Ausmus, Bagwell, Biggio, Kent among A-listers headed back to Minute Maid Park in ’12.

Two players who you'll see throwing out ceremonial first pitches this year: Brad Ausmus and Jose Cruuuuuuuuuz.

The Astros’ 18-inning win over the Braves in Game 4 of the NLDS in 2005 still comes up in conversation from time to time, and what people remember best about that game, of course, is the Chris Burke home run that won it almost six hours after the affair started.

Fans might also remember Roger Clemens pitching three brilliant innings of relief. Or that Lance Berkman was lifted for a pinch-runner eight innings earlier. Or that Brandon Backe started the game and wasn’t terribly effective.

But the one key moment that sometimes gets pushed to the side, considering how significant Burke’s home run was, is that the Astros were minutes away from losing that game, if not for one improbable swing of the bat. The two teams were pretty much headed back to Atlanta for a decisive Game 5 — until they weren’t, thanks to Brad Ausmus.

The game only continued because Ausmus picked a really, really good time to be very un-Ausmus-like and hit a home run with two outs in the ninth inning to tie the game at 6.

The umpires also picked a really good time to show a complete understanding about the ground rules and the zig-zaggy yellow lines in the outfield that indicated what was a home run and what wasn’t. This was before instant replay, but when the ball smacked against the left-center wall, just above the zig and to the right of the zag, the umpire immediately started twirling his index finger in the air, indicating a home run.

Ausmus will be one of 13 former players who will visit Minute Maid Park this season as a ceremonial first-pitch honoree. His Game 4 heroics are not the reason why, of course. “Officer Brad” was a mainstay behind the plate for 10 of 12 seasons from 1997-2008, missing only two years when he was traded to the Tigers (and subsequently traded back after it became apparent the Mitch Meluskey experiment was a disaster).

Ausmus was Steady Eddie behind the plate, wearing several hats in addition to the one with the Astros star on it. He was a security blanket for the pitchers, an encyclopedia of knowledge while dissecting the tendencies and habits of every hitter in the league, and a no-nonsense field operator who was in complete control at all times. His pitchers knew that, as did whoever was running things from the dugout. His batting average was, well, average, but his value to the team was immeasurable.

On Tuesday, the Astros released complete list of first-pitch pitchers who will appear on “Flashback Fridays.” The team will wear throwback uniforms and celebrate Houston’s fabulous 50-year history every Friday home game in 2012, and the return of former players will only add to the nostalgia that is sure to take over Minute Maid Park throughout the season.

The first ceremonial pitch is on April 10, the actual anniversary of the first Major League game played in Houston. Bob Aspromonte, arguably the most well-known of the original Colt .45s, will have the first pitch honors that day. The rest of the best:

April 10 vs. ATL Bob Aspromonte; 1960s- Colt .45s
April 20 vs. STL Larry Dierker; 1960s-Astros
May 4 vs. LAD Rusty Staub; 1960s-Colt .45s
May 18 vs. TEX Nolan Ryan; 1980s
June 1 vs. CIN J.R. Richard; 1970s
June 22 vs. CLE Joe Morgan; 1960s-Astros
July 6 vs. MIL Jose Cruz; 1970s
July 27 vs. PIT Mike Scott; 1980s
Aug. 10 vs. MIL Jeff Bagwell; 1990s
Aug. 17 vs. ARI Brad Ausmus; 1990s
Aug. 31 vs. CIN Shane Reynolds; 1990s
Sept. 14 vs. PHI Jeff Kent; 2000s
Sept. 21 vs. PIT Craig Biggio; 2000s

Each player will throw a customized Rawlings baseball that features a 24-karat gold leather cover with the Astros 50th anniversary logo.

This group of players combined for 49 All-Star Game appearances, 15 Silver Slugger Awards, 12 Gold Glove Awards, four MVP Awards, two Hall of Fame inductions, one Rookie of the Year Award and one Cy Young Award. The 13 combined for over 18,000 hits and nearly 2,000 home runs. The five pitchers – Dierker, Reynolds, Richard, Ryan and Scott – have over 800 wins and more than 11,000 strikeouts.

