late last fall with the firing of Cecil Cooper, the now 53-year-old Mills jumped at the chance to manage his own major league club, signing a two-year contract with a club option for a third. And according to that same writer, if Houston shows even a glimmer of success this season, Mills should be around longer.
"Given the [Astros'] dearth of talent at the major-league level despite a $98 million payroll, the team's … start and the lack of major league-ready players in Triple-A and Double-A, Mills might deserve an extension — and a raise — if he comes anywhere close to .500 in the Astros' next two seasons."
Well, the first returns on that hoped-for .500 mark aren't looking so good.
In losing their first eight games of 2010, the Astros were outscored 44-14. Houston's .214 batting average entering Thursday was tied with Cleveland for the worst in the bigs. Even after their five-run outburst, their total of 19 runs is still by far the major-league low. Through nine games, the team is also at the bottom of the league in home runs (two), RBIs (18), stolen bases (one), on-base percentage (.242) and slugging (.290).
But it's hard to blame Mills for that lack of production, especially with middle-of-the-order guys Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence hitting a combined .100 (6-for-60) so far and fellow starters Geoff Blum (.208), Kaz Matsui (.118) and J.R. Towles (.056) struggling mightily at the dish. Mills is only doing the best he can with the limited on-field resources the team has to offer.
That said, the rookie manager was positively giddy following his team's first win.
"On a scale of 1 to 10? It's pretty high," he told The Associated Press. "And that's just being truthful."
Similarly, when he was hired away from the Red Sox, Francona, Mills' former teammate and roommate at the University of Arizona, was just being truthful about his confidence that Mills would succeed as a manager.
"I think he's ready," Francona told MLB.com at the time. "He's been ready. That's subjective, but he's been working his whole life towards this. When he was second in charge, he did a great job. Now he's going to be making the decisions and he'll do a great job."
It's quite possible that Mills will do a great job, and everyone in Red Sox Nation is no doubt cheering him on. But it's evident that he could use some help from the Astros front office. If there's any lesson that Francona helped teach him in Boston, it's that he can't be expected to turn things around himself.