“I just want them to win it one time,” I said over and over again last fall.
And somehow, they did. It still feels a little surreal, but the Houston Astros really won the 2017 World Series.
So it’s time to let somebody else have a turn, right?
In a sport that is more than 100 years old, simply winning a title isn’t enough to be remembered for very long. These Astros were built to win more than one World Series. Their place in baseball history will be determined by whether or not they do. And as a long suffering fan, I am ready to cash in on my investment of years of pain.
I know, I know, every fan believes their town is cursed at sports. But hear me out — before winning the World Series last year, Houston had only ever won six titles across the major sports: two NBA championships during Michael Jordan’s minor league baseball career, two AFL titles in the pre-Super Bowl era, and two MLS Cups. Funny enough, all of them were back-to-back.
There is a long list of pain and heartbreak I could share with you, but nothing could compare to the 2005 World Series. The Astros started 15-30 that year before turning their season around to grab the NL Wild Card and beat the Cardinals in the pennant to make the first World Series in franchise history.
It was a fall to remember. I was in seventh grade, living in the Houston suburbs. It seemed like everyone at school was wearing Astros gear. Teachers would even put the games on TV during class.
There was that incredible 18-inning game against the Braves in the NLDS. Chris Burke’s homer to finally end that long, long day. The call from legendary Astros broadcaster Milo Hamilton that’s forever etched in my memory.
In the NLCS, just when Albert Pujols brought us back down to Earth by sending a ball into space, the Astros came back in Game 6 to seal the deal in St. Louis behind a strong outing from Roy Oswalt.
But then the clock struck midnight on that Cinderella season. The White Sox swept the Astros in the Fall Classic. Four games, four losses. Just like that, it was over.
What followed was 10 years of misery.
The Astros found themselves stuck around .500 for several years. Stars were regularly traded away. At one point, the team called-up a 5-foot-6 kid straight from AA to play second base. Then, the Astros bottomed out. And boy, it was bad. Three-straight seasons of more than 100 losses. Minute Maid Park regularly looked deserted.
In the midst of those dark days, Jeff Luhnow came on board as general manager and instituted an intense, analytics-driven rebuild. Meanwhile, the Astros reembraced their original color-scheme and switched leagues.
Somewhere along the way, things slowly started to turn around. That 5-foot-6 kid I mentioned earlier, José Altuve, turned into one of the best hitters in the game. Top draft picks George Springer and Carlos Correa eventually reached the bigs. Dallas Keuchel turned in a Cy Young season in 2015. That year, the first under skipper A.J. Hinch, the Astros finally found themselves back in the postseason, beating the Yankees in the AL Wild Card Game.
Sure, they were two innings away from reaching the ALCS before the bullpen let them down against the Royals. But fans knew this was just the beginning. The Astros were back.
After missing the postseason the next year, the Astros added veterans Carlos Beltrán, Brian McCann, Charlie Morton and Josh Reddick going into the 2017 season to complement their core group of young talent. It turned out to be just what the team needed. On track to win their first AL West division title, the Astros made the kind of deadline trade fans can only dream of in adding Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander. He pitched near-flawlessly for the Astros through September and into the postseason. Motivated by the devastation Hurricane Harvey left in Houston, the team defeated the Red Sox, Yankees and Dodgers on their way to finally winning it all.
Those veterans who joined the team got the first rings of their careers alongside the products raised through the Astros farm system. Correa proposed to his girlfriend. Altuve — turned away by Astros scouts in Venezuela when he was 16 for being too short, before deciding to show up at tryout camp the next day anyway — had now led the team from being the worst to the best in five seasons. In a few days, he would be named AL MVP, capping off a perfect season.
What more could a fan ask for? Yet here I am, finding myself wanting another just as bad as I wanted the first.
And it looks like the boys in the clubhouse do as well. The Astros won 103 games this year, topping the franchise record and securing a second straight AL West division title. Three pitchers in our monster rotation — Verlander, Morton and offseason addition Gerrit Cole — reached 200 strikeouts this season. Third baseman Alex Bregman has had a breakout year, leading the team in runs, hits, home runs, RBIs and OPS. He’s also been responsible for some hilarious dugout celebrations, which many refer to as the “dugout stare.”
But what can’t go unaddressed is Astros closer Roberto Osuna. The Astros traded for Osuna at the deadline this season while he was serving a 75-game suspension for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy after he was charged with domestic assault in Toronto. Osuna has since played in 23 games for the Astros, earning 12 saves along the way. He had his day in court last week. The charge was withdrawn, and Osuna said he will not talk about it any further. We don’t know what really happened. But especially in light of the #MeToo movement, the fact that he was charged can’t simply be ignored.
Each Astros fan has to deal with Osuna on their own. But one man, whether or not he is innocent of what he was accused of, does not define a clubhouse. This is a team filled with a lot of great guys from diverse backgrounds. They’re fun to watch, and they clearly have a lot of fun playing with each other. For me, watching another team lift the Commissioner’s Trophy just won’t feel right.
And if we get another treat like Game 5 of last year’s World Series in the process, then everybody wins … except for the team who loses that game, of course.
Besides, Houston championships always seem to come in pairs.