The first pitch participants are scheduled to appear at Minute Maid Park in the month during which their playing days are being honored. The appearances of Staub, Ryan and Morgan are scheduled out of order to accommodate their individual travel schedule.

“Flashback Fridays” highlights the rich tradition of the Astros’ former uniforms, some of the most recognizable and iconic in baseball history. In April, the Astros will celebrate the 1960s by wearing the original Colt .45s jersey. The 1960s shooting star jersey, the first Astros jersey ever worn, will be donned in May. The club will celebrate the 1970s and wear the rainbow jerseys in June, the 1980s shoulder rainbow jerseys in July and the 1990s blue and gold star uniforms in August.

Fans can purchase a special Flashback Friday 14-game flex plan, presented by Papa John’s, that guarantees a seat for Opening Day and each Flashback Friday night. This special ticket package also includes a free ticket for a 15th game of their choice.  Plans are available by calling 1-800-ASTROS2 or visiting Astros.com.

In addition to uniforms, “Flashback Fridays” will also feature special ballpark entertainment and fireworks shows themed to each particular decade. Several additional promotions recognizing the 50th anniversary are scheduled throughout the 2012 season, with a complete listing available at www.astros.com.

Meanwhile, enjoy some nostalgic photos of several first pitch honorees:

Jeff Bagwell during 2004 postseason.

Craig Biggio during pregame introductions at the World Series.

Larry Dierker during his uniform number retirement in 2002.

Jeff Kent introduced himself to the Houston fanbase in dramatic fashion, hitting a home run in his first game as an Astro.

Nolan Ryan during a press conference following his 3,509th career strikeout.

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6 Comments

My most memorable memory from that game was rising to my feet when ausmus connected on that pitch and had my hands on my head and mouth wide open, waiting for the gold glove center fielder, Andruw jones, who caught everything to climb the wall and what I thought was a catch, but saw the umpire twirling his finger in the air, which I quickly sat down and just put my hand on my dads shoulder in disbelief! Brad ausmus, yes, brad ausmus hit a rare homerun and andruw jones didn’t rob him! Greatest play ever!!!!!!!

And once again Roger Clemens snubbed. Coulda added a bunch more Cy Youngs to that list and Allstar games. Whats up with the Ausmus nicknames…”OFFICER BRAD?” “Steady Eddie?” Sounds like someones stripper name fantasy for Mr. Scruffy… Outside of being a reciever for a living and calling pitches… the only seats he put in the stands were women. Gotta give him props for the one memorable homerun though. Outside of that he was pretty much Adam Everett only behind the plate.

And how about Carlos Beltran? I know hes still playing but yeah we do play the Cardinals and he was a very very big part of our playoff success that one season. How bout instead of having Nolan throw out the first pitch we just sign him and have him start games all year. Sounds like a plan.

JH, I’m with you bud, on the idea of signing Nolie as a starter. I’m following you too on questioning the nicknames-we’ve-never-heard-of for Ausmus. But you lost my support when you belittled Brad’s ability to put women in the seats. Many of us considered ourselves to be Brad’s girlfriend, only because he was the best-looking-thing in any kind of uniform, and we all lived a rich fantasy life. I thought I was the only one who was in the stands because of Brad….until I confessed my weakness and countless others admitted they too fed their addiction by purchasing tickets. Ausmus leaving the Astros is the real reason ticket sales dropped in recent years. Not sure if I’m kidding or not. I predict the Friday August 17 game this year against Arizona will be one of the most-attended games all season.

Your absolutely right about Ausmus. He was the hottest thing in uniform, and I like the nickname for him… Stripper or not! ;) I will be there August 17th to see the sexiest man ever in baseball throw out the first pitch!

MItch Meluskey. Its been a long time since anyone heard his name. Perhaps he and Matt Mieske can be brought together to reenact their batting practice fight from the 2000 season or at least sign a peace treaty?

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