Astros didn’t win it all, but that doesn’t make season a total loss

I’ve had a few days to “get over” (not really) the disappointment of the Astros’ gutting loss to the Nationals in the World Series. That was a kick to the um, yeah, for this lifelong fan and so many others like me. Not to say winning the championship was a given, but when you get there, and you’ve taken a 3-2 series lead with three wins on the road, and you’re going home — where you went 60-21 in the regular season — and you need to win one out of two, you almost expect it to happen.

In Game 7, the Astros took a 2-0 lead into the seventh inning that, on most nights, might seem uncomfortable. But it felt safe, despite Houston’s numerous wasted scoring chances, because the Astros were riding a masterful pitching performance by Zack Greinke. He’d kept the Nats off-balance from the start and looked capable of getting at least through the eighth.

But after a home run and a walk, manager A.J. Hinch decided to turn to ever-reliable reliever Will Harris, who hadn’t given up a run all postseason until Anthony Rendon took him deep in Game 6. Two pitches after Greinke’s exit, Howie Kendrick reached for a pitch he shouldn’t have been able to do much with and drilled it off the right-field foul pole for a 3-2 lead, the Nats’ first of the game.

Although the Astros’ bats had nine outs left, Washington’s second homer-fired comeback in two nights had sapped the energy — and a good chunk of the hope, it felt like — from Minute Maid Park. Both nights, when those two fateful innings transpired, I was driving from work in downtown Dallas toward home in southwest Arlington, expletives flying inside my car after balls flew out of the ballpark.

As the Nats tacked on three more runs in the eighth and ninth in Game 7, the Astros were unable to string together any hint of a rally, and their season crashed to an end that seemed both unfair and unfitting. But the Nationals, who were clearly the better team in this series, deserve all the plaudits they’re getting for knocking off one of baseball’s top teams, if not its best.

Many will say the Astros’ season was a failure because they didn’t win a second championship in three years. That it’s inexcusable for a team to go home without the Commissioner’s Trophy when it won more than any other, won 100-plus games for a third year in a row, had the top pitching combo in baseball in Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander, led the majors in several offensive categories and will go down as one of the most prolific in history.

They’ll say the whole season is a loss, and that the Astros choked.

But those folks just don’t get it. They don’t get how tough it is to win a championship in any sport, especially in baseball, where the grind of nine months including spring training, 162 games and a full month of the playoffs — if a team’s lucky enough to survive all the way to the World Series — is more grueling than any other.

What’s more, they don’t understand how, in baseball — and especially in the baseball playoffs — every decision, every made play and misplay, every umpire’s ball-and-strike call is magnified tenfold. How winning and losing can be measured by a ball being hit like a laser directly into a fielder’s glove, caught in a highlight-reel play rather than finding a gap and going to the wall, or falling just outside the foul line.

The Astros felt the sting of that “game of inches” reality time after time against the Nationals. If the Astros had won, the Nats could’ve said the same.

It would’ve hurt to see the Astros not make the playoffs at all, which they’ve done many, many more times than not in my 50-plus years of dedication to the team. Getting knocked out in the first round or in the ALCS would’ve been tough, too.

But as all baseball fans know, losing in the seventh game of the World Series is by far the most painful way to go, because you came that close. That DAMN close.

I’ll admit I get frustrated when the Astros don’t play up to the high standards they’ve set by performing at elite levels in recent years. Not even the best — the Ruths, the Gehrigs, the Aarons, the Trouts, the Ripkens — can do that game in, game out for 162 plus the playoffs.

The champion Nationals showed their class by taking out a full-page ad in the Houston Chronicle to congratulate the Astros on their outstanding season.

I’ll also ’fess up that I’m one of those wishing Greinke had been given the chance to finish the seventh inning, and that the Astros had been able to come through with more clutch hits against the Nationals, something they struggled to do throughout the playoffs after a season of timely hitting.

But they advanced farther than 28 other teams and gave their city and fans something to cheer about for the better part of 2019, and that’s incredibly special. What’s more, with the exception of Cole, their core will remain mostly intact for 2020 and their farm system is pretty well-stocked. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to keep contending for the foreseeable future.

I wanted to share this post by Julia Morales, the Astros’ sideline reporter for AT&T SportsNet. She noted all the negativity on her Twitter, Facebook and Instagram from those who seem to know more about how to manage a team than A.J. Hinch and would rather spend time rattling off all the reasons the Astros didn’t win rather than reveling in a great season. I thought her post was cool and right on.

Also, noting that Julia’s interviewing Jose Altuve in her photo, today’s a great day for me because of something that arrived via FedEx: After the Astros knocked off the Yankees to win the ALCS, thanks to Jose’s walkoff homer — and after much haranguing by my wife, Kay — I finally decided to order my first *authentic* Astros jersey in almost 30 years. I got on mlbshop.com and ordered an Altuve WS jersey, and she ordered a (much cheaper) Astros shirt, too. I’ve gotta let out an Aggie whoop for that!!

My Jose Altuve jersey arrived today!!!

Thanks for the awesome season, Astros! Let’s win it all in 2020! 

2 thoughts on “Astros didn’t win it all, but that doesn’t make season a total loss

  1. There is nothing wrong with critiquing the Houston Astros. The Astros losses were more their doing, than just bad luck. The Astros will not be a better team next season, if they do not hear about their weaknesses. However, yes, the Astros fans should be appreciative of the Astros’ 2019 season. No one is perfect. If the Astros were, they would have won 173 games and lost 0 games.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey there, Michael. You’re right. Fans have every right to share their feelings about where the players fell short and why a team that should’ve won another title didn’t. After all, these guys get paid crazy money to come through in these kinds of situations. But I think you have to draw the line somewhere on the criticism and not just pile on. I get frustrated at Springer for swinging out of his shoes all the time, but can you coach a guy to swing less aggressively? You’d think what worked during the regular season would work during the playoffs, but that’s where failures get magnified to the max. As much as we love all the home runs, sometimes we purists would love to see the Astros go back to stringing hits together more often. That’s not to say they don’t do that, but sometimes the approach does seem to be a swing-for-the-fences mentality. Then again, they had the fewest strikeouts in the majors, so there’s something to be said for how they’re approaching their at-bats. Late in the regular season on that final road trip, they were facing bad pitchers and looking bad at the plate (although managing to win), and I think that just carried over into the playoffs. They just never really came back around.

      I’m glad you sent me your note, and I appreciate your reading my blog. Can’t believe how many members the FB group has and how it grew during the playoffs. I grew up in the Houston area but have lived in DFW since ’87, so my only chances to see the Astros are when they’re in town to play the Rangers. I did make it to Houston to see ALDS Game 2 and ALCS Game 1. Hope you were able to get out to one of the playoff games. Take care, and see you on the group page.
      Frank Christlieb, Arlington

      Like

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