THE FEATHERDUSTER

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Astros give an indelible moment

courtesy+photo+by+Keith+Allison
courtesy photo by Keith Allison

courtesy photo by Keith Allison

courtesy photo by Keith Allison

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Honestly, I wasn’t the biggest fan of baseball up until the 2015 season. Ever since I got into sports, I’ve supported the Houston teams, as my dad grew up in Houston and has rooted for them all his life. Nov. 1 the Houston Astros ended their 55-year title drought, winning in game seven of the World Series at Dodger Stadium. I’ll go into detail later. There are certainly other cities which have struggled with championship droughts much more than Houston, such as Cleveland, but it’s the story behind the team that makes the Astros’ World Series victory so memorable.

Twelve years ago, the Astros made it to their first ever World Series as a franchise. Led by now hall-of-famers Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, Houston was poised to challenge for their first championship. It didn’t happen. The Astros were swept in four games, losing every game by two or less runs. This marked the beginning of a major fall from grace, as they had two more winning seasons (2006 and 2008) before becoming mediocre and later downright awful.

Thinking back to June, 2014, it seemed like a very hot take that the Astros would be winning the World Series in 2017. Sports Illustrated must’ve had a crystal ball; not only did they predict the winners of the Fall Classic three years in advance, but the cover athlete of that issue was outfielder George Springer, who turned out to be the World Series MVP. The SI articled detailed the strong, young core that the Astros had built up, with the likes of second-baseman Jose Altuve, first overall pick shortstop Carlos Correa, George Springer and more. Given time, they believed that the Astros could contend once again for the Commissioner’s Trophy. What made this so surprising was that the Astros were in last place in the AL West and had finished with 111 losses in 2013. While the franchise was hopeful that their transition from the National League to the American League— along with the rebranding of the team’s jerseys and logos — would bring success, it took Houston another two losing seasons until they rose to prominence once again.

Here’s where I came into play. 2015 was the first season in which I really got into watching baseball, and it just so happened to be the year the Astros rose from depths of the MLB and into the mix of teams vying for a playoff spot. Led by the AL Cy Young winner that season, Dallas Keuchel, the Astros were back in the playoffs, albeit the Wild Card game, against the baseball powerhouse that was the New York Yankees. I watched this entire game, an astonishing feat given the length of modern baseball games and the fact that it was my first full game. I watched as the Houston Astros, the laughing stock of the majors for almost a decade, defeated the Yankees by a score of 3-0 behind seven strikeouts from Keuchel. It was something that, even as a new Astros fan, I hadn’t experienced: hope. Hope that maybe we good get hot going into the division series and beat the Kansas City Royals. They did indeed get hot, and their batting carried them to a 2-1 series lead in a best of five series. All they needed to do was win one more game, either at home or back at the Royals’ stadium. With a 6-2 lead going into the eighth inning of game four, it seemed as if the Astros had a legitimate chance to go to the AL championship series. I was intensely invested in this game, and was devastated as Houston’s terrible pitching out of the bullpen (a staple of Astros baseball) single-handedly lost the game. The Royals won game five and shocked the Astros. “What a typical Astros thing to do!” I thought, mortified as my team choked away a chance at greatness. Although they over performed, it was a horrific way to end the season. The struggle continued.

The 2016 season did not go as planned. A last ditch effort made by the Astros to claim a wildcard spot fell short. It seemed as if Houston was doomed for mediocrity.

The offseason came and went, Colby Rasmus was replaced by Josh Reddick, Ken Giles was brought in from Philadelphia to strengthen the pitching, and Alex Bregman, a top pick from the 2015 draft was ready to play at third base. It seemed like the perfect time for the Astros to do something special.

I’d misplaced hope in previous years, but 2017 was completely different. The Astros came out of the gates firing and didn’t stop. They held the best record in the MLB for a few weeks in the mid-season led by a batting lineup that featured four .300 hitters, Altuve, Correa, Reddick and Marwin Gonzalez. At the trade deadline, the Astros prepared for a World Series run, acquiring starting pitcher Justin Verlander from the Detroit Tigers. They won the AL West, securing a spot in the playoffs, and finished the season with 101 wins.

