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Game to Remember: Jose Cruz

Game to Remember: Jose Cruz
As part of the Astros' 50th anniversary, the weekly "Game to Remember" series features a former Astros/Colt .45s great discussing his favorite game while playing for the Houston franchise. This week: Jose Cruz.

The Astrodome was rocking. That's the most vivid memory Jose Cruz has about Oct. 12, 1980, a day that actually saw the Astros suffer one of the biggest heartaches in franchise history. It was a day to remember and a day to forget rolled into three hours and 38 minutes.

The Astros, having beaten the Dodgers in a one-game playoff to win the National League West title in 1980, played one of the most memorable playoff series in history when they battled the Phillies in best-of-five NL Championship Series that year.

Game to Remember
Jose Cruz and Figures
1. Full name: Jose (Dilan) Cruz
2. Game to Remember: Oct. 12, 1980 (Phillies 8, Astros 7)
3. Nickname: Cheo
4. Jersey number: 25
5. Primary Position: LF
6. Bats/Throws: Left/Left
7. Born: Aug. 8, 1947
8. Birthplace: Arroyo, Puerto Rico
9. Major League debut: Sept. 19, 1970
10. Years in Major Leagues: 19
11. Years with Houston: 13 (1975-87)
12. Other teams: Cardinals (1970-74), Yankees (1988)
13. Key stats with Houston: .292 batting average, 138 homers, 942 RBIs, 335 doubles, 80 triples, 288 steals
14. Claim to fame: Cruz holds the distinction of being involved with all nine of the Astros' postseason appearances -- three as a player (1980, '81, '86) and six as a coach (1997-99, '01, '04-'05)
15. Did you know? Cruz's 80 triples remain the Astros franchise record.
16. What's he doing now? In his 29th year with the organization, Cruz serves as special assistant to the general manager and is part of the Astros' Major League Spring Training coaching staff.

Each game was full of tension, drama and excitement, as both teams battled to reach the World Series. The Phillies won Game 1 at Veterans Stadium, but the Astros took the second game in 10 innings and then flew to Houston to win Game 3 in 11 innings, 1-0, to move one win away from their first Fall Classic.

The Astros lost Game 4, 5-3 in 10 innings, setting the stage for a winner-take-all Game 5 in the Astrodome.

"That was one of the most exciting moments for me," said Cruz, the Astros' All-Star left fielder. "Astros against the Phillies."

The 1980 season was the first in which the Astros reached the playoffs, so the fans were full of excitement for the series. And when Game 5 arrived, 44,802 filled the Astrodome and provided an electric atmosphere that rivaled the city's love affair with that era's "Luv Ya Blue" Houston Oilers of the NFL.

Cruz, still one of the most popular players in franchise history, finished third in the NL Most Valuable Player voting in 1980 (behind Mike Schmidt and Gary Carter) after hitting .302 with 11 homers, 91 RBIs, 185 hits and 36 stolen bases. The sound of public-address announcer J. Fred Duckett introducing "Jose Cruuuuuuuuzzzz" was as much a part of the Astrodome as artificial turf.

"That was the first time people started to come and see us play," Cruz said. "We had a lot of fans during the playoffs. The first day of the season, the Dome would be packed. We had like 50,000 people, but after that only 20,000. There wasn't that many, except when the Dodgers or Cubs came to town. But that night was exciting."

With Nolan Ryan on the mound, the Astros carried a 5-2 lead into the eighth inning and found themselves six outs from the NL pennant. Cruz got the scoring started for Houston with an RBI double off Marty Bystrom in the first inning.

The Phillies tagged Ryan for five runs in the eighth to take a 7-5 lead, but the Astros -- in keeping with the theme of the entire season -- wouldn't go down without a huge fight. Houston scored twice in the eighth against Tug McCraw on a single by Rafael Landestoy and a game-tying single to center by Cruz that sent the crowd into a frenzy.

"We kept coming back and I tied the game," Cruz said.

Alas, the Phillies scored once in the 10th and won, 8-7, to clinch the pennant. Fans cried. Players cried. Cruz was among the players who sat silently in the dugout while the Phillies celebrated on the field.

"That was pretty tough," said Cruz, who went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and batted .400 in the NLCS. "I've tried to forget that game. We had a chance a couple of times to win it, but we lost the final game."

Cruz and the Astros would suffer another heartbreaking playoff defeat six years later when the Mets beat Houston in six games to win the 1986 NLCS. The Mets won Game 6 in 16 innings, avoiding a Game 7 matchup with Cy Young winner Mike Scott, who had beaten New York twice in the series.

"It brings back memories when I see those games on TV and they keep showing the 1980 and 1986 playoffs," Cruz said. "People call and say they're showing the Astros and you get a base hit, but I don't watch."

Cruz finally got his chance to taste the World Series when the Astros won the 2005 NL pennant and were swept by the White Sox in four games. Cruz was the first base coach, but he suspects it couldn't have matched actually playing in a World Series.

"That [Game 5 in 1980] was the best moment for me with the Astros because I had a chance to try to get in the World Series for the first time," he said. "As a coach, I was there, but it's not the same as being a player."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.

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