Like many other Houstonians, I was shocked and saddened to learn about the sudden death of former Astros pitcher Jose Lima this past weekend.
There's no way any Houston sports fan can remember the Astros of the late 1990s - the excitement of three straight NL Central titles or of Bagwell and Biggio playing in their prime - and not remember Jose Lima. His flamboyant personality, not to mention his strong pitching during the 1998 and 1999 seasons, made him a fan favorite and gave rise to the notion of "Lima Time." He loved Astros fans as much as they loved him and never tired of interacting with them and signing autographs. He was known for his animated antics in the dugout - I'll never forget the time I saw him wearing a backwards, inside-out cap and repeatedly slamming a bat into some outfield wall padding in an effort to rally the team on a day he wasn't pitching - and for his humorous interactions with the press in the clubhouse. And then there was him singing in a Casa Olé commercial.
Jose Lima joined the Astros in 1997 and, in spite of being upstaged by the late-season acquisition of Randy Johnson, had a good 1998 season with a 16-8 record and an ERA of 3.70. 1999 was his best year, as he notched 21-10 record, a 3.58 ERA and an All-Star appearance. However, as the Astros moved from the pitcher-friendly confines of the Astrodome to the hitter's paradise of what is now Minute Maid Park in 2000, Lima struggled. He went 7-16 with an ERA of 6.65 that season and was traded the following year, ending the phenomenon of Lima Time in Houston.
His fortunes on the mound waxed and waned in the following seasons as he bounced around between major league teams and their minor league affiliates. The last time I remember watching him was during the 2004 postseason, when he pitched a five-hit shutout for the Los Angeles Dodgers in their NL Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals: the Dodgers' only victory of that series and their first postseason victory since the 1988 World Series. More recently, Lima had relegated himself to international and independent league baseball. With his baseball career coming to an end, he had reportedly been planning on a singing career. Unfortunately, that never came to pass. "Lima Time," however, will live in Astros lore forever.
Jose Lima apparently died of a massive heart attack. He was only 37. Kind of sobering, considering that I'll be 37 in a few months.