These Astros appeared in one MLB game

December 6th, 2020

HOUSTON -- If you went to the concession stand to get a hot dog, you might have missed them. At the end of the day, they went down in the record books as big leaguers, same as Craig Biggio or Jeff Bagwell. In fact, you probably haven’t heard of most of them before, but each of them had a story, nonetheless.

In the 59-year history of the Colt .45s/Astros franchise, seven players have appeared in exactly one game for Houston in what was their only taste of game action in the Major Leagues. For whatever reason, they didn’t step onto the field again in the big leagues with the Astros or any other team.

Injuries, fate and bad luck played roles in limiting the seven men to one big league game, but the fact they made the Major Leagues was an accomplishment. Let’s take a closer look at the Astros’ one-hit wonders -- the seven players whose Major League career consisted of one game in an Astros jersey:

Jay Dahl, Sept. 27, 1963 -- The Colt .45s averaged more than 11,000 fans for their inaugural 1962 season, but by the end of 1963, attendance had dropped below 9,000 per game. In an effort to create a few headlines, manager Harry Craft fielded an all-rookie starting lineup that had an average age of 19 years old.

It wasn’t until Carl Warwick entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning of a 10-3 loss to the Mets in the final series of the season at Colt Stadium that a veteran player took the field for Houston. Dahl, a 17-year-old lefty, became the youngest pitcher to start a game since Joe Nuxhall in 1945 at 16 years old.

That was the only career Major League game for Dahl, who died in a car accident less than two years later. Among the other rookies to start for Houston were Joe Morgan, Rusty Staub and Jimmy Wynn, who joined Aaron Pointer as the only two Colt .45s players in the lineup who were old enough to vote at the time. Pointer, interestingly, later became an NFL referee and is the brother of the members of the Pointer Sisters singing group.

John Paciorek, Sept. 29, 1963 -- Paciorek, who played at the University of Houston, had two brothers who played in the Major Leagues. Most will remember Tom Paciorek, who played 18 seasons (1970-87) in the Major Leagues with six teams, making the All-Star team with the Mariners in 1981. John played in 1,391 fewer games than his brother, but he made the most of it.

Two days after Craft fielded his all-rookie starting lineup, 18-year-old Paciorek -- in town to get his ailing back examined -- was given a start in right field against the Mets in the 1963 season finale. Paciorek had hit just .219 at Class A Modesto that season but was ready for the big leagues. He went 3-for-3 with four runs scored, two walks and three RBIs and is still the only player in Major League history to have a 1.000 career batting average with more than two at-bats.

Injuries took their toll and Paciorek, who played in the Minor Leagues until 1969, topped out at Double-A. He went on to become a P.E. teacher in California but will always have his moment in the sun.

“It’s kind of a dubious honor,” Paciorek told Stephen Wagner in the book "Perfect: The Rise and Fall of John Paciorek, Baseball’s Greatest One-Game Wonder." “But I guess I’m immortalized. I did something no one else has ever done."

Larry Yount, Sept. 15, 1971 -- Yount was only 21 years old when made the run from the bullpen at the Astrodome to the pitcher’s mound for the first time in his career. It was his Major League debut, and the promise of a great career was ahead.

Only 6,513 fans were on hand to watch the Astros meet the Atlanta Braves, a pair of scuffling clubs lingering around .500. Yount was going to pitch the ninth inning with the Astros trailing, 4-1. Behind him, the infielders were throwing the ball around the horn: John Mayberry at first, Morgan at second, Roger Metzger at short and Denis Menke at third.

“I remember going down and warming up and as I was warming up my elbow was pretty sore because I missed some days because of the military,” Yount said. “I thought that maybe I went out and the adrenaline would kick in and it wouldn’t feel like my elbow was falling off. They called me in and I decided to go out there and see what happens, and after I threw a couple of pitches I realized this isn’t going well.”

Due up for the Braves were Felix Millan, Ralph Garr and Hank Aaron, who at 37 years old still walloped a career-high 47 homers that year. Yount’s arm didn’t feel right while he was throwing his warmup pitches, and he decided not to push it.

“I decided to pull myself out of the game and that was that,” he said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think that would be the end of my career.”

Yount got a cortisone shot and was told to rest the arm. Before he knew it, the 1971 season was over. He battled injuries in the Minor Leagues for the next four years but never got another shot. His brother Robin, meanwhile, played 20 seasons in the big leagues with the Brewers and made the Hall of Fame.

