HOUSTON – It’s a weight that doesn’t go away, and deep down the Houston Astros think it will never go away.
In the three years since the 2017 World Championships for the Houston Astros was revealed, boosted by the electronic signal theft scandal, the club hasn’t looked metaphorically, sometimes literally.
Nothing can take it off – but success can be deodorant.
Nothing can undo the buzz of trash cans, the illicit television screen, and computer software that helped trap opponents’ pitches and feed them to the Astros batsman – but the emergence of four world championships in six years can justify the great achievements of their stars.
And nothing can bring all the shine back to the gold banner hanging over the left center field at Minute Maid Park that commemorates the 2017 World Championships champions.
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But setting aside the second road, it would at least make the bumpy road back out of shame worth it.
The Houston Astros won the second championship in the club’s history on Saturday night, beating the Philadelphia Phillies 4-1, leading to a 4-2 victory in the World Series, which will not erase the stigma of 2017.
The boos at opposing competitions, nor the often sinister reactions via social media or the beer-filled stadium noise will not subside. Instead, the Astros had to find their joy internally, within their club and the confines of Minute Maid Park, where 42,958 were crammed into Saturday night to see Yordan Alvarez pull off a winning shot on the 450-foot series. To see veteran Jose Altuve and junior junior Jeremy Peña jump into each other’s arms, two generations of Astros greats celebrate a unique moment.
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Seeing bundles of orange confetti falling from the ceiling, the team was finally able to celebrate a coronation achievement with the community vigorously defending it.
Houston versus the world? Well, if the world never came, it’s the Astros.
“I don’t know what you’re doing to change people’s opinions,” says the Astros, who started bowler Lance McCullers at a crowded club that is the quintet of 2017. “We put ourselves in a bad position and all we could do was fight our way to victory. And we did that a year ago. A year later now.
“And I can’t tell people how they feel, or what they think about us. Just know this men’s locker room did it the right way. We really earned this.
“We are the world champions.”
It’s been a wild ride, in these years since a young and bustling club captured Game 7 of the 2017 World Championships at Dodger Stadium. The main players graduated to other clubs. Veteran players were exchanged.
Then there was the scandal. The Athletic revealed in 2019 that Houston used an illegal and illegal method of tag-stealing that angered competitors, disgusted fans, and pulled the Astros from sports pages and on CNN, their baseball black hats.
It was a direct stain on the only title in franchise history. It left plenty of room for maneuver for what’s to come.
“It was hard at times. It was annoying for everyone,” says owner Jim Crane, who fired general manager Jeff Lono and manager AG Hinch in the wake of the scandal. “We got hit and right. I told the guys, this is going to be with us for a while. The only way we can fix this is to beat everyone else.
“I don’t think it’s ever fixed. You can’t undo history. You just try to put your best foot forward and hope it never happens again.”
Keep in mind that the winning part of it is fixed, as the Astros never stop.
They have advanced to six consecutive AL Championship Series, and made four of the last six World Championships. This year, they’ve won 106 games, and raced undefeated in the First Division and Championship Series, all while incorporating new champions.
Alvarez will likely end up in the top three in the AL MVP vote, and he has shown with his giant sixth-stroke green that he can be stopped for nearly three full playoff series, yet still flips it with one bat strike.
Then there’s Peña, who was supposed to be a low-rent alternative to free agent and former franchise icon Carlos Correa. Peña turned out to be just their steadiest and most relatable player in this post-season, locking in a World Series MVP honor with two three-strokes in Game 6 outside of the untouchable Zack Wheeler.
“I can’t believe how well he did,” says midfielder Chas McCormick. “He won the title for us.” “That hit the middle, got the boys going – he deserves the best player.”
McCormick, Pina, and Alvarez are among a growing group you might call The Other Guys — those who weren’t around for 2017, but were booed and bitter by opposing fans, as if they had anything to do with stealing the banner.
It was such a tribute to the Astros that, at least in public, they never split into Us and Them, that as the post-17 group swelled but the hatred didn’t subside, they stayed together and, in fact, played better as the years went by.
“It took everyone in this club to get the job done,” says third baseman Alex Bregman, who along with Altuve were the actual public faces of the signal-stealing scandal. “The only thing I can think of right now is how proud I am to be a part of this organization.”
Others had more on their minds.
“No one can say (expletive) now,” says Closer Ryan Presley, who joined the Astros in 2018 and was part of Pulp that posted the best-ever World Series ERA of 0.81. “We’re professionals. And people tell you some cliched things—you talk a lot about the mess about your family, your kids. And they let it shrug their shoulders. We get it on all sides, every playground we go to, and for them just blowing it up is incredible.”
“People will say what they want to say. We don’t give (expletive) what they say. We won. We are the best. They can’t say anything about that now.”
He is not mistaken.
Perhaps, as McCullers hinted, there is no flop to scorn. However, the schadenfreude that the Astros’ loyal enemies have been waiting for won’t come for a while. A core of half a dozen excellent starting bowlers, led by Game 6 winner Framber Valdez, will keep this unit strong even if Cy Young winner Justin Verlander leaves.
Bergman remains the heart of the squad and club. He is signed until 2024, and Alvarez until 2028.
Then there is Peña.
The charismatic, charismatic Providence rookie shared a long hug with father Jeronimo – a former league member – and his mother Cecilia, part of a group of approximately 25 people from Rhode Island and elsewhere in Game 6. In a post-game press briefing, he used the term He “shouted” six times, so grateful to manager Dusty Baker, his teammates, the tuff, and his Dominican people.
Astros might be more thankful.
“The roof – I don’t know where the roof is for that kid,” says General Manager James Click. “To come as he did, on this platform, with his expertise, is unreasonable.”
More believable: The Astros establish themselves as a breed. The past 30 years of the game have seen clubs that are adept at winning divisions, even banners, but not championships.
In the ’90s, the Braves won 14 titles and one world championship. Current Dodgers: 10 consecutive playoff berths, 1 championship. Even the rookie Atlanta Braves have won back-to-back Premier League titles, and one World Championship.
The Astros got their second episode. And this should shine forever, even if the receptions on the road remain unfriendly.
“It gets me distracted sometimes, but I try to put it behind me,” says Crane. “We won tonight. They will make their own decisions. But we got the cup.”