The Houston Astros cemented a dominant streak with a second World Series title
HOUSTON — What will he say now?
The Astros secured their first World Series championship since the tainted one in 2017, capping a dominant six-year stretch in which they finished no further than seven wins from the ring at the end of each season. And what now? How will this title shape the Astros’ legacy? What, if anything, will that change in terms of how baseball fans outside of Houston feel about them?
Those were the questions that peppered the raucous, champagne-soaked home club at Minute Maid Park as Saturday night turned into Sunday morning.
Ryan Presslywho wrapped up a 4-1 win in Game 6, offered a convincing counter.
“We don’t care what they say,” he said. “We won. We’re the best. I can’t say anything about it now.”
Framber Valdez he delivered another brilliant outing, bowling six innings off one ball, and Yordan Alvarez delivered a devastating blow, clearing around the center fielder for a three-run homer in the sixth inning that avenged last year’s World Series loss, sent the Astros to the championship and gave Dusty Baker the trophy he had long desired.
Now 73, Baker spent three decades chasing a championship he won just once, as an outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers In 1981, he led 12 teams to the postseason and racked up 2,093 career regular-season wins before finally winning his first title as a manager, a milestone that would cement what was sure to become a Hall of Fame career.
When the final inning came and his dominant bullpen was in, Baker began counting the outs. He said he heard his late father talking to him, and he thought about his beloved former teammates who had also passed, names like Don Baylor and Hank Aaron and Roy Campanello.
“I tried not to think about it,” Baker said of his long pursuit of a championship, “but I tried to have the faith and persistence to know that with the right team and the right personnel and make it right this is going to happen. If this had happened years ago, I might not even be here, so maybe it shouldn’t have happened so that I could hopefully impact the lives of a few young men and their families and a number of different people in the country by showing what perseverance and character can do. for you in the long run.”
Baker was brought in near the end of the first month of 2020, shortly after a Major League Baseball investigation confirmed that the Astros used an elaborate trash can pounding scheme to steal opposing catchers’ signs from pitchers during the 2017 championship. the architect, Jeff Luhnow, and the field manager, AJ Hinch, were suspended and later fired, and the Astros suddenly became the proverbial villains of their sport, a sentiment shared almost as strongly by their peers as by rival fans.
“We’re beat up about it, and rightfully so,” Astros owner Jim Crane said. “We tried to go through it with our heads down. I told the guys, ‘This is going to be with us for a while. The only way we’re going to fix it is we’ve got to beat everybody.’ That’s what we focused on.”
The Astros recovered from a slow start to the pandemic-shortened season to reach the 2020 AL Championship Series, then went all the way to the 2021 World Series, losing in six games to the recent but resurgent Atlanta Braves team.
The off-season followed Carlos Correa leave via free agency, following the path of Gerrit Cole and George Springer in previous winters. The superstars were gone, their dynamic core was aging, but the Astros were still thriving. Jeremy Pena replaced Correa at shortstop, claimed AL Rookie of the Year and was later named MVP of both the ALCS and the World Series; Alvarez, acquired in what initially seemed like a small trade with the Dodgers, has evolved into arguably the best hitter in the sport; Valdez, Christian Xavier, Luis Garcia and Jose Urquidy — all obtained through well-below-market contracts on the international front — developed into top-notch starters; and the like Hector Neris, Bryan Abreu, Ryne Stanek and Raphael Montero formed a dominant pen bridge for Pressly.
Their stars shone around them. Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve performed among the best in their positions, and Justin Verlander set up as a Cy Young favorite as a 39-year-old coming off Tommy John surgery.
The Astros barely had a challenge in the AL West in 2022. They finished the regular season 106-56, winning the division by 16 games. They then won their first seven postseason contests to quickly dispatch the rookie Seattle Mariners and decorated New York Yankees in the first two rounds.
The Phillies, a team that won 19 fewer games, proved to be the Astros’ most formidable foe. They tested their mettle, but the Astros responded. When the Phillies mounted a five-run comeback to steal Game 1, the Astros rode a dominant Valdez to earn a split from Houston. When the Phillies hit five home runs in a Game 3 victory, the Astros rebounded to win back-to-back road games in a hostile environment, combining for a no-hitter in Game 4 and a combined effort — highlighted by Chas McCormickAmazing catch in the ninth inning — in Game 5.
In Game 6, Alvarez delivered a crushing blow — a 450-foot shot to center field that cleared a 40-foot-tall batter, a feat few remember ever witnessing in this ballpark.
“That’s why I’m here – so they can see it,” Alvarez said in Spanish.
Home run — off Jose Alvarado, Phillies left-hander Rob Thomson brought in to face him – it was his third of the postseason, and all three came while the Astros were trailing to give them the lead. No player has ever hit two of those in an entire postseason career.
Recent history has made it even more incredible. Alvarez, 25, had no home runs in his previous 10 postseason games and had accumulated just five hits in his past 42 at-bats. In Game 6, Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron noticed that Alvarez wasn’t wide enough in his stance. They worked on it in the cage. After Alvarez flied out to end his first two plate appearances, Cintron begged him to put his foot down early.
“You’re late,” he told him.
When Alvarez struck again in the bottom of the sixth, with runners on the corners, one out and the Astros trailing by a run, he felt calm. He didn’t look at his tablet, like he normally would. Instead, he was thinking about his four-year-old daughter and how her birthday was on Sunday and the family wanted to celebrate. He thought about what Altuve and Bregman had told him before the game, that he was the one to come through later that night. He began to believe them.
I had a little peace, a little faith, that it was my moment, Alvarez said. “And it happened.”
The Astros are just the fourth team in the expansion era, dating back to 1961, to win 60% of their games and win multiple World Series titles in a six-year span. The Baltimore Orioles worked from 1966 to ’71 Cincinnati Reds they did it from 1972 to ’77, and the Yankees did it twice, from 1976 to ’81. and from 1996 to ’01. The Astros’ .622 winning percentage during their stretch is the highest among them. Their second title, in many ways, was validation.
“I think it was extremely important,” the Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. he said. “There will always be a dark cloud over our heads. I’m sure a lot of people are not happy that we won, but at the end of the day, we keep working, we keep doing things the right way.”
McCullers, Bregman, Altuve, Verlander and Yuli Gurriel, who suffered a knee injury that knocked the Astros off the World Series roster ahead of Game 6, are the only players remaining from the 2017 championship team. The entire team has been booed mercilessly on the road in recent years, but those five — especially Bregman, Altuve and Gurriel, the position players who benefited from the team’s sign-stealing methods — have been vilified like few others in sports history.
McCullers said they never discussed validating their run with another title.
“But when you give those hugs after you win another one, when I hug guys like Bregman and Altuve and Yuli and JV, you feel like we’ve earned our place in history,” McCullers said.
“Every time they hear the whistles, they take it personally and it motivates them,” said Joe Espada, who completed his fifth year as the Astros’ bench coach. “It motivates them. But they keep their eyes on the goal. They know exactly what they have to do. To be here and get the job done — no words, man.”
The Astros now have some big decisions to make. Baker and James Click, hired as general manager less than a week after Baker arrived, both had contracts that have now expired. Baker could retire, and Click has not met with Crane on some baseball-related decisions, sources said, putting unexpected uncertainty over his future. Crane was noncommittal after the game, saying everyone will sit down “after the parade is over” next week.
Until then, the Astros will celebrate.
Silence will reign around them.
“I wasn’t here in 2017, but I can imagine it’s definitely a weight off everyone’s shoulders,” Pressly said. “No one can tell s— now.”
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