“I don’t remember anything about it other than I got the news probably like anyone else did that he hurt his elbow warming up and didn’t get in the game,” said Robin Yount, who turned 16 the day after Larry made his debut. “Little did we know it would be his last chance of ever being in the big leagues.”

Rafael Montalvo, April 13, 1986 -- Montalvo, traded to the Astros from the Dodgers on July 10, 1985, in exchange for Enos Cabell, pitched one inning early in the 1986 season, in which the Astros won 96 games and took the National League West title.

In a game started by 1986 NL Cy Young winner Mike Scott, Montalvo entered in the eighth inning at the Astrodome against the Braves. He got Glenn Hubbard to pop out and Ozzie Virgil to fly out before giving up a triple to Omar Moreno. Montalvo got Rafael Ramirez to ground out to end the inning but didn’t record an out in the ninth by giving up walks to Dale Murphy and Bob Horner. That’s when Astros manager Hal Lanier yanked him.

With the Astros taking the Mets to six games in the infamous 1986 NLCS, Montalvo was later rewarded with a $500 playoff bonus for his small part in the Houston season. He kept playing professional baseball for the next 13 years, including stops in Mexico and Taiwan. He played winter ball in his native Puerto Rico until 2002 – 22 years after his pro debut.

Mike Grzanich, May 14, 1998 -- Selected by the Astros in the 19th round in the 1992 MLB Draft, Grzanich spent six seasons in the Minor Leagues before getting this only taste of the big leagues early in the 1998 season. Facing the Pirates at the Astrodome, the right-hander gave up two runs, one hit and two walks and struck out one batter in one inning of relief.

In 1999, Grzanich was picked up off waivers by the Tigers and ran into arm problems. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 1999, he tried to make a comeback in 2001 with the Yuma Bullfrogs of the independent Western League. He ran into more arm problems that forced him to retire. He’s currently the head softball coach at Hinds Community College in Mississippi.

Grzanich paid $120 in an internet auction to buy the uniform he had worn during his lone MLB appearance.

Philip Barzilla, June 11, 2006 -- Considering Yount never threw an official pitch in a big league game, Barzilla’s eight-pitch outing against the Braves is the fewest thrown by one Astros pitcher in his big league career. The lefty faced only two batters: Brian Jordan singled and Todd Pratt flied out to center field.

A fourth-round Draft choice by the Astros in 2001 out of Rice University in Houston, Barzilla was called up from Triple-A Round Rock when Roy Oswalt went on the disabled list.

"It's a bit surreal, and it hasn't really sunk in," the Houston native told the Houston Chronicle. "It's awesome to be in an Astros uniform. I grew up watching them.”

Barzilla played nine seasons in the Minor Leagues and four seasons playing in other countries before retiring in 2011. He also represented Italy in the 2006 World Baseball Classic.

Rudy Owens, May 23, 2014 -- Owens barely got a chance to enjoy his first and only Major League start before he was told postgame he was being sent back to Triple-A. That did little to dampen the excitement and emotions of the day for Owens, who was dealt the loss in the Astros' 6-1 setback to the Mariners in Seattle in which he gave up five earned runs and nine hits in 5 2/3 innings.

"It's just kind of everything I had been working for my entire life," Owens said. "Ever since I was a kid I remember saying I was going to be a professional baseball player and today was the day. There's that and there's everything my family's gone through to stay behind my back. Even when I struggled, they've been there to calm me down and keep me level-headed and remind me what my goal is."

Owens' family -- including his parents, Brian and Kathie, and his brothers and their families -- piled into a van and made the long drive from Phoenix to watch Owens face the Mariners in a spot start. He took the rotation spot of Brad Peacock, who was scratched with forearm soreness.

When he took the mound in Seattle, Owens had 334 innings in Triple-A under his belt and had missed most of the previous year following foot surgery.

"It's been a very emotional couple of days," he said. "It's pretty awesome. Every time somebody said congratulations, it made me tear up. It's super exciting. Getting here and sitting around waiting for my start, I was pretty nervous thinking about it. But once I got here, just hanging around with the guys, it was just like any other start. They made me feel very comfortable. I didn't feel like it was anything different than any other day. That was nice to have and I took it into the game.”

Owens signed with the A’s a few months later and spent time in the Dodgers and Rockies organizations. He last pitched professionally in Italy in 2017.