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