I have to admit of the eight remaining teams in the MLB post-season, my least favorite are the Houston Astros. Since my three favorite teams overall are, in order, the Mets, the Yankees and the Dodgers (mock me if you will, but I’ve got good reasons for each), I’ve had at least three different reasons for despising the ‘Stros.
While the 1986 Mets did indeed take down Houston in the NLCS, with a thrilling Game Six comeback that ultimately saw thme hang on in extra innings to advance to the World Serie, the way Mike Scott (a former Met!) dominated them with a questionably legal pitch was frustrating and agitating. Had the Game Six miracles not occurred, a third date with Scott would have arisen in a winner-take-all game in that God-forsaken, noisy, humid Astrodome. The Astros were clearly cheating, but baseball looked the other way. The Mets made it a moot point–until, three decades later, they revived it.
The 2017 ‘Stros, now in the American League, were proven to have stolen signs from their competition en route to their first-ever World’s Championship, taking down a valiant Yankee team and ultimately costing 2009 World Series manager Joe Girardi his job. And in the World Series, they took down the Dodgers in their own park in a blowout Game Seven that forever excommunicated Yu Darvish to the memory doghouse among their fans.
The sign-stealing scandal ultimately cost many Astros executives involved in its design their own jobs, including general manager Jeff Luhnow, manager A.J. Hinch, coach Alex Cora and bench leader Carlos Beltran. In Cora and Beltran’s cases, they had already moved on to managerial positions in Boston and New York. The Astros couldn’t appear in either city without massive boos and clanging trash cans, the gimmick that those involved used to convey what they were able to steal.
But almost lost in all of this was the fact that those Astros were damn good young talents, especially their hitters. And the 2019 team that advanced to the World Series with a new (old?) leader in Dusty Baker and even more young talent was even better. It took an overachieving Washington Nationals team, who won four road games, to deny them their second title in three years.
One of the brightest rookie stars of that team was Yordan Alvarez, who subsequently battled some injuries, including portions of this season. But he’s back now, and yesterday, with a towering three-run homer off Mariners’ ace/closer Robbie Ray, he delivered only the second post-season walk-off home run with two out in history to cap an epic comeback, from four runs down in the 7th to two runs down in the 8th to an incredulous Game 1 ALDS victory in the end.
And now, my fourth favorite horse in this tournament, the Seattle Mariners, have their own reasons to hate the “Stros.
But unlike their predescessors of the previous decade, the ’22 ‘Stros are simply talented and resillient. They pitch aggressively and never say die. And there’s not a trash can in sight.
Their fans, giddy with excitement after their first playoff series win since 2001, were crushed. But using Ray may have been an act of sheer desperation, and a sign that the Astros were indeed prepared with knowledge of how to hit an eventual starter that they had faced in the regular season, rather than a bullpen specialist that could have–and should have–been relied upon for the final out.
The Astros earned this win. They’re dangerous. And they’re staring straight at possible rematches with both the Yankees and the Dodgers to prove to their many haters that the ’17 team was too, and that they can win slightly more legally and just as successfully.
You have every reason to hate this team. But do not underestimate or disrespect them. Yesterday afternoon they earned at least that.