In a classic World Series, it should always come down to this

I created this collage last year for a Twitter contest where AT&T SportsNet was looking for the ultimate Astros fan in North Texas. I put out several tweets boasting of my lifelong fandom, with supporting evidence, but never heard a word. Obviously there are other North Texans who were either much more creative than me (easily done) or have a stronger emotional bond to the Astros (impossible). 

So, I’m dragging it off my hard drive today for good luck as the Astros, who couldn’t seal the deal in a drama-filled Game 6 last night, now face the game all ballplayers dream of: Game 7 of the World Series. You’d think they wouldn’t want the intense pressure that comes with knowing every at-bat, every pitch, every fielding decision and play they make could mean the difference between winning and losing their team a title.

Take Justin Verlander, the Astros’ starting pitcher last night and future Hall of Famer. He suffered the loss and, if his team falls short tonight, he’ll spend the offseason blaming himself for failing to win a WS game — something he still has yet to do in his illustrious career. But JV gave up only three runs in Game 6 and isn’t the reason the Astros lost.

They lost because, after crashing through for two first-inning runs off the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg, they couldn’t solve him again all night — save for when they wasted a second-and-third, one-out scoring shot that could’ve put them back ahead in the fifth after the Nats shocked the home crowd with solo blasts by Adam Eaton and Juan Soto off Verlander for their first lead.

Game 6 had drama galore — the post-home run bat-carrying-to-first-base antics of Alex Bregman and Soto, the crazy baseline interference call at first in the seventh, the resulting ejection of understandably infuriated Nats manager Dave Martinez. It’s not the first time in the series he’s been irate with the umpiring crew, and he’s had legitimate beefs.

So here we are, baseball fans. After 162 regular-season games and a month of playoff ball, we’ve arrived at this:

⚾ NL wild-card winner, the team with baseball’s best record since late May, vs. the team with the best overall record and winner of 100-plus games three straight years.

⚾ 35-year-old, three-time Cy Young winner and seven-time All-Star Max Scherzer, nursing a sore neck, vs. 36-year-old, one-time Cy Young winner and six-time All-Star Zack Greinke, nursing a tendency to get himself into — and often out of — postseason trouble.

⚾ Two teams that haven’t figured out how to win at home in this series, a trend that’s already made history across all major sports. If that carries tonight, the District of Columbia will have an MLB champ for the first time since the Senators won it all in 1924. But this Astros team won 60 games at Minute Maid Park in the regular season — more than anyone else in the majors. Not one of those 60 wins matters if they can’t win this one.

For the Astros to win tonight, they’ll have to get to Scherzer early. They’ll have to hope his neck issues cause him to make a few mistakes and they’ll have to be ready and capitalize. They can’t waste scoring opportunities. And Greinke will have to pitch the game of his life. Remember late in the season when he took a no-hitter into the ninth? Maybe not on that level, but he’s got to be really, really solid.

They can do this. I always talk about the Astros in “we” terms. So, we can do this. This team is too good, too proud, too focused on the #TakeItBack mantra it’s carried all season to let it get away now.

I understand the Nationals are a great team with winning chemistry, and they’ve been on an incredible roll for months. Their postseason run has been one of the greatest ever.

But this is the Astros’ championship to take. At home, in front of their fans, for the first time in the franchise’s 58 years. And I believe they’ll do this.

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