The playoffs were foreign territory for me. I’d never had any of my teams be favored to be in the championship, much less be favored by some to win. The ALDS matchup was against Boston. I was concerned that the Astros hype would amount to nothing, but fortunately, they dismantled the strong pitching of the Red Sox and won the series 3-1. In the other matchup, the red-hot Yankees came back from 2-0 down to beat the former AL champions, the Cleveland Indians. I instantly had flashbacks to the 2015 Wild Card game, but it only made me more nervous for the series. Houston took the first two games at home, dropped three straight in New York, and won both back at home to advance to the World Series. My stress levels at this point were higher than before any WHAP test. I knew that if the Astros didn’t win, I’d be haunted for the rest of my life. Dramatic? Maybe, but the stakes were higher than they’d ever been before, and I wasn’t ready to lose.

After the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, Houston was left vulnerable, and many people didn’t have a feasible place to call home. The first series back home for the Astros was against the New York Mets, and coincidentally, the Mets rolled out Matt Harvey for the first game of the series. George Springer hit a home run en route to a 12-8 win, the first of a double header.

Fast-forward back to the playoffs, it was time for the Fall Classic. The Los Angeles Dodgers had also been experiencing a title drought, and both teams were hungry to win. In what were the most stressful two weeks in my recent memory, the Astros took on the highly favored Dodgers for all the cards. I had my expectations low for game one, as the Astros faced ace Clayton Kershaw. Although Houston kept it close, Los Angeles took game one by a score of 3-1. Surprisingly, I was optimistic about the performance; I was expecting Houston to get crushed. Game two, where the Astros pitched Verlander, was when the intensity picked up. After securing a two run lead, the Astros’ bullpen quickly imploded and let up two runs. Luckily, Springer hit another 2-run homer to regain the lead, and the Astros managed to close out the game to win 7-6.

“1-1, let’s go ‘stros. It’s rally time, time to win three at home and win the series. We haven’t lost at home yet in the playoffs.” I was right, the Astros did win at home to take a 2-1 series lead. That was when Ken Giles came into play. Back in the offseason, Houston acquired him to be the closer (the last pitcher, normally your most reliable weapon out of the bullpen), but he was far from that, giving up a crucial 2-2 tie to give the Dodgers their second win of the series. Immediately after the game, he was removed from the closer position, and rightfully so. He gave me persistent stress for around 30 minutes until letting me down and costing the Astros game four.

Game five was the best baseball game I have ever watched. Despite the overwhelming tasks of a typical high schooler looming the next day, I stayed up for all five hours of this 25-run thriller. Up until that point, the Dodgers’ bullpen was performing brilliantly, but that changed as the Astros ripped through their closer, Kenley Jansen, and won on a walk-off single by Alex Bregman. I ran through the house as quietly as one can, celebrating a well-deserved victory. My dad and I endured the entirety of the rollercoaster of emotion that was game five, a decision that proved completely worth it.

Los Angeles took game six as Houston’s batting struggled. The worst part was, coupled with the rain, watching the Astros game prevented me from doing anything noteworthy on Halloween, all just to see us lose.

Game seven was where I lost my mind. There’s a cliché that says baseball is a sport of superstition. I took this to a whole new level, and this is no exaggeration. Throughout every inning of game seven, I sat on my couch, arms and legs crossed, whistling a catchy song exactly 3 keys pitched down on repeat. At the conclusion of each inning, I would clap once, then proceed to pace around the living room until the commercial break ended. To no surprise, the one inning where I didn’t carry out my routine was the one in which the Dodgers scored. Springer once again hit a 2-run home run, and the Astros took advantage of early miscues from the Dodgers and tremendous showings from starting pitchers Lance McCullers Jr and Charlie Morton, winning game seven 5-1. I couldn’t sleep that night. I was far too excited, and who needs sleep when the Astros are world champions? My social media was filled with Astros, nothing else. Possibly the greatest part of winning was the moment I woke up the next morning and remembered what had happened.

It’s difficult to put into words what Houston’s World Series victory means to me, much less to the millions of other fans. My outlook is that no matter what happens in Astros’ baseball for the rest of my lifetime, no matter how bad they become or how much they get made fun of, I can always look back on the 2017 season as the year they were the best, and there is nothing that anyone can take away from that.

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