The Astros put things together in 1980. Led by manager Bill Verdon, the Astros won the NL West division. For the first half of the season, there was no better player in the game than Richard. He was so dominant there was talk about him having a chance to win the NL MVP in addition to the Cy Young Award that was to be a lock. He was 10-4 with a 1.90 ERA. He had already thrown 4 CG shutouts, striking out 119 batters in 113 2/3 IP.
Sadly, Richard pitched his last MLB game in July of that season. It was his first game after appearing in the All Star Game, and he removed himself complaining of nausea and numbness as well as a sore arm. He was placed on the disabled list and his integrity was questioned by the Astros organization after the tests performed on his arm showed no structural damage. For years, Richard has blamed the Astros organization for the way his injury was treated. While throwing, Richard collapsed to the ground needing an emergency procedure to remove a massive blood clot to save his life. He suffered symptoms such as blurred vision and slow reflexes which kept him from completing his comeback. He pitched in the minor leagues in 1982 and 1983 and his final comeback came in 1984, where he was released at the end of April.
The Astros had a good pitching staff even without Richard. Joe Niekro finished the season 20-12, 3.55 and finished with 11 complete games. Nolan Ryan, despite going just 11-10 (a lot of no decisions), had a 3.35 ERA and 200 Ks. Ken Forsch was 12-13, but had a 3.20 ERA in 32 starts. Verne Ruhle was 12-4, 2.37 in 28 games, 22 starts. Joaquin Andujar, who would later star for the St Louis Cardinals, contributed with a 3.91 ERA in 35 games, 14 starts (mostly taking the turn vacated by Richard).
The Astros gave the Philadelphia Phillies all they could handle in a five game NLCS, won by the Phillies 3 games to 2. No question Richard would have made the Astros better, in my opinion enough to surpass Philadelphia and win the pennant and perhaps enough to defeat the Kansas City Royals in the World Series. Richard pitching games 1 and 4 of the series would allow guys like Niekro and Ryan to slot down accordingly. If he continued to pitch like he did in the first half of the season, he would have been impossible to hit. The Astros would have had a destinct advantage.
Its a shame that Richard got injured during one of the best runs the Astros ever had. From 1976-1979, Richard dominated while pitching for bad teams. The Astros will always be held accountable for the way his injury was treated. The treatment alone may have cost Richard his career. If the Astros had gotten him more testing, maybe the stroke and blood clots could have been avoided. Who knows where Richard would have ranked among the All Time Greats had he finished his career? There is also a great chance he could have